Tracking Tax Documents And Other Ideas For Learning Org Mode

Whenever Emacs or Org mode is mentioned on Hacker News, there is usually at least one comment from someone who said they started learning it, but had a hard time sticking with it. It is easier to learn a new technology if you have a goal to use it for something, especially something non-technical. “I want to learn Rails/Phoenix/etc to make a web app to keep track of $SOMETHING-IN-PARTICULAR” is better than “I want to learn Rails/Phoenix/etc”. They could learn Emacs and/or Org if they had a reason to learn them. Here are a few ideas on things you can do to learn Org. It doesn’t have to be a major project.

Right now it is tax time in the United States. They have to be filed with the Internal Revenue Service by April 15. Employers, HSAs, banks and brokerages have been sending out a LOT of forms. You could make a simple checklist for each of the forms you get, and check them off as you get them. Or make them TODO headings, and mark them as DONE as they arrive; this will add a timestamp. Plus: You can make this outline into a template, and re-use it next year.

I think there is a way to make templates in Org using something called Capture, based on what I have read about it. At some point I will read the Org manual or finish Rainer Koenig’s Org-mode course on Udemy. I only finished half of it, and I still got a lot out of it. Right now when I need to re-use a list, I make a template, and when I need a new one, I put it in the kill ring with org-cut-subtree, and I call org-paste-subtree twice: Once to bring back the template, and a second time to have a copy as an instance.

I also have a list of repeating tasks for things that I need to do every month: pay rent, pay electric bill, pay the water bill. I have monthly tasks for backing up my GnuCash files and my KeePassXC files, and I bundle my Org files and put them on thumb drives. I also have tasks for my car: getting my oil changed, and for replacing different fluids. I have yearly goals for bills that I pay once a year: web hosting, mail box, some insurance.

If you make repeating tasks, look in setting the org-log-into-drawer variable. A “drawer” in Org is a section that is hidden by default, but can still be viewed by calling M-x org-cycle.

I just started Org by making to-do lists, and learned more over time.

You’re welcome.

Image from Hillinus Codex, Cod. 12, an 11-century manuscript housed at the Archbishop’s Diocesan and Cathedral Library in Cologne, Germany, allowed under CC BY-NC 4.0.

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