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I am a social scientist working primarily on Linux, but also at times required to work on Windows systems at the University. I have been looking to improve my productivity in the academic workflow which primarily consist of:

  1. Collecting literature, reference-management, review notes etc. (currently zotero)
  2. Outlining, writing long documents (currently Lyx)
  3. Task, time and project management (currently misplaced and lost pieces of paper)

I can imagine that these steps apply to most academics, and many will share my interest in developing a more productive workflow. In my research on potential solutions to this issue, I keep being drawn by org-mode as a potential swiss-knife solution that can take care of all these needs, and be my mainstay as a personal-information-manager, organiser and text editor. But being built on emacs, I find it forbidding. I also have no need to program anything, so learning emacs seems like major overkill for my needs.

Could academics who use org-mode or a similar solution for organising their workflow give examples of how they use it? Also helpful would be an evaluation of productivity improvements that such users have themselves experienced, and the kind of productivity improvements that can be expected with a basic academic workflow described above. I am interested in evaluating whether it pays off in terms of productivity improvements in the face of what appears to be a massive learning curve, especially as I don't need any programming tools?

I am aware that this might lead to subjective opinions, so I would request academics with a similar work profile to reply based on their personal experience regarding the learning curve, possible benefits, example cases and perhaps alternatives they have found superior (preferably also cross-platform and open source).

1 Answer 1

I am an academic [history] who adopted org-mode about 18 months ago. Frankly, I'm puzzled by all the warnings about the steepness of the emacs learning curve. For a newcomer who doesn't do a lot of command-line work, the hardest part for me was configuring emacs on my Win and Ubuntu machines. But there are lots of resources and tutorials out there, many of them accessible from orgmode.org.

I started out only using emacs for org-mode. After watching a few screencasts I knew enough to start outlining. Gradually i've been using emacs for more and more tasks outside org-mode, though that remains my main use for the editor. I've been gradually increasing the complexity of my workflow over the last year, adapting bits of the various GTD setups linked to the org-mode.org. I am not a programmer and had only started working with a Linux machine a few months before getting into org-mode.

In my opinion, one of the obstacles to greater adoption of org-mode is that people see the amazing workflows set-up by gurus and assume they need to use emacs at that level. My opinion: for writing, organizing and work-flow, you can get 80% of the ultimate value of org-mode in about 20 minutes of instruction.