Weaning Myself From Emacs and Org-mode

My ongoing effort to wean myself from my dependency on Emacs and Org-Mode has only been intermittently successful. Whenever I try moving out of Emacs I have to find replacements for all sorts of tools and processes. Things like task management, journaling, email, project notes, text editing, and general note taking are all things that I’ve been doing in Emacs for a while now and if I’m ever going to move away from it I’ll need to find replacements.

So here we go again. I’ve taken a run at this over the past few months and this is where I’ve landed:

Apple Mail, OmniFocus, Day One, DEVONthink, BBEdit, and Bear.


I’m using Apple Mail. It’s good enough, pleasant to use, and integrates nicely with my other tools. It’s nice that it’s built-in. Mail gets goofy once in a while, but I’m ignoring that for now. I don’t like to overthink email and Apple Mail helps with this.

Task Management

Back to OmniFocus. I waffle between OmniFocus and Things for to-dos, but OmniFocus has always been powerful and reliable and it can do pretty much anything I need. The recent release of version 3 added tags, which I’d grown to rely on while using Things.


Nothing beats a paper notebook for journaling, but not all journaling makes sense on paper. For those things, there’s Day One. Photos, location, weather, tags, exports, and search all make Day One entries fun and useful. It’s a delightful, purpose-built journaling app. I have nearly 2,500 entries in two journals and they are priceless. For long-term viability, I export entries each month to both PDF and HTML formats. I’ve also started printing books, which is very cool. This is future-proof enough for me, so I don’t worry about Day One going away.

Project Notes

I’ve been keeping project-related assets in DEVONthink Pro for years, so I’ve started keeping notes there as well. I don’t enjoy actually writing in DEVONthink, but it’s easy enough to create a markdown file in it, and then “Open With…” whatever app I feel like, so that’s not a big deal. Now everything related to a project; files, emails, bookmarks, and my notes are all in one place and benefit from the terrific organizational and search capabilities of DEVONthink.

Text Editing

BBEdit is king here and has been my goto for at least a decade. I’d love to consider Vim but then I start to think about how nice it would be to use Vim bindings everywhere and then I open Spacemacs and then I’m back where I started. BBEdit it is, with maybe a little VS Code thrown in for variety.

General Note Taking

This is the hard one for me. Org-Mode is so great for note-taking. The good news is that outside of Emacs, there is a dizzying array of great choices available. I think I’ve tried them all. What I want to use is Apple Notes, and I’ve been testing that for a month or two and although it comes close, it’s just not quite right for me. Writing in Notes doesn’t feel enough like plain text and there’s no Markdown support. There’s no “Copy link to note” feature, and this one ruins it for me. I’m a wiki guy from way back and cross-note linking is a must-have. So, as nice as Apple Notes has become, I can’t live there. Evernote is out because it’s, well, Evernote and I don’t get along with Evernote. Other contenders are The Archive, Agenda, iA Writer, DEVONthink, Tinderbox, Bear, and nvAlt. All of these are great in their own way, but I’ve settled on Bear. The problem I’ve had with Bear in the past was that it doesn’t feel right somehow. On the other hand, it does everything else pretty well. Very well, actually, so I’m going to continue living there for a while and see.

Note that all of the above have a couple of features in common. First, they all have very good iOS counterparts. I love using my iPad and having basically the same tools available there is rather nice. Second, they all allow me to easily get my content out in a format I can deal with. I know, plain text is sooo future proof and portable, but dammit it’s just not as useful day-to-day. If any of the above apps go away, I’d lose some of the features and conveniences, but I wouldn’t lose any content. I’m okay with that tradeoff.