org-gtd 3

So, I gave Things a look, as threatened, and it just didn’t work for me. I wanted it to, but I really, really like the intermingling of text and action I get in org-mode. It felt stilted and weird to have actions out on a special action island, and I love the integration between org-mode, magit, and projects you get “batteries included” in Doom: SPC X p t and you add a todo linked to the current point in the project document you’re in, SPC p t and you get a list of all the todos in your current project.

So the next thing to do was try to figure out what wasn’t working for me with a relatively unstructured set of todos in org. The sense of tradeoffs between a purpose-built GUI and a text interface often hangs on what you can “just do” with a GUI and a limited vocabulary of keyboard commands, and what you have to just type out by hand in a text interface. The thing that had me looking at Things to begin with was the sense that I had some projects/tasks of moderate complexity that were hard to structure in a way that I could completely document the work without making my org-mode agendas cluttered and noisy.

Nick Anderson suggested org-edna as a way to add sequencing and dependencies, but it felt like more than I wanted to get into. Using it “naked” is more typing. Wrapping it in automation makes some sense, but the time investment felt foreboding. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I don’t want to orchestrate a bunch of things, I just want to have a narrow window into my list.

So I went down the rabbit hole of understanding how people do GTD in org-mode.

I am on the record as a GTD skeptic, less because of the worldview itself and more because of the culture that surrounds it. But I appreciate a few things about it:

  1. Having a trusted system.
  2. Knowing where your inbox is.
  3. Always knowing what’s next, not feeling like you have to always know everything.

Items 1 and 2 are easy enough to solve for. I have a mobile inbox with beorg, and I have a desktop inbox with my org-mode config and an file. Close enough.

Item 3 was what I wanted some help with: I was hoping to find an agenda recipe that would limit me to seeing projects and only their next actions. Because of the way people accrete functionality in org-mode, it got discouraging fast. It’s the classic conundrum: You want to get all your stuff organized, but first you must architect a solution involving org-mode and gobs of lisp and three other modules, then cobble a UI around it if you want to work efficiently.

But, I also came across org-gtd, which just hit version 3, and is a batteries included solution to doing GTD with org-mode, including a nice, constrained view of your next actions along with some “use it if you want, I’m not your mom” extra stuff from the GTD paradigm.

Some stuff I like about it:

  1. Efficient capture
  2. The ability to turn preexisting items in your org universe into org-gtd items
  3. Tame agenda views of next actions
  4. Peaceful coexistence with the rest of your org-mode setup

I did have a few challenges getting it working that seemed to come down to some weirdness in my custom.el file and a bad interaction with encrypted org-journal files. Once I bisected and cleared out the customizations and let them rebuild, it worked smoothly. It leverages org-edna without making you deal with org-edna.

It does the basics well enough that I’m interested in exploring some of the deeper GTD cuts with it.

Liminal state

But the other thing going on right now is that I am in another liminal state. It ought to resolve pretty quickly, but it’s the difference between “might have two quiet weeks ahead” or “might have five quiet weeks ahead,” and also “have you all seen what the hell is going on out there right now? omg the thought of sitting on ice for five weeks and hoping harsh macroeconomic realities don’t knock me to the bottom of the hill again …”

To the extent I am well resourced, have a plan, and have built in a lot of room to tolerate disruption, I’m fine. But I’m also incredibly well rested, ready to get moving into the next phase, and am having a wee struggle just being in the moment when I am not sure how much moment I have to be in, if that makes any sense.

I just went through and averaged the number of years I’ve spent at every job since I was 22. 5.33 years. When I include just the “no, now I’m really engaged in something called a profession” run of the past 20 years, it’s closer to eight years. The great thing about averaging eight years between changing jobs is that you only had to change jobs every eight years. The terrible thing about it is that you forget what it’s like to be in that liminal state between jobs.

The Fugitive and class politics

I rewatched The Fugitive last night after listening to its Unclear and Present Danger installment. They had some interesting insights into its class and racial politics, its ’90s liberal fascination with competence porn, and its sheer story-telling efficiency.

They noticed something about it that I remembered noticing when I rewatched Rocky, which was the gradual disappearance of working class life from movies.

Richard Kimball has to briefly set aside his middle class identity, and we get a little glimpse of his life masquerading as a janitor. Harrison Ford has a way of acting like someone pretending to be someone harmless that is sort of endearing and also took on some extra weight in The Fugitive. We know he’s a high-level vascular surgeon, so when he’s dressed in a janitor uniform and a doctor sort of bosses him around and he gets that “Harrison Ford playing someone who is acting deferential even though they’re really this high-level, super-competent person,” it sort of lands.

Now, the hosts of Unclear and Present Danger want to call this out as “liberal class consciousness,” and I’m not sure quite what I make of that. As a time capsule? Sure, I’d argue liberals in the ’90s were more class conscious, because the Democratic Party was still struggling with its working class identity. But I also think “its working class identity” lost that struggle. Happy to discuss, but:

“Vote blue no matter who” isn’t the slogan of a working class party.

Sweeps vibe shift

We live next to a park, so I suspect we have a heightened awareness of whatever is going on with the city and its woeful response to homelessness. Combined with Al actually working in that subject area and frequently offering in our conversations, “oh yeah, the new county chair has this initiative, so the Joint Office is in panic mode trying to make it happen,” we’ve got higher-than-average awareness of the surrounding policy.

In the 14 years we’ve lived in Lents, homeless camping has gone from something that happened at the periphery of the neighborhood here and there to very large encampments on the Springwater that provoked fact-finding missions from state politicians, to just coming to accept that the block we live on will always be host to at least a busted up RV, trailer, or van; or maybe three; or maybe six or seven.

Something we’ve gotten used to is that nothing ever really happens. Now and then PBOT comes through and slaps green stickers on cars. It doesn’t seem targeted, to the extent they’ll put them on vehicles that have been there for literal months, and they’ll do it to a car that parked on the street this morning. I don’t know much about city policy, so my guess, having once had an old Volvo I didn’t drive much get stickered, is that it’s more of a question than an assertion.

The most police activity we ever saw was when an RV caught on fire, killing the occupant. The police came around the next day and watched while people broke into the dead man’s car carted his things away, then hotwired the car and drove it off.

“Well he’s dead, so technically nobody owns it,” said one, with his thumbs hooked in his tactical vest.

“Well, one of his friends went to tell his daughter, so I think she’d disagree.”


Just, “huh,” then turning back to watch the vultures.

But something seems to have changed.

When the city swept the squatters and RV encampment down the trail not too long ago, it displaced a few RV owners who found their way onto our block and sort of kicked off the spring homeless camping season. We did our usual thing: Took over some food and water, said “hi,” and tried to learn what we could about them and their lives. We observe a “good neighbors” mentality about the whole thing, meaning it would take more than has ever happened to get us to call anyone in. A lot of our neighbors are less charitable about the whole thing. We got invited to one neighborhood meeting to discuss a more active period a few summers ago, and never got invited again after we said we weren’t interested in low-grade harassment tactics.

Anyhow, this crew arrived, we made an attempt to make contact, we observed that these folks were less interested in contact, and we settled in for another period of having people encamped on the street. It has always, during times of heightened activity, meant fights at three in the morning, picking trash out of the yard, finding food wrappers and cans next to the outdoor outlets, getting the occasional report from one of the campers that someone else prowled our car or windows, and sometimes three or four old gas generators running 24/7 until we walk over and ask for a break from the noise.

The change this time is that PBOT showed up, did its sticker run, and someone posted the area for encampments. Park rangers showed up and explained that it wasn’t okay to put bags of trash along the street in the park and warned that the unleashed Pit Bull needed to be restrained. A cleanup crew showed up and put everything unattended in a rented truck and drove off. Police have been doing slow-drives down the block eyeballing the folks who stuck around after the initial hazing. A trailer that got towed into place and left got a sticker this morning after a mere 48 hours. The average up to now was closer to months.

It’s a change. I’ve never seen any part of our corner of Lents get this kind of concentrated attention. I wonder what has changed.