Relative Timing With Org-Mode

I have been re-arranging my TODO lists using Emacs’s Org-Mode and when I realized that it could calculate the exact hours taken for a bunch of tasks, I felt I should explore the rest of the Org-Mode manual and see what else I had been missing out on.

Org-Mode allows you to use relative timers which, it says, are useful for recording notes during a meeting or video viewing. I did not understand exactly how to use the relative timers, but it looks like they are like timestamps. Here’s a brief run-down and example on how to use them.

Org-Mode: What is a Relative Timer?

A relative timer is one that starts at 0 hours, 0 minutes, 0 seconds. The second time you log the time, it is relative to the first time, so it will be 0 hours, 1 minute, 30 seconds if it has been 1 minute and 30 seconds since you started the timer.

When Are Relative Timers Useful?

Here’s an example. Say you are watching a conference presentation on your favourite programming language, and you want to take notes. First, you would open up a buffer that is using org-mode and find the place where you want to put the notes. Then, you must start a relative timer by pressing C-c C-x . which starts the timer and inserts the current time (which is of course 00:00:00). This timer will continue to run even while you are in other buffers.

Record the time with C-c C-x .

When an interesting point is made, or whenever you feel the need to record the time, you press C-c C-x . again. Then you just make your notes as quickly as you can!

Pause the time with C-c C-x ,

Org-Mode also lets you pause the relative timer with C-c C-x , though I am not sure when you would want to use this. Maybe if the presenter is taking a break or if you were taking a break when watching a video?

Stop the Timer With C-u C-c C-x ,

Finally, to stop the timer, you press C-u C-c C-x , (which is basically just adding a prefix argument).

Here is a sample Org-Mode relative timer file:

* My Awesome Language (presentation)
0:00:00 Start of presentation
0:05:33 5 minutes in and we hit some interesting points
I don't know, Ruby as your Awesome Language? Ugh.
0:06:04 Oh good, he mentioned Python! But where's Lisp?!
0:06:26 jerk skipped over the Lisp slide...
I don't get why people *always* skip over Lisp :-(
0:07:35 Well that was a short presentation (thankfully)

That is the trouble with Emacs and its modes. There are so many useful functions contained that it is hard to use them all or to even know about them unless you read through the manual.

Interested in other Emacs modes? Check out some of the ones I’ve written:


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