Submenus in org-mode Capture

In my last post, I discussed how I (finally) found out that I can use entire org files as capture templates. This is a basic feature that works out of the box, but the org-mode manual doesn’t give it enough exposure in my opinion. Turns out it wasn’t just me either.

As I was expanding my checklists and learning more “trivial” org-capture features, I discovered more useful things, but ran out of time to write about them. It’s now time to get back to more “basics” of org-capture again for some helpful tips.

When you build your org-mode templates, it’s possible to create sub-menus for better organization. Another way to explain it is to think of “categories” in your capture.

Says the manual:


The keys that selects the template, as a string, characters only, for example ‘“a”’, for a template to be selected with a single key, or ‘“bt”’ for selection with two keys. When using several keys, keys using the same prefix key must be sequential in the list and preceded by a 2-element entry explaining the prefix key, for example.

The bold part was another part that I had to read several times to understand. I knew there’s something different because two letters are used, but my capture template failed to work the first couple of times. I figured it out, and here it is:

 (setq org-capture-templates
  (quote (
	  ("s" "Manual Laptop Setups")
	  ("sd" "Staff Dell Laptops" entry
	  (file+headline "/mnt/veracrypt1/Archive/OhSnap!.org" "Staff Dells")
	(file "/mnt/veracrypt1/Work/"))
	("sa" "Staff Apple Laptops" entry
	  (file+headline "/mnt/veracrypt1/Archive/OhSnap!.org" "Staff MacBooks")
	(file "/mnt/veracrypt1/Work/"))
	  ("sm" "SLS-Mac" entry
	(file+headline "/mnt/veracrypt1/Archive/OhSnap!.org" "SLS-Mac")
	(file "/mnt/veracrypt1/Work/"))
	("sw" "SLS-Windows" entry
	(file+headline "/mnt/veracrypt1/Archive/OhSnap!.org" "SLS-Windows")
	(file "/mnt/veracrypt1/Work/"))

Let’s take it piece by piece from the top. Keep in mind this is not the entire template, just the relevant part. If you just copy-paste it, it will fail (it’s incomplete).

First, as soon as I start the capture templates, it seems as if I am starting to create another one inside the first one. That’s what the manual means. In my opinion, it stumbles on its own words. Another case where an example (like the above) would go a long way. What I did is basically created a sub-menu for “Manual Laptop Setups.”

The result is that when I call org-capture, I get the following:

Select a capture template

[s]... Manual Laptop Setups...
[i] INC (my incident template)
[e] Event (my event and journal template)

I have more templates going down, but I want you to look at the very first one. That [s] with the three dots after it indicates pressing s will take me to a sub-menu of the capture template, which looks like this:

Select a capture template

s [d] Staff Dell Laptops
s [a] Staff Apple Laptops
s [m] SLS-Mac
s [w] SLS-Windows

You can see form how the menu looks like that all of these items start with an s but this time without the brackets. The brackets indicate what you can press now after you’ve already pressed s to get into the sub-menu you’re currently in. That is, d for Dell checklist, a for Apple checklist, and so on.

Each one of these sub-templates is a checklist based in an org file like I explained in the previous post. The templates are all org files (like for example, the third template) which are nothing but checklists like I pointed out in the previous post.

This way I can have an entire “category” of capture templates, with S for setup, without having a long list with letters that won’t seem related.