Notes from a Floating Life Thoughts about productivity, digital living, and leading a simpler life

Working with WorkFlowy

While I like using plain text to do a number of things, one area in which it falls kind of flat is helping me stay organized. Sure, I could use a text file to manage my tasks (and have), one of the drawbacks of plain text is that it doesn’t offer a lot of structure. Well, not without a little work. And let’s be honest: structure is a key part of staying organized.

One tool that helps gives me the best of both those worlds, organization and structure, is WorkFlowy.

So what exactly is WorkFlowy? It’s a task manager, to do list, and workflow management tool. In fact, WorkFlowy’s tag line is Organize your brain.

In essence, WorkFlowy is a monolithic bullet list. I’ll be discussing this in a moment, but for now try to keep that image in your head and try not to read too much into it. Details and clarification will come shortly.

There’s nothing fancy in WorkFlowy, which is probably why I like using it.

The basic idea is that you create a list of things that you need to do to complete a project, and then knock those things off the list one by one. And therein lies the problem for some people.

Like an online note taking and organization tool called Evernote, WorkFlowy is a bit too free form for some peoples’ tastes. What do I mean by that? Well, WorkFlowy is very flexible. In some ways, too flexible. It can be difficult to figure out what exactly you want to do with it.

I had that problem. But when I figured out how I wanted to use WorkFlowy, I couldn’t get enough of it. And I still can’t.

How I Use WorkFlowy

I use it for more than just managing my tasks. I also use WorkFlowy to organize my writing: to create outlines and to list and schedule the blog posts that I need to write. You can learn more about how I use WorkFlowy as an outliner in this blog post.

For me, the key to effectively using WorkFlowy is to nest items under headings. That’s where the structure comes from, and what I’m about to discuss.

Structure and WorkFlowy

Remember that image I planted in your brain of a monolithic bullet list? Bring that into focus. Now look at each item in that list being the name or title of a project or of a list of tasks that you need to perform. Or, in the case of an outline, the title of something you’re writing.

Say, for example, you’re working on a project that consists of four phases. The main bullet in WorkFlowy is the name of that project. Below that heading are four bullets (indented, of course) which correspond to the four phases of the project. Below each of those bullets is a list of tasks that you need to carry out to wrap up a phase of the project.

It sounds messy, doesn’t it? It can be. But if you click on any of the headings or subheadings, that heading (and what’s beneath it) opens in a new page. You can focus solely on what you need to tackle, without anything else in WorkFlowy distracting you.

On top of that, you can add notes to each bullet point to give you a little more context or to remind you of a deadline.

Remember how I mentioned that I use WorkFlowy as an outliner? Each point in an outline corresponds to the title of a chapter or a section in what I’m writing. I also nest my outlines. Each point has two to four points below it. Each of those points correspond to a section in a chapter or a paragraph in a section of an article or blog post.

So Where Does the Plain Text Come In?

WorkFlowy looks graphical, but it is in fact plain text. You can export your lists as text and copy them into a text editor or a word processor. If you’re willing to pay for it, you can upgrade to a Pro account and have WorkFlowy back your lists up to Dropbox.

Final Thoughts

Like most things, WorkFlowy isn’t for everyone. In fact, there was an interesting (and, in my view, mildly amusing) conversation about that on Twitter a while back. To each their own. In my case, WorkFlowy works for me. And that’s all that matters.

Thoughts? Let's start a conversation on Twitter.

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