Patterico's Pontifications

1/17/2015

Organizing for the New Year? Try Workflowy

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 1:19 pm



I’m trying to get my time management issues under control, and have been reading Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen. It seems like a pretty good handbook for getting all those projects and goals under control that you have scattered about.

However, the book is old (it was written in 2001), and many of the paper-based recommendations are laughably out of date. The most whiz-bang technology recommended, for those really into high-tech gadgets, are those newfangled PDAs (!).

But today, there are dozens if not hundreds of organizational tools out there that can serve the critical functions of organizing.

Two that I have been using are Wunderlist (which I have been using for a few weeks or months now) and Workflowy (which I just discovered). Both are free. Although I see people debating their merits, I have (after a lot of pondering and trial and error) found a way to use them in a complementary fashion that I am pretty excited about.

Workflowy is an absurdly simple concept with almost no learning curve, which makes it ridiculously useful. It’s just an outline program, which is always available on your computer or smartphone, updated in real time between them. In a second I will discuss how I use it, but it’s actually useful for basically any situation where you want to keep lists of any sort. The more I use it, the more uses I think of for it.

Basically you just type in something, and there it is. Need a subcategory? Hit enter and tab and there it is. Moving things around is far easier than editing in Microsoft Word.

The initial impetus for signing up with Workflowy was to find a way to organize notes on books I am reading. Between Audible, the Kindle app, and hard copies of books, I am in the middle of reading more books than at any one time in my life, and I love doing it this way. When I get bored with one, I just switch to another. I’m easily reading one or two dozen books at one time in this way. (And yes, I do finish them. I just finished Thomas Sowell’s “A Conflict of Visions”, Ron Paul’s “The Revolution: A Manifesto”, and Tom Woods’s “Real Dissent”, all in this past week.)* As I read the books, I like to make notes about things I am learning — possibly for a blog post, and possibly just to refer to in the future. Previously, I was making all of these notes in separate files on my Notes App on my iPhone. But there was no organization to this process at all. This made it difficult at times to retrieve the notes when I wanted to consult them. One of my goals for the New Year was to organize this process.

Workflowy does this perfectly. I have transferred all my notes to a single organized folder, which is labeled “Books” which in turn is in a folder called “Personal Education” which is in turn in a folder titled “Personal.” Here is what a portion of that “Books” folder looks like:

Screen Shot 2015-01-17 at 12.53.04 PM

The ellipses represent my extensive notes which pop up when I click on them. I have notes on “A Conflict of Visions” and the Madison biography as well, but for some reason those ellipses did not show up in the screenshot.

Under “Personal Education” I also have notes from podcasts I have listened to, online courses I am taking, and so forth.

The only thing Workflowy lacks is a reminder/calendar function or syncing capability. It’s basically useful for lists, and that’s it. That’s where Wunderlist comes in. It is a program where you can dump, organize, and prioritize things you need to do. You can set reminders and sync it with your calendar.

If you have David Allen’s book or end up reading it, this will make sense to you: I am currently using Workflowy for things like Project lists, Someday/maybe lists, and so forth, whereas I use Wunderlist for “Next action” lists that need to sync with the calendar and need reminders to pop up on the computer or phone at the appropriate time.

Anyway, I highly recommend that you just give Workflowy a spin. All you need is an email and a password. If you sign up for it, please use this link. That will give you double the number of items per month that you would otherwise get under the free program (which seems like plenty), plus it gives me more free items as well. Give it a try.

25 Responses to “Organizing for the New Year? Try Workflowy”

  1. The Ron Paul book and the Tom Woods book both have foreign policy sections and some other arguments that I don’t agree with, but they are by and large both excellent books, chock-full of historical and philosophical arguments for limited government.

    Patterico (9c670f)

  2. I see someone took me up on this already. Please let me know what you think. I am amazed that a tool can be so simple and so useful at the same time.

    Patterico (9c670f)

  3. Patterico, it has become very clear to me over the past few years that I have developed something very much like OCD, and have trouble dealing with organizational complexities. Your link may help me with that—I hope. I’m certainly not being helped by all the books on organization sitting in a pile in my office.

    Thanks again.

    Simon Jester (dd561f)

  4. Heh. Have you tried the David Allen book? It’s pretty good. I could even send you my Workflowy outline of the basic concepts, and would be happy to send you the book itself, if you think it would help. Feel free to email me for more detail about how I am using Wunderlist and Workflowy in conjunction with the Allen book’s principles if you like.

    Patterico (9c670f)

  5. Ah, Patterico! It’s like my real friends are electronic these days. Much appreciated.

    I can get the Allen book, and will promise not to put it on the many piles of books I have at present.

    I’ll e-mail for your suggestions, but I sure don’t want to add to your workload. Thanks 10^6.

    Simon Jester (dd561f)

  6. this looks fun I’m a try it tomorrow

    happyfeet (831175)

  7. Mr Frey – for information-a-holics and genuine computer geeks, this is highly addictive ! Especially the sharing ability !

    I thank you for giving me an intuitive, trivially-easy-to-use way to keep track of my favourite authors’ books (and which ones I do not yet own) …

    Alastor (2e7f9f)

  8. I once was quite organized.
    Then 3rd year of medical school and subsequently internship and residency happened,
    and I was chronically overwhelmed and lived by the urgent, which often was also important.
    Never successfully adapted or recovered.
    At least not yet.

    MD in Philly (f9371b)

  9. gettingthingsdone.com and 43folders.com are both great idea sites.

    Sadly, reading about being organized is much easier than actually being organized.

    htom (4ca1fa)

  10. This is tongue in cheek,
    but I was always a bit amazed at the idea of someone being an organizational consultant,
    like if somebody was that good at being organized,
    they would be accomplishing something on their own instead of helping other people get organized.
    In one sense, helping unorganized people get organized is career security.

    MD in Philly (f9371b)

  11. I like GTD. It’s very simple to use. What email client do you use?

    Tanny O'Haley (c674c7)

  12. a

    kaf (f9e136)

  13. what if you don’t remember in what book you read something, or in what file about what book you made some note about some idea you had?

    Can you search through all your notes for a key word?

    Sammy Finkelman (be6791)

  14. Both links to Workflowery seem to go to the same place (do they?)

    There is no explanation there, and no way to preview it.

    It asks for your e-mail – twice – are you allowed to use only one?

    And then for New Password. Did I have an old one?

    Sammy Finkelman (be6791)

  15. what if you don’t remember in what book you read something, or in what file about what book you made some note about some idea you had?

    Can you search through all your notes for a key word?

    Yes, you can search for any word and Workflowy will pull up any instance of that word. Or you can tag concepts with a hashtag (so if you have things you want to do soon you can call it #soon) and you can simply click on that hashtagged word to automatically search for all the hashes.

    I have not used this feature yet because (as I said) I don’t use Workflowy for “next action” items: physical things I need to do. I use Wunderlist for that because of the capability of syncing with calendars, which I have been playing with on and off all day. So far, it works well with iCal on the Macbook Pro; all items show up within 5 minutes. It’s a little shakier showing up on the calendar native to iOS; things seem to appear and disappear eventually but it takes a while and I don’t know what triggers the action.

    Patterico (9c670f)

  16. Both links to Workflowery seem to go to the same place (do they?)

    There is no explanation there, and no way to preview it.

    It asks for your e-mail – twice – are you allowed to use only one?

    And then for New Password. Did I have an old one?

    There is only one Workflowy site, yes. Look at the videos in the help section. It asks you for your email, and to confirm your email, which is standard practice for new Internet signups, and then asks you for a new password. If you never used it before, then no, you don’t have an old one. Are you serious with these questions?

    Patterico (9c670f)

  17. Patterico (9c670f) — 1/17/2015 @ 6:00 pm

    There is only one Workflowy site, yes.

    Well, I don’t know.

    You said:

    If you sign up for it, please use this link. That will give you double the number of items per month that you would otherwise get under the free program (which seems like plenty), plus it gives me more free items as well

    That sounds like there’s another way to sign up for it that would give one only half the number of items you would get as by using your link, and you wouldn’t get more free items.

    You see, you said use this link. That sounds like maybe the link you had earlier in the post was different, and wouldn’t give you the more free items and or double the space.

    After all, sometimes you mention a book on Amazon, but want us to use the link on the side.

    But here, both appeared to be exactly the same.

    If either link is equally good, why didn’t you say, “this link, or the other link in this post?”

    What other links were we likely to use??

    As I said, they seemed to go to the same place.

    Now you say they also only have one website.

    I think maybe the difference is that if we use your link, the URL ends in /invite/2a5dbee1.lnx and that’s when we get the bonuses.

    Look at the videos in the help section.

    What videos? What help section?

    All I see is some testimonials in the form of comment box.

    Do you mean where it says:

    This plug in is vulnerable, and should be updated.
    Activate Adobe Flash.
    Check for updates

    I think I may need to use a different computer.

    Maybe the ex-Virgin Atlantic Sprint smartphone that can access free Wi-fi, and runs Android 2/1 that I bought for $2 on Tuesday from another member of the computer club that meanwhile, untl I figure out how to change the wi-Fi settings can only be used as a highly accurate digital watch??

    The sound quality is pretty good when I plug in a headphone.

    It asks you for your email, and to confirm your email, which is standard practice for new Internet signups, and then asks you for a new password. If you never used it before, then no, you don’t have an old one. Are you serious with these questions?

    Well I’ve never been to a website before that asks new users for their “new” password, as if they had an old one. I mean if somene is really new, they wouldn’t have an old password. That sounds like I’m missing something.

    It either means this is really intended for people who had previously used it, but they changed the software, and everyone had to re-register, which is turn makes me think that maybe they would think anyone using that was really you…

    Or it means that they weren’t so careful in designing the website and I wonder then, in that case, what else they got wrong.

    And also if it is:

    “always available on your computer or smartphone, updated in real time between them.

    why are they giving you an opportunity to give them only one e-mail address. Shouldn’t they allow 7 or 12? Or at least 4?

    Does that happen later on in the registration process?

    Would a throwaway e-mail be good for the e-mail to use for confirmation, or would that be a mistake because you might be using some some of your quota for e-mail addresses? If here is aquota, Can you delete an e-mail address and replace it with another? Do you always sign in with the first e-mail address you used or can you pick a User Name?

    I’m just trying to figure things out in advance.

    Sammy Finkelman (be6791)

  18. My friend Eric Mack has known David Allen since the 1990s. Eric created a template for Lotus Notes that implements GTD which is quite good.

    Tanny O'Haley (c674c7)

  19. Forgot, here’s the link. http://www.eproductivity.com

    Tanny O'Haley (c674c7)

  20. Sammy,

    That’s too many questions for me, sorry.

    Patterico (ff876c)

  21. By the way, several of you apparently still need to verify your emails in order to get the benefit.

    Patterico (9c670f)

  22. You have great patience, Patterico.

    Simon Jester (dd0c72)

  23. I went and looked and have the same objection that others did. There is no way to see what Workflowy does without signing up. Ditto the other one but that at least has a 45 second video.

    This might be a useful tool but I am not going to download anything or even give them my name unless I can see what I am getting beforehand. Some screenshots? Description of how it works and what it does? Explanation of how it works and why I should want it and the like.

    IO am not buying a pig in a poke, even if the pig and the poke are free.

    It sounds something like Evernote which I currently use and like. What are the beneftis of these over Evernote?

    John Henry

    John Henry (5a6367)

  24. I’ve been fiddling with Workflowy for about 45 minutes and I don’t see the attraction. I can make lists just fine with a general purpose text program. Workflowy allows me to hide sub-lists but forces me through a clunkier interface which I’m learning by trial and error. Unless this app has hidden powers, like the secret menu in Chinese restaurants, hiding sub-lists just isn’t enough reason to bother with another app that’s basically a restricted text processor.

    Margaret Ball (6c4790)

  25. I can make lists just fine with a general purpose text program.

    OK. You’d have to use Dropbox or something similar to make them translate between devices, but I guess you could, with some effort. To me, it’s very seamless.

    John Henry,

    There is a description and a screenshot in this post. If that’s not enough, there’s always Google.

    Patterico (9c670f)


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