Daniel Hallqvist

Todo lists and beyond with Workflowy

March 24, 2016 | 4 Minute Read

Around 8 months ago I read an article (can’t remember which one) about a tool called Workflowy. I had a look at it and wasn’t very impressed at first, but the author was so enthusiastic I decided to give it a try anyway. I am very glad I did, so thought I’d give a short introduction.

People keep hating on todo-lists and their apps these days, but I love them and have been using them for a long time. They are not just handy to demo javascript frameworks, I find there is no better way to help you organize, remember and execute tasks both in my personal life and at work. For a few years I felt that pen and paper was all I needed, so I had one list laying at my desk at work and one at home. I liked having the list always right in front of me at work, where I could quickly get an overview of what I needed to do. The problem with this approach, of course, is the lack of searchability and history. Also, my handwriting is a disgrace, so I decided I needed to try something digital.

I tried Wunderlist for a little while for work-related stuff, but I didn’t feel it added a lot. After all what I really lacked was organization of tasks, and a tool where I felt comfortable adding, moving, toggling and searching in. These are the primary things that Workflowy provded me with: organization and comfortability.

The basic idea

The idea with Workflowy is very simple: you create lists that you can nest for as deep as you’d like. There is also the ability to search and tag list items. For me, this simple nesting was all I needed to keep my tasks organized.

What really makes Workflowy a pleasure to use though is its’ keybindings. To see all the keybindings available (there aren’t that many), you type cmd + ?. I just kept this little window up all the time the first few weeks. The most important keybindings to learn I think are:

  • Expand/Collapse: cmd + Down/Up
  • Move task: cmd + shift + up/down
  • Complete task: cmd + Enter
  • Toggle search: Esc
  • Show/hide completed: cmd + O
  • Navigating: alt + shift + arrow keys.

Once these settle in you can navigate, add, complete, expand, search and move through your lists with speed and comfort. Of course there is also the option to click, if that’s what you’re in to…

How I use it

On Windows, which I use at work, I have added Workflowy as a Chrome app. This lets me pin it to the task bar, second from the left, so that I can access it with Windows + 2. I also prefer having tools like this in an own application and not in a browser tab, makes it a lot easier to access. The structure of the lists are very simple, and I think it is very personal on how one would go about doing this, but I have it like this:

  • Work
    • Project 1
      • Project task 1
        • Task sub task
      • Project task 2

I also have a few other top level lists for other things, such as my exercising schedules, ideas on posts for this newly created blog, stuff for a longer trip I am takng this summer etc. As I said, this is of course very personal, but I think it is a perfect way to organize your brain and thoughts with nested lists like this.

Also, in my work as a consultant, there are days where I work on several different projects. This is very tagging comes in handy, which allows me to go through all the sub lists for each project, pick the tasks I want to get done today and tag them with #today. Then I can focus search esc, type #today and get those tasks in a list.

Another useful tip is for reccuring tasks, and you can read more about that here. Also, if you like VIM, a user has replicated a lot of Workflowy in a vim plugin, I haven’t used it though since I have gotten so used to the keybindings in the original Workflowy app.

So, Workflowy is great for work. For personal todos however, I tried having them there as well. I thought it would be good to have it in the same application. But for personal stuff, like grocery lists, the ability to nest and organize is less important. For these lists I also use the mobile application a lot more than for work stuff, and the Wunderlist mobile apps are just much nicer to use than Workflowys, especially when it comes to due dates.

So as you can see I am very enthusiastic about my todo lists! :) There are of course many more alternatives, this is just the setup that works for me at the moment. I know a lot of people like Evernote. The real message of all this after all is that the ancient art of todo lists are awesome for note taking, organization and to help you remember what you need to do!