If you’re looking for a fresh way to organize your notes, ideas and to-do lists at the start of this new year, Workflowy is an excellent option.
Workflowy is a simple outlining tool that works in any browser or as an app on your device: Mac, Windows, Linux, Android and iOS. At first glance, it’s a simple note-taking tool focused around bullet lists. It lacks the menu overkill of Microsoft Word or the complexity of Adobe software. It just puts a bullet point in front of you and nudges you to start writing stuff down. Within a bullet point, you can put sub-bullets. And each of those sub-bullets can have its own sub-bullets. And so on. (Try out this example list to get a feel for it.)
You can use Workflowy to organize ideas, notes, tasks, writing drafts or anything else. When I use it, I find myself less tempted to twiddle around with formatting than when I’m using fancier tools like Notion or Craft, though I love those for designing fancier documents.
It’s free to use. Power users can pay $49 annually for some bonus features, like backing up to Dropbox. Paying also gets you more space to upload stuff, though I don’t use Workflowy to store files or documents, so that isn’t a big feature for me. Workflowy has been around since 2010, but this past year it’s added a bunch of new capabilities.
Here are five useful new features:
You can create a mirror copy of a bullet and paste it into a different spot. No matter where you edit a mirrored bullet, those changes show up anywhere the bullet appears. That’s useful when you have a key fact, stat, quote, phrase or other bit of text that you refer to often. Just update it once and all the other uses of it will also be automatically corrected.
Organize topics, sections or list types by color to make it easy to scan for what you need. Tasks can be one color, ideas another and facts a third. Or color-code by subject, importance, or urgency.
Sometimes it’s helpful to view lists in columns rather than as a stream of bullet points. Here’s how to make the most of these vertical columns. This kind of organization is popular in apps like Trello, Airtable, and Asana. Now you can use it in Workflowy to move notes around by dragging them, enabling a more visual editing process.
Notes apps traditionally organize stuff in hierarchical folders. Some new apps instead use backlinks. Instead of putting stuff into specific folders, you just tag stuff and all references to that book, person or whatever else are auto-collected onto a special page for that entity. That’s useful for seeing every reference to a particular person or book or place without having to manually put those things somewhere. Backlinking is a core feature of popular new note-taking platforms like Obsidian, Roam, and Mem.
Given that more than 3 million people use Workflowy, you can benefit from their experience with the library of Workflowy templates. It’s new this year. It’s tiny, and primitive compared to the vast collection of Miro templates or free collections of Notion templates, Trello templates, Coda templates or Airtable templates. But it’s still handy as a starting point.
Better yet, just start with your own blank page and make your own template. Later on you’ll be able to reuse your own preferred structure whenever you’re jotting down ideas, tasks or writing a first draft.
Other helpful features
- Share any list you create as a viewable or editable page. Recipients don’t have to have an account or log in.
- Export Workflowy notes to use elsewhere.
- Update notes on the go from your phone with the free app.
- It’s a simple note-taking tool. No fancy databases like Notion, Coda or Airtable. You can’t easily sort, filter and reorganize big batches of info, though you can drag bullets around easily.
- No cool preview cards like Craft. If you paste in a link, you won’t see a content preview, unless it’s a YouTube or Twitter link. Those are helpful, but it would be great to show page previews for content from elsewhere online.
- You can’t yet email content into Workflowy, as you can with other services like Evernote, Trello and Mem.ai. You can bring in info with the Chrome Web clipper.
- Fewer advanced features for power users than Roam, Mem or Obsidian
Jeremy Caplan is the director of teaching and learning at CUNY’s Newmark Graduate School of Journalism and the creator of the Wonder Tools newsletter.
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