My New Favorite Personal Productivity Tool

I was just about to order a journal to become my Bullet Journal when I saw that some people who liked the philosophy of the Bullet Journal said they used the ideas with an online tool called Workflowy. While I’d used or looked at least a dozen online to-do list tools over the years, I was unfamiliar with this one.

So before I ordered the journal, I checked out Workflowy. And fell in love!

I realized that all the other personal productivity tools I’d tried over the years forced me to adjust my thinking a little or a lot to use the tool. That’s why I kept going back to pen and paper for my daily to-do list. It just matched how I thought about my day. But Workflowy lets me organize my plans and thoughts exactly the way my brain works. And it’s so flexible, I imagine it would work for people whose brains are different from mine – everyone else, I assume.

Fundamentally, Workflowy is the simplest tool ever. It lets you create an infinitely deep nested set of lists. That’s it! But it turns out that’s so powerful.

You can have as many levels of nested lists as you wish. Many people start at the top with ‘Work’ and ‘Personal’ and drill down into each of these areas. Since I work at home, these two areas blur into each other, so I’ve found it more helpful to have one area called ‘Planning’ where I put all my monthly and weekly goals and daily to-do lists, and another called Projects with all my client and business project plans. I add personal tasks into my daily to-do lists.

If your mind is able to handle things in a more hyperlinked way, you can just have your lists of projects and add a “today” tag to the tasks you want to accomplish today. Then, search on “today” and you’ll end up with your daily task list.

I don’t do it that way because I’m consistently overly optimistic and would tag way too many tasks and doom myself to failure every day. So I move the ones I want to accomplish from my projects area to a daily to-do list, actually assigning a duration to them so I don’t have eyes bigger than my schedule.

You can mark an item complete and toggle the settings so that completed items show or are hidden. I usually have it set so they are hidden. It’s great to mark an item complete and have it just disappear!

You can perform other actions on an item:

  • duplicate it
  • delete it
  • move it
  • indent it in the hierarchy
  • outdent it in the hierarchy
  • add a note to it
  • share it with someone else

Performing any of these actions on an item affects all the items nested beneath it.

You can tag items which allows one to search for all the items with that tag. For example, I’ve used tags for clients so I can search for all items related to a particular client.

Now here’s the mind blowing part. The items don’t have to just be tasks, they can be anything you want.

So you can add subitems to your task to get groceries which is your grocery list.

I create a list with subitems for notes from a client meeting. Of course, this list has the client tag added to it.

You can star favorite items to get back to them very quickly. Each day, I star the day’s to-do list so I can jump back to it easily any time during the day when I’ve been working in another area of my hierarchy.

You can tell Workflowy to send a daily email summary of all changes. Another setting has Workflowy save a backup of the current file to Dropbox.

A favorite feature of mine is that Workflowy is available as a Chrome widget on my desktop as well as in a browser window, and has apps for my iPad and iPhone. I believe there’s also an Android app.

And there’s no saving – all changes are autosaved and updates are available immediately on any of your devices. So seamless!

Workflowy is free to use up to 250 items. If you want more than that – I quickly did – it costs $49/year.

I think the key to Workflowy’s power is that you can put everything into it – tasks, notes, lists – and have a great overview of your life and/or business. But at any time, you can click on an item to change to a page with just that item and those under it. So you can drill down to the most detailed aspect of something and see only that while you’re working on it.

Some tools are good at giving you the big picture. And others let you lay out all the details. But Workflowy gives you the best of both worlds. You can choose to look at the high level areas, or just focus on the details of one small corner.