How I use WorkFlowy to do my Best Work

by Karl Rohde — Get free updates of new posts here. Photo Credit: Karl Rohde



I believe getting organised is critical to doing your best work, consistently. As such, I’m a bit of a freak when it comes to productivity tools. It’s not always good. I like them so much it’s a form of procrastination – I have to watch myself. I’ve tried heaps of them and various iterations of analogue tools involving paper and pen. There is one tool however that seems to have kept me together in a way that really works for me. And I think that’s the key. Productivity is very personal. What I’ve learnt is that our brains have a style of their own much like we all have a gait to our walk.

The tool I use is called WorkFlowy, which is mostly free along with a paid premium version. I discovered this gem of a tool about 10 months back and I love it. It’s so simple. So simple I initially thought it was lacking in usefulness. After my initial trial I threw it aside within the first half hour. Then I started discovering many domain experts I follow giving it much praise. Thinking there must be something in it I gave it another shot. Taking the time to stop and let my style of thinking and creative organizing come to the fore enabled me to see the beauty of this remarkable app. I won’t go into how to use it, rather I’ll cover how I’ve made it my own. For instructions on how to use its features check out the WorkFlowy Blog. In essence it’s very intuitive – I doubt you’ll need much help.

What is WorkFlowy?

It’s essentially an outliner with some powerful features that combine to serve as a remarkable organisation tool. For me it covers tasks, notes, reference lists, brainstorming ideas, creating outlines for content and planning projects.

The 8 things that make WorkFlowy shine

  1. simplicity (it gets out the way and lets you think and flow)
  2. It’s in the cloud (accessible almost anywhere)
  3. hierarchy (like using bullet lists; this is my outline)
  4. indexed search (this is powerful when used with the hidden operators)
  5. hyperlink tags (add a hash or @ tag an entry to create layers of classification)
  6. click to focus and bread crumbs ( you can easily zoom into a level so that becomes the whole page and back track where you came from)
  7. starred pages (pages you access frequently)
  8. keyboard shortcuts (while its totally mouse driven the kb shortcuts makes it even faster to use.)

How I stay organised with WorkFlowy?

I have a simple process that hinges on a basic form of GTD that includes calendar, in-trays and a filing system. With WorkFlowy in mind I have an operating model for how it’s used and this seems to keep me on track with how my life needs to run.

  1. I process tasks and other info straight into the best place in my outline.
  2. Almost all entries are tagged, excluding notes, reference entries and non-task related items. Tagging is my secret sauce, so read on.
  3. Combining search, hyperlink tags, starred pages and the outline I can find what I need to do or reference. The four elements come together to give me a feeling of control. The hidden search operators are well worth learning as it gives search a boost of meaningful power.
  4. Daily, I review my tags and top level outline containers as it suits my rambling mind.

How I use the WorkFlowy Outline

The outline is my anchor. This reflects my work, my side-project and my personal life.

Hotlink: Click to add my outline to your Workflowy account.

An outline is critical to doing your best work in that it gives structure to turn thoughts into action. This is a personal insight into how I use it and I think it may inspire you to think of a relative structure that WORKS FOR YOU. See the image of my outline.

  1. Context - This is where I store quick links to the tags I use to navigate my tasks across my whole outline
  2. Focus | MIT's – This is a very short list of my top 3-4 things I need to be working on now. When I find my focus drifting, I can go back here for a reminder of my current MIT’s – most important tasks. The idea is that most of my present effort goes into things on this list.
  3. Quicklist – This is where I keep a list of chores and small errands for the day. It also includes things you need to organise later if you’re in a rush. It’s also a place to park things in a snap.
  4. Quarterly Projects – Each quarter I try complete 1-2 notable projects, a public talk, an event, a hobby project. At the end of the year I have a list of things I can be proud of.
  5. work: SIDE-HUSTLE – In my case is my side project that deserves its own container. It contains strategy, planning, schedules, ideas, content plans, around my work on.
  6. work: JOB – This is everything to do with my main vocation. It has containers that correlate to my role and it also includes, meetings, projects, ideas, strategy.
  7. Productivity | Punchlists | Routines – This is a hold all for the processes that keep my life together. This contains things like my weekly review, my day plan, blog post process, social media marketing process, annual review day process, power questions, slight edge actions and a list of all my tools.
  8. Learning – This is where I track my ongoing learning and personal/professional development plans and a long list of books I’ve read and want to read.
  9. Reference – This contains lists of information that include notable dates, notable people, cool things, people and places that inspire
  10. Defining Work – This is high level life planning. This is a major one that determines where my day to day efforts should be going to achieve things that matter to me. I have a vision/missionpurpose/principles and a goals container that helps me focus on the bird’s eye view of my life. This is constantly being edited and tweaked. The great thing is that I have a place to keep developing and expanding my ideas and aspirations at a high level.
  11. Home & Family –This is almost everything else that is not strictly work related. This includes things like travel, finance, household chores, movies to watch, a wish list of things to buy and other personal bits.

The Simple Power of WorkFlowy Tags

Tagging is a powerful feature that lets you add additional layers of organization to the normal WorkFlowy hierarchy. I use them a lot. Tags bring everything together to me by enabling me to turn entries into tasks, delegations and reminders. If you use hashtags in social media you already know how to tag in WorkFlowy.

The recommendation from WorkFlowy was to use @name tags to assign tasks to people on your team. For anything else use a #tag. Specifying a # or an @ symbol before a word converts it into a hyperlink that when clicked shows all entries with that tag. Adding @frank to entries, for example allows me to group all entries against Frank by clicking @frank. You can also use two tags per entry for additional organisation.

I have created a system of tags that is extensive but it does not grow. I make it easily accessible by leaving it at the bottom of my home list – the top level list (see the screenshot). This then creates a quick access area to find tags relevant to my working style. I have 4 types of tags than bring it all together.

  1. Time bound tags – These include #now, #soon, #later and others that allow me to see what’s due on those time frames. Those seem to be sufficient, however I’ve added a few others to give you some options such as #Today, #ThisWeek, #Someday-Maybe and #calendar for things that I’ve actually added to my calendar.
  2. Importance or Priority tags – These mostly get added to entries with the #now tag. It allows me to sort all my #now entries by priority and importance. This works because you can view all #now entries and then filter it further by clicking #A which will show all entries due now and a high importance rating.
  3. Delegated tags – This is great to allocate a task to someone(@name), a team(@teamname), a business partner (@companyname). You can also use the #waitingon tag to group tasks you’re waiting on others for.
  4. Project or Work Status tags – This allows me to see a list of projects by stage. #active for all active projects, #pending for all projects in my pipeline. Other tags could be #on-hold, #current, #future
  5. Location or Context tags – Some tasks are context based that help me see what’s due where I’m at. I only use this category for use @home for tasks at home, @shop for shopping list items. I’ve also experimented with @fun.

Read more about tags here and how the team at WorkFlowy use tags here.

Some Ideas for WorkFlowy Starred Pages

I have a number of starred pages to have quick access to lists I like to refer to often without mining thought my outline. Starred pages allow me to eliminate repetition and access lists deep in my hierarchy. You can save searches as starred pages too so getting to know the hidden search operators is well worth the effort to make starred pages even better A few of my starred pages include:

  1. Reading – I read a lot and this is where I track books I’ve read and books I want to read. I can quickly recall what I’ve read and what I could read next. I love this!
  2. Completed items in the last 30 days – typing is:complete last-changed:30d (make sure Completed: Visible is set in the top right of your screen) into the search field allows me to see the tasks I’ve completed in the last 30 days. This can then be marked as a starred page.
  3. Things changed in the last 30 days – Type last-changed:30d allows me to quickly see what I’ve added in the last month. (Completed: Hidden is set in the top right of the screen)

Read more about Starred pages here.

And that about it. Thanks for reading this far! It’s been a longer post than usual. I trust this has been helpful. Most importantly enjoy the process and keep in mind the power that organisation has on your best work. Have fun and make it your own. If you want to get WorkFlowy click this link to sign up for free.

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