I’ll admit it; I’ve looked high and low for just the right tool to keep me organized, on task and up to date on all my to-do lists and projects.

There are seemingly hundreds of tools and systems that have been created to address this obvious challenge and I’ve tried at least a dozen of them. You’ve got some great ones like GTD, Evernote and Basecamp. I’ve heard from readers about Remember the Milk, Wunderlist and Asana. And, of course, sometimes the good old analog pen and notebook does the trick.

I’ve tried any number of digital tools and found that nothing quite stuck. I would use them for a while and then return to my notebook. I never quite understood why I couldn’t get used to using systems and tools evangelized by many until I can across a tool called Workflowy.


The stark outline interface is the beauty of Workflowy


I have to admit that I encountered it almost a year ago, but dismissed it because it seemed so different and too simple.

As it turns out that’s the magic of Workflowy. It’s so simple that you get to design how to use it based on how you think and work and that’s what makes it so powerful. So many other tools I had used required me to think a different way, spend time entering data or adopt new habits to get them to work.

You want a tool like to get out of the way and not turn into another thing you have to operate.

Workflowy is at its core a giant notepad with a few simple features for navigation, hierarchy, search and sharing and nothing else. In fact, the challenge some people have, including me originally, is that it doesn’t seem to do much of anything.

But, it’s the clear and uncluttered work environment that allows you to design how you organize, think and work in the way that fits your style and not the tool designer’s idea of how to work.

Why Workflowy

Workflowy allows me to keep a present picture of all of my projects and tasks and manage this picture with a couple keystrokes. Frankly, I can keep a picture of anything I want in my view – goals, centering thoughts, meeting notes – it’s just a big giant outline of my life. I’ve even added a section for personal and home-related projects.

The tool is web based, but iPhone and iPad apps allow you to sync, add and edit across devices.

In addition, you can share any element with other Workflowy uses so you can use the tool as a team or even just make one item available to client for collaboration.

How Workflowy

To me, and of course this could differ from person to person, the key is the structure of the outline. While you can change this anytime you like, getting it right was one of the keys getting more out of it.

I started globally with Work and Personal as my two primary catch all bins.

The work is then structured by the kinds of work I do. For me it’s speaking, writing and projects. Nested under these items are the notes for each speaking event, blog post ideas, outline and notes for my next book and all the various projects that need my attention such as product creation and promotion.

I don’t know about you but my work and personal lives intersect quite often and having a view of personal home projects, exercise, vision, goals and even vacation planning intertwined with my work view is a powerful thing.

As your list grows you can expand and collapse views as well as search for any word or phrase. You can also create hashtags that make list making very simple. For example, I use the tag #soon after any task I want to be on the immediate radar. That way I can click on a #soon tag and get what amounts to my daily to-do list. What I love about the outline structure is that my to-do list now is made up from and related to my ongoing worldview and not just from what’s barking loudest or on deadline.

Every staff meeting runs from Workflowy and every phone call with a client or meeting planner runs there as well. You can also create checklists and common outlines and duplicate them as needed.

It took no time at all to get Workflowy into my routine, partly because there are only about a dozens commands and functions and mostly because I could adapt it to the way I already thought about organizing my life.

I do still use Google Calendar for appointments, but Workflowy stays up and ready throughout the day and into the night as my planning, organizing and doing tool.

There is a free version of Workflowy that will work for most users. You can upgrade to pro for $49 a year if you really want to use the team and sharing functions with lots of people.

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John Jantsch

John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and author of Duct Tape Marketing, Duct Tape Selling, The Commitment Engine and The Referral Engine and the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network.
  • I’m with you, John – I’ve tried a number of apps and none of them have worked for me because it made list making too complicated. I’ve played with Workflowy for the past couple of months and really like it. Though, I still finding myself going back to pen and paper. I think it’s because I still haven’t come up with a process that makes sense here (that and I love crossing items off of a list!).

    I think one of the big missing features for me is having an offline mode. If I’m on a plane or a place without a connection, I can’t work with the it. I understand this feature is coming soon, so hopefully, that will help.

    • Yes offline is so needed, I fear this is a task that may be off a bit as the last time I saw them mention it they said it was several weeks away – that was months ago 🙁

      • Yes, Workflowy is a wonderful tool, but their development cycle is quite slow. I think if they dropped their price, they would get more subscribers and increase their revenue base to support development. Then they could increase the price to match the improvements that come.

    • Laura Click: I am using Frixion”remove ink by friction” pen by Pilot and Moleskine notebooks as the handy dandy tools. Workflowy will fit well with my idea on having a visual system together with a personal kanban bulletin board (to-do, doing and done) so I can have an overview of the workflow.

      Jon: Thanks for informing me about Workflowy! 🙂 I will write a post on this tool and Jim Benson’s & Tonianne DeMaria Barry’s book, Personal Kanban – Mapping Work / Navigating Life, in the near future.

    • Simon Binder

      Apparently it already has mobile offline use…. http://blog.workflowy.com/post/43005843053/workflowy-goes-offline

  • Blair Warner

    I have been using it for a couples of days now, and love it, so far. Hopefully, this is the one! 🙂 I do have to get used to it only being an organizer, to-do, project list system, yet without any calendar or reminder functions. We’ll see how it integrates.

    • I still use the calendar with this and don’t look for reminders so much as lists that I refer to – I even have a list of affirmations that this allows me to review daily.

  • I was drawn in by the same features. Used it for a while about a year ago but went back to Checkvist – which is also shareable. The problem may have been Workflowy does not print well.

    It’s all about using what works. As I’ve gotten busier mind-mapping is something that is merging with my lists – seems like a waste of time but helps me see the big picture.

    • No Jeff the point is you never have to print again 🙂

      • Oops, just identified myself as an “old-timer”

    • Hey Jeff. What doesn’t work about the printing for you?

      • Seems to work fine now. I don’t recall this feature from about a year ago. Thanks

  • Adam

    It sounds like you’re very happy with Workflowy, but if any of your readers are looking for other options to try out, they might also like to look at http://www.donebywhen.com – it’s not as simple as Workflowy, but also not as complex as some of the other options. And there is a free version which is useful for people just starting up their business.

  • Will check this out now, and personally, I’ve always had a hard time developing the habit of using one task / work flow app. Thank you for the tip, John!

  • Though I am a fan of the marriage of Evernote and Moleskine, this tool looks way more practical. Thanks for sharing, John!

    • As am I but there’s something about this global view that I’m digging

  • Like you, I am a committed notebook user. I just gave Workflowy a test ride on your recommendation, and I can see there’s a lot to like. Look forward to getting all the notes off my desk!

  • kimsnider

    Thanks for this John. Just ried it and switched instantly. My dream app would be Workflowy inside Evernote

    • That integrated with Google Calendar!

      • It’s really not a true integration, but a Chrome extension called KanMeet does allow you to import Google Calendar events into Evernote. I just have a Google Calendar notebook for right now, but I am trying some ways to better integrate this with my Evernote.

  • Mike Pugliese

    I have been using Workflowy for quite some time now and still love it! Dont know how i worked without it

  • m8e

    I use MyLifeOrganized.net software on my windowsPC which syncs to Android over wifi

  • Really interesting product; I downloaded demo and played a bit, very clean concept.
    Three questions for others out there:
    1. Has anyone tried integrating it with Evernote? I don’t mean technically, I mean as a practical matter
    2. I would view this as a replacement for Omnifocus, with the virtue of being far simpler; I don’t see them as co-existing. Does that sound right?
    3. Oh wow just noticed in comments that it doesn’t yet work offline; that’s a showstopper for me, hopefully they add it.

  • I don’t use WorkFlowy for my task management, but I do use it as a wiki for a class I teach. I share the wiki sections with each of the two classes for them to update. It works really well. It would easily be worth the $50/year for me to have the ability to create wikis like this for all of the classes I teach. I also used this for sharing show notes with my co-host on the fan podcast we do for the Green Bay Packers (www.packersfanpodcast.com).

    I am a full-fledged GTDer, so WorkFlowy is a little tricky to put into a system like this. However, if you follow a system like Gina Trapani explained in this old Lifehacker article (http://lifehacker.com/335269/practicing-simplified-gtd), WorkFlowy would be a great tool.

  • Thank you for this! I’ve tried all those mentioned and more just to find the one… that never was! Giving WorkFlowy a try, looks promising!

  • Sheetal Sharma

    Workflowy is another tool to organize your calendar at workplace, at Synechron we even use outlook to the optimum level so as to keep ourselves organised.I am sure many tools like workflowy will be introduced form time to time.

  • After a couple weeks, I am pretty sold on this little tool. I love that you can collapse lists to keep unneeded items out of sight while you work on other things. I use hash tags followed by days of the week (rather than #soon or #now), and I can instantly see my tasks to each day. Also, you CAN have the satisfaction of crossing things off the list by going to settings and choosing to keep completed items visible.

  • Juan Oro

    Hi John,
    Have you tried this view of Google Tasks?

  • John Michael Rinard

    This is great – I totally agree, the simplicity is what makes it SO GOOD. I just posted an article on how I use it, especially for being able to zoom in and focus on just one part of the list: http://www.mikerinard.com/blog/workflowy