Bob Elliott Uses WorkFlowy to Keep an Inventory of Over 170 Tools On-site

This is a guest post by Frank Degenaar, author of the book,“Do Way, Way More in WorkFlowy”.


Bob Elliott emails me every other week with new use cases for his WorkFlowy document. He’s really making WorkFlowy work for him. Bob’s simple yet powerful tool inventory we’re going to take a look at today saves him the heartache of having to look for his awl in all the wrong places. Bob tells me:

I have started using workflowy as a tool inventory so that I can quickly find tools that are used infrequently and not have to hunt through all 8 pallets on this cart. I use this cart setup to be able to bring all the tools I need into a job, especially if its on the 24th floor of a high-rise building and I have to park the van some distance from the building.

I have tools contained in 8 pallets on a cart, backpack, and in a service van. I’ve memorized the location of tools that I use frequently and can easily find them. I have the tools and equipment inventoried in WorkFlowy lists according to where they are located in the pallets or backpack. When I need a less frequently used tool and don’t have its location memorized, I look its location up on my phone via WorkFlowy search, and can quickly find it.

I also use the lists as checklists in organizing what other tools and supplies will be needed for each job.

I’ll bet that whatever you’re thinking of putting into WorkFlowy, it’s going to make a better, more organized human being out of you if you do. The key is to simply use WorkFlowy – whether for knowledge work or hands-on stuff. Especially things you need to access every day. Sometimes I don’t click that I could actually be using WorkFlowy for a particular task or challenge – and invariably, whatever I do pop into my one zoomable document, is one thing less I have to keep in my head.

Test Bob’s shared list out for yourself and see exactly which pallet his “drill bit gauge” is in. You can also expand the entire shared outline by double clicking on the list title.


I’d like to invite you all to share a WorkFlowy list (big or small) with us below: any list that has at some point made a measurable impact for you. To share a list publicly:

  1. Duplicate a list and clean it up if you must
  2. Hover over your list’s bullet and hit “share”
  3. Hit the share button and copy the URL

The “Clip to WorkFlowy” Extension and “The Lowly URL as The Irreducible Atom of Work Management”

This is a guest post by Frank Degenaar, author of the book,“Do Way, Way More in WorkFlowy”.


I recently touched base with “rawbytz” a programmer and a prolific WorkFlowy hacker – who pointed out that top of his wishlist, he wanted a slackline for Christmas. I had previously installed his “Clip to WorkFlowy” Chrome extension and all 3 of his amazing WorkFlowy Stylish styles. I have since gotten the scoop from rawbytz on half a dozen WorkFlowy hacks that he has either completed or are in the pipeline. He will be sharing all of those in good time here on the WorkFlowy blog. Today we’ll be taking a look at his Clip to WorkFlowy extension – but first, a wee bit of background, cobbled together from a couple of our conversations:

FRANK: Could you tell me a little about how you got into creating your own hacks for WorkFlowy? What sort of tech skills does one need to put something like that together?

RAWBYTZ: I’m an engineer – spent a good part of my career in technical sales. I’d find myself in a hotel room, with crappy internet speeds and the need to upload/download data with big, ugly corporate databases. I taught myself AutoHotKey, a scripting language for Windows. I’d fire up my laptop and launch a script. Then I’d take off and enjoy a nice dinner, leaving the script to curse at the crappy speeds and ugly databases. Later on when I started tweaking bookmarklets, I realized many concepts I learned in AHK applied to JavaScript… I just needed to learn some new words and syntax. It’s an ongoing process.

FRANK: How did your WorkFlowy journey kick off? Did you get what you could really do in WorkFlowy right off the bat?

RAWBYTZ: I first found WorkFlowy in 2012 and was immediately smitten. But I required mobile offline capability, so it was a no-go. Once the iOS app with offline support arrived in early 2013, I migrated most of my system into WorkFlowy. It was short-lived. The lack of dates, and my lack of understanding of what was “under the hood” were factors. I kept Workflowy for notes and brainstorming (I LOVE WorkFlowy for brainstorming) and moved tasks and projects back to my old todo app.

And a funny thing happened. The more I “flowed” in WorkFlowy, the more I got annoyed with the lack of flow and overall clutter of my todo app. I decided to find ways to make WorkFlowy work. The blog post about Hidden Search Operators was a revelation. I could save nodes and complex custom searches in my bookmarks bar. I settled in on a combination of WorkFlowy and Google Calendar and I haven’t felt the need to look for anything else since. For better or worse, WorkFlowy has made me intolerant of the columns, icons and fields you find in other apps.

FRANK: What’s the motivation behind making your hacks available to the public? It’s got to be a lot of hard work.

RAWBYTZ: My motivation with the coding is pretty simple. Solve my own problems. If I think it might benefit someone else, I put it out there.

FRANK: Tell us a little bit about Clip to WorkFlowy and how you use it.

RAWBYTZ: As things moved irreversibly to the cloud, I came to realize the importance of as Stowe Boyd put it “the lowly, lowly URL as the irreducible atom of work management.”

The URL is the simplest way for different apps/services to connect. In other words, your web app/service better create unique URL’s for items or it gets crossed off my list. WorkFlowy excels at this. Every time you create a bullet, a permanent URL is created that doesn’t change even if you edit it, tag it, or drag it. Not all apps get this (looking at you Evernote!).

The lowly URL was the driver for Clip To WorkFlowy. So, I was bookmarking a lot of webpages and all that copying and pasting back and forth was a bit cumbersome. With a single click, Clip To WorkFlowy captures the webpage title and URL, applies special formatting and copies it to the clipboard for one easy paste into WorkFlowy. I use it to create links to everything: Gmails, Dropbox files, Google Drive files, and Google photos. I use it to create intra-WorkFlowy links and to save WorkFlowy searches right in my outline. Oh, and to bookmark websites… that too.

There’s also a bookmarklet version that works in most browsers, as well as a version for the awesome iOS app called Workflow. “Clip To WorkFlowy for Workflow”… clear as mud.


Rawbytz has been kind enough to put out a blog post especially for us (and set up a blog!) to walk us through a couple of easy steps with his Clip to WorkFlowy for Google Chrome Extension, bookmarklet and the Workflow App for iOS. He will also be sharing future extensions and hacks there.

Be sure to follow his blog… and while you’re at it, take a look at his twin post, Keyboard Shortcuts for Google Chrome Extensions. That should set you up with a keyboard shortcut for his Clip to WorkFlowy extension.

Idea: WorkFlowy Presentations

WorkFlowy offers a wonderful way to develop and expand ideas, what if it offered an equally great mechanism to communicate ideas with others? We messed around with the idea of quickly recording a presentation using WorkFlowy to replace slides, and the above video is an example

Is this something you’d use? Other feedback? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Part 2 of an Interview with Mike & Jesse: WorkFlowy Features Present and Future

This is a guest post by Frank Degenaar (@ProMashUp), author of the book,“Do Way, Way More in WorkFlowy”.

This is the 2nd of a 2-part interview with Jesse Patel and Mike Turitzin, WorkFlowy’s co-creators. Mike and Jesse talk about WorkFlowy features, the inspiration behind it all and big dreams for the future. Get the first part of the interview here.

FRANK: Is there anything you can tell us about your inspiration for or any epiphany concerning WorkFlowy’s zoom? Would it be an overstatement to say that the ability to zoom into lists is WorkFlowy’s superpower?

JESSE: Zooming is definitely Workflowy’s superpower.

I tried a bunch of outliners before starting to work on it, and they all had the same problem: If you start a huge project in it, that has many big sub projects, which have many significant sub sub projects of their own, you quickly get to a point where the page feels overwhelming. In most, you can’t zoom, so you can’t infinitely keep drilling down as something gets more complex, or as some small part of a bigger project explodes into a big project of its own. Those where you can zoom, it is usually clunky and unintuitive, so you don’t do much and it is a hassle.

And that is what I was after. I am a bit scatterbrained, so I like to write down every little step of what I’m doing. So my documents tend to get super big and unwieldy really quickly, and I just knew that I needed to be able to zoom in and treat any part of my bigger document like its own little document.

MIKE: I do think the particular way WorkFlowy handles zooming is a big part of why the product clicks for people. A number of the outliners of yesteryear support a feature called “hoisting”, but it doesn’t feel like a primary way of using them, and the way of interacting with it is clunky.

I was familiar with outliners before WorkFlowy, but I never used them. I think that in a way was an advantage in my work with WorkFlowy, because normal outliners (at least the ones in use circa 2010) were not compelling to me – I wanted to make a hierarchical list-making app that was a joy to use.

FRANK: Could you give us some insight into how difficult it actually is to roll out any new feature? Take, for instance, one of the relatively recent additions… the ability to select multiple, arbitrary lists (Alt+Click).

JESSE: Doing things in a really smooth and nice way is hard, and takes a lot of time. Multi-select is a great example. Mike did an amazing job with it and it feels simple and clean.

I just looked at the timestamps on that project and it looks like it took from mid/late May of 2014 until mid July. So, a month and a half at least for that feature that looks/feels simple, but has so many different things going on, so many different browser quirks to work around, etc., that getting it out the door was really time intensive.

MIKE: We (well, particularly I) are perfectionists about the product, and this makes new features take longer, but I think it has been worth it. When we add something new, we think how it can integrate with everything else in the product and how to do things in the most elegant way possible. I am quite averse to new features that feel like they are “tacked on” to the rest of the product. Everything should integrate seamlessly and in a way that makes sense.

FRANK: One gets the feeling that if you were to implement all reasonable requests on people’s wish lists, WorkFlowy might get a tad bloated. Any thoughts on that? Do you have any WorkFlowy philosophy that guides your decision making that’s not documented anywhere?

JESSE: I don’t think that most of the requests we get would bloat the software. Once in a while someone says something that seems incredibly specific or misaligned with our philosophy, but most of the time it makes sense.

Our philosophy so far has been that basically it is text lists with superpowers. So doing anything in WorkFlowy should just feel like typing, and the more familiar you get with it, the faster and more intuitive it gets.

As I said, I don’t think it’s the features that would bloat the software, but rather the way we implemented them and exposed them to the user. We aren’t geniuses, though, so we could definitely mess it up.

MIKE: Disagree that we aren’t geniuses. J/K.

This goes back to the general point that a big part of a product feeling bloated is not how much you can do with it but rather how well-integrated everything is. So, for example, Microsoft Word feels bloated because it shows you endless menus and rows of icons. If new functionality can be added in a way that feels natural (like allowing importing content simply by pasting it into an empty item, for example), then the product simply feels powerful and intuitive rather than bloated.

I think that most new features can be added in a way that increases power but not bloat or complexity. There are some features I struggle with, but it’s a fun challenge to try to do everything in the best way possible.

FRANK: The overwhelming majority of WorkFlowydom loves WorkFlowy’s minimalist feel and dynamic. Given that… and provided you had the development capabilities in place, how far does your vision stretch in terms of additional features? What features would you, yourselves, kill for?

JESSE: My imagination stretches very far, and there are a million features/improvements I’d like to make.

I think that minimalism and lots of features are not opposed to one another. It is instead the way of implementing new features that allows a product to stay minimal. We have added a ton of new features over the years, yet kept the product minimal.

If every feature is pushed into people’s faces through the interface, then you get what feels like feature bloat. If, instead, you are using a product and you think, “I wish it did X,” and then thirty seconds later you realize, “Oh, it does do X”, then you’ve got a minimalist product.

The features I personally want most? I’d like a better native mobile app, I’d like a left bar so it was easier to navigate to dramatically different parts, I’d like image support, I’d like a ton of stuff related to collaboration and communication so that I could draw people’s attention to things, see updates when people change things, just have that whole flow be easy for communicating with people inside of it. I’d like some concept of dates, but for me I’d probably be more interested in recurring stuff, so I could use it more effectively to build a regular schedule for myself. I’d like to have something around tags and templates, so I could quickly type something in and pop in a structure that I’ll then fill in. I’d really like to have a way for people to share such templates with one another, and I’d also like to have a way for people to easily create interactive how-to’s and tutorials for workflowy, that provide a person with a WorkFlowy structure for a given person and then guide them through using that structure, so that we could have a community of best practice that evolves over time to discover and share different ways of using the tool. I’d like to make it easy to link from one place in WorkFlowy to another, so that you could represent graphs easily instead of just trees. I’d like to have an API that let you both control the interface and build new interfaces for WorkFlowy (as well as more normal stuff). I’d like to make a nice way to publish WorkFlowies, including more presentation type display (which really just means making everything bigger). I’d like to let you sort your sub lists in different ways. I’d like to let you view multiple sublists at once, side by side or maybe in a grid of sorts. I’d like to have much faster collaboration, so there’s no lag when editing. There is an endless list, honestly. Most of the stuff people want, I’d really like to do.

FRANK: Does the current set of features we have stem predominantly from your very own use of WorkFlowy or do you also anticipate features you think others might need even though you don’t?

JESSE: It comes primarily from our own use cases, plus that avalanche of feedback we get from our users. This actually frustrates me a bit, because our jobs aren’t that typical and I really would like to have a design process that focuses more on our users than on ourselves. It is super important for us to use the product, but I’d really like to design with more empathy, and actually do things like date support, which a lot of people with real jobs that involve meetings and deadlines need.

MIKE: I do have a very empathetic relationship with myself, but I agree with Jesse that we have some blind spots that are due to our own use cases for the product. We tend to weigh things that we will use a lot more heavily, which is human nature, but also can lead to important things being pushed off into the future.

FRANK: Do you have any secret WorkFlowy features that you reserve for yourselves (and which you would never ever admit)?

JESSE: Not really. We have a few administrative things we can do, but those aren’t really features, just things that help us with customer support.

MIKE: The closest thing to this is probably the “hidden search operators,” but we have blogged about them which makes them not-so-hidden :)

We of course have been planning to make these less hidden, particularly in terms of viewing what has changed recently.

In general, we try not to use anything that isn’t clearly documented and intuitive for other people, because that creates blind spots where we don’t realize that important functionality is missing for others.

FRANK: Any thoughts about an open API (to let others go wild)?

JESSE: Would love to do it. We haven’t yet because it feels like a big project that we have no idea how to really approach.

FRANK: Over the last couple of years, has your job of convincing people to onboard gotten any easier? Why do you think it is that so many people don’t click at first… and in many cases only get their Eureka moment months or years later?

JESSE: You know, this is what kills me. We still stink at onboarding I think, and it is one of the things that if we nailed it, we would be growing a lot more quickly and just be in a totally different place as a product and a company.

I am thinking about this all the time, but here are a few thoughts.

  1. One of the benefits of WorkFlowy is the familiar document-like interface. However, because most documents don’t zoom, many people don’t get it and find the zooming jarring. They haven’t shifted their thinking, and we haven’t helped them shift their thinking, so they miss on one of the main benefits of the program.
  2. We only provide one document, because zooming means every item in your document is also a document. However, a lot of people don’t quite get this, and they just start their main document as if it is a normal list, say, of contacts, or todos, or whatever. So they do not create higher level categories and miss out on the whole point of workflowy. Moreover, they get frustrated that they can’t figure out how to “create another list”. This is mostly an interface issue, and I think our plans for a left bar to make navigating easier is a good step toward giving people a sense of how to use the product.
  3. We start people with a blank slate. We provide a few help videos, but I don’t think those are very helpful for really getting people started. We need to do a much better job helping people figure out how to structure their WorkFlowy, what to put in it, and how to get started in general, seeing examples of how other people use WorkFlowy. I’ve spent a lot of time on our onboarding and it feels to me like this is an area that is still incredibly weak, and that the average person doesn’t quickly get to a place of excitement and insight about how the product can help them. Enough of them do that we have a lot of users, and those who do get excited enough that they preach the WorkFlowy gospel, but we’re still doing a poor job on this.

MIKE: User onboarding is a difficult problem in general, and the open-ended nature of WF makes it all the more difficult.

As Jesse said, we are still bad in the onboarding department. We have been lucky to have spread mostly through word-of-mouth, which means that people can tell their friends what’s cool about WF and how they use it – which is basically the first stage of onboarding. That means that even if we do a bad job at onboarding, people may still “get it” because they were introduced by a trusted friend.

We know for a fact that we lose a lot of people due to confusion about how (or why) to use the product. And given how excited people are once it clicks, that is certainly a loss for us, and something we continue to try and improve.

FRANK: I’ve seen this exact same concern far and wide from organizational tool users across the board – here’s a snippet from a certain forum: “My greatest fear is that WorkFlowy disappears one day… because it would be tough to manage without it now.” Any authoritative words of assurance from the horse’s mouth?

JESSE: WorkFlowy is a strong and stable small business, so it isn’t going to die because we can’t pay the bills.

We’ve already been approached about selling a number of times, and we haven’t done it yet.

Lastly, if we did sell, we’d be very inclined to sell to a company that would actually want to invest in the product.

FRANK: I’d love to see any real-life list/ hierarchy of yours – something you can give us an inside look at – whether semi-top secret or mundane. For one, we know that you plan WorkFlowy in WorkFlowy…

JESSE: Here’s a high level view of our master list:

Well, I recently did an experiment to try to increase the number of people in shared documents who start using WorkFlowy elsewhere in their lives. It was a massive failure. Here’s the list I used to manage that project:

I did this outside of the actual WorkFlowy shared list because I’ve been experimenting with a GTD flow in my own private WorkFlowy. If Mike and I had been working on this together, however, it would have been in the WorkFlowy section, and it probably should have been in there anyway.

FRANK: Do you reckon you (the creators of WorkFlowy) might have some rather unique/ uncommon way(s) of using your document that you haven’t seen before on the web?

JESSE: You know, I’m not sure we do. I/we use it for everything, and in a lot of different way, but a lot of users do too. Don’t think this is particularly novel, but I often structure projects in the following way:

I drag stuff between the lists as I work on them. I’m not sure that’s particularly novel or interesting, but it is what came to mind.

MIKE: I also wouldn’t say we really use particular tricks that we haven’t seen other people use. I think the way a person uses WorkFlowy is very much the same as the way that person thinks and gets things done in general. WF lets you organize things however you like, so it lets people do whatever they want (which is both what makes it great, and what makes it hard to explain to people).

My style of working on a project is to first write copious notes in a “brain dump” style where I just unload everything I’m thinking about in a somewhat disorganized manner. I will then organize it a bit and move things around.

Once that is done, I’ll create an “Implementation plan” section where I specifically outline each of the steps I’m going to take to finish the project or task at hand. These steps are precisely ordered based on dependencies and also generally trying to do the simple things first and the more complicated things later.

I’ll then further break down each step in the implementation plan, often going multiple levels deeper for each one.

I’ve been using this process (in WorkFlowy) for years now, and it really works well for me.

 Please go ahead and say something extra cool about WorkFlowy in the comments below… and then sign up for WorkFlowy Pro if you haven’t already. I’m thinking that if you don’t quite need WorkFlowy Pro just yet, you have yet to discover what you can really do in your zoomable document. Time to get Workflowy-ing!

WorkFlowy Co-Creators, Mike Turitzin & Jesse Patel on WorkFlowy’s Early Days

This is a guest post by Frank Degenaar (@ProMashUp), author of the book, “Do Way, Way More in WorkFlowy”.

This is the first of a 2-part interview with Jesse Patel and Mike Turitzin, WorkFlowy’s co-creators. Today’s post is a throwback to the early days of WorkFlowy’s ideation and inception… while the next post will take a look at some tougher questions about WorkFlowy’s vision and behind-the-scenes development. 

FRANK: I went fishing for WorkFlowy’s genesis and unearthed the following from a 2012 blog post elsewhere on the ‘net:

The idea for [WorkFlowy] grew out of Jesse Patel’s work at a nonprofit, “a job that was really overwhelming, where I had to manage a bunch of moving parts for 30 different projects.” While at that job, Patel tried many different programs to help him get organized. “The biggest problem with all of them is that they don’t support flexible data structures—they don’t let you define things how you want,” he says. “Instead they make you work in a specific way. Everything was super-janky and hard to use. So I was like, I’m just going to start creating a hierarchical interface for myself to manage this stuff.”

I’ve got a bunch of questions from that alone. For instance, how many man hours/ days, roughly, went into getting your first prototype up and running? And could you give us something… anything… more about those early days?

JESSE: I remember where I was when I decided to make WorkFlowy. It was in 2008 at some point. I was sitting at a red desk in the attic of a beautiful apartment, and I’d been trying and searching for a hierarchical, zoomable solution to my project management needs.I was teaching myself to program at the time, and tinkering with a lot of little thing, and decided to just try to make a hierarchical, zoomable interface to manage all my info and projects.

Given the fact that I didn’t know how to program very well, it took me a long time. It was in June, when I was living in Berlin for a month, working out of the Soundcloud offices (they had maybe 13 people at the time? They’d just raised $1M) that I really started working on WorkFlowy a lot more.

I think I got to something super basic I could use pretty quickly, but it literally stored the html in a big blob in the database and rewrote it every time I saved an edit. For those who know web development, you’ll understand how insane this is. It was also a pretty clever hack that let me, as a really inexperienced programmer, make something usable for myself pretty quickly.

I thought of this as my learning-to-code project because while I desperately wanted something like it, I thought it was a stupid idea that was bound to fail. After all, every programming tutorial starts with a todo list or note taking app, and everyone seems to think they can make a better one. Therefore, I viewed it as extremely unlikely that the idea I had for WorkFlowy was really novel or interesting, and that I was deluded in the same way everyone who made a notes/todo app was. So I thought, “This is a good starter project, because I am terrible at programming and I won’t be ruining a good idea with bad code.”

By around September or October of 2009 I had quit my job and was working on WorkFlowy full time, and had made something other people could use. So I guess it was about 6 months until I had made a real thing, but it would have been a lot faster if I actually knew how to program at the time. I had been teaching myself on the side for years, but still hadn’t put a ton of hours into it.

I named WorkFlowy in about 10 minutes, because I didn’t think it was important and didn’t think the product was going to be a real thing. If I’d known I’d spend this long working on it, and this many people would use it, I would have thought a lot harder about the name. I literally wrote down five names, asked my girlfriend (now wife) which she liked best, and registered the domain.

I was living in Geneva at the time. My first user was a friend name Shafqat Islam, who was working on his own startup, Newscred, which is now a pretty big success, hundreds of employees, offices in NYC, etc.. At the time, it was him and a friend working out of his apartment or mine, I ran a little co-working space for a bit. He used the first version of WorkFlowy religiously for a few months, then his usage petered out. His enjoyment of it was the first real sign that the zoomable hierarchy was interesting.

At the time, WorkFlowy looked dramatically different than it does now. I hadn’t yet arrived at the single piece of paper metaphor, and was instead using a column oriented approach similar to what you’ll find when exploring folders in a Mac finder. Here’s a screenshot of my actual account in an early version:

As you can see, even from this early stage, the development of WorkFlowy, which from this screenshot I guess I was calling “WorkFlow” at the time, was managed within itself. So, it really has been since the very beginning that WorkFlowy has been built in WorkFlowy.

Before I moved back to the US from Geneva, I rewrote WorkFlowy in about a week, using the single page interface that you see it in now. It had gotten kinda complicated and I wanted to make it simpler, get rid of my unbelievably crappy code and replace it with something better based on my learnings, which was still terrible code. You couldn’t click to edit, so it didn’t feel like a word processor, but that’s when it made the basic shift to looking like a text document, and that metaphor has driven much of the product direction in the years since.

At the end of 2009/Beginning of 2010, Mike and I started talking about working together on something. I had started to go slightly insane working by myself and was reading all sorts of stuff on Hacker News about how solo founders didn’t do as well. I also realized I wasn’t a good enough programmer to do something real alone.

Anyway, we started working together, but not on WorkFlowy. Got into Y Combinator, and ended up flailing around a bit as various projects didn’t seem to have legs. A few people in YC started using WorkFlowy at the time, and around half way through, we decided to make WorkFlowy our main project, so at least we would have something to show on demo day.

Then we finally launched it in November of 2010. Because we were part of Y Combinator, we got an article in Techcrunch automatically. Then Lifehacker wrote about us the next day, and after a day we had over 10K signups, and people seemed to really love the product. They stuck around and kept using it over time, told other people about it, and filled our email inboxes with nice emails saying how much they liked what we’d done. Although we had just launched it at that point, this was really the end of the beginning, because we now had a real product out in the world.

MIKE: I had worked as a programmer on the search engine at Google for a few years after college. I left that job wanting to strike out on an adventure, and I spent a year doing all sorts of interesting non-technical things.

I got back into the tech world in early 2010 when I worked with my brother Chris on some entertaining viral Facebook apps that reached over 10 million people in a matter of days (those were the days!)

Jesse and I had lived in the same residence in college. We started working together in 2010 because we had similar interests and both wanted a collaborator. We worked for several months on stuff that was completely and totally unrelated to WF.

As Jesse said, WF began as his “teach myself to program” project, which is obviously funny in retrospect.

As he said, midway through Y Combinator, we didn’t know what we were going to do next, and we needed something for demo day. The deadline loomed!

I had tried Jesse’s WF demo a bit, and in particular I thought the zoom feature was cool. I was already making multi-level bulleted lists in Google Docs all the time (and we did a lot of this when planning out earlier projects).

From my perspective, WF could completely take over my usage of Google Docs for project management and note-taking if we adopted an interface that was just as easy to use for adding and editing bullets as Google Docs (or any word processor) was. That became our first project when we started on WorkFlowy – to make editing as seamless as possible.

We discussed directions for WF, and we had similar visions of where it could go, so we decided to make it a collaboration. It felt like a fairly insignificant decision at the time, which is funny in retrospect.

FRANK: When you were conceptualizing everything and hammering out the WorkFlowy dynamic, were you really *confident* or really *hopeful* that the whole concept of WorkFlowy would catch on? Did you know right from the inception that along the way you’d pick up a crowd of crazed fans whose workflows depended on WorkFlowy?

JESSE: I am a person who dreams really big, about everything, to a ridiculous extent. Even if I’m making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I’m thinking, “This new peanut butter technique I just invented is going to revolutionize PB&J”. So basically, I always think everything I’m doing will be revolutionary and important, which is absurd and silly. I’ve been like this since I was a kid.

However, I’m also aware of this tendency to fantasize about the huge potential of things, so I have a big part of my brain that tries to be a realist. There’s kind of a balance in my mind between the realist keeping things in perspective and the fantasizer saying, “This is going to revolutionize everything.”

With regard to WorkFlowy, I simultaneously felt two contradictory ways about the project. First an enthusiasm around, “This is going to be huge, it is going to become the universal way people think things through, organize their work and communicate complicated ideas.” Second, a more realistic, “This is a throwaway project that will never see the light of day. I’m just learning to code here, and everyone makes a to-do app as their learning project.”

When we launched WorkFlowy, we were definitely surprised by the enthusiasm and usage that it got, and I still am. At the same time, I am honestly still disappointed that we haven’t succeeded in reaching a larger audience, because I think we really have made a better way to organize one’s thinking and one’s life.

MIKE: I was personally confident that our vision of where we wanted WF to go would produce an awesome product that I would love to use myself. So I was fully behind the idea, and a lot of my motivation has come from a personal desire to use the product.

Like Jesse, I did have some skepticism that the project could become a big thing. A lot of this has to do with the general crowdedness of the “space” that we are part of – there are so many note-taking, task management, and collaboration tools available that it’s easy to get lost in the noise.

We were both very happy to see all the positive feedback when we released the first version of WF to the world in November 2010. It was great to hear so much good stuff about something that both of us were aware was still very crude.

FRANK: What does your 2-man team look like, practically? Do you guys work in the same space in a 2-desk office or do you collaborate remotely? What do the 2 of you each focus on? How do you divide all that is the behind-the-scenes of WorkFlowy? Do you just slog away at a bug or a feature with dogged determination until it’s done?

JESSE: Mike lives in NYC and I live in San Francisco. We used to both live in San Francisco, until 2014 when he moved. We collaborate remotely via email, Slack and WorkFlowy.

Mike has traditionally done what I’d refer to as the parts of the product that require more hardcore coding. I work on the product a lot as well, but also on a lot of things that aren’t product related: payroll, taxes, forms, finding contractors, etc.. I have also done all the stuff that requires use of Photoshop and the like.

We both do customer support, with Sasha taking care of all the stuff that doesn’t require one of us to do something on the backend.

MIKE: For the first few years of the company, we both lived in SF and worked most days in the same room together. We are now remote, as I am in NYC. We both are very involved in designing new features and UI concerns.

I have generally been the one who wakes up in the middle of the night to respond to server outages and fight fires. Things have been pretty stable recently, but there have been periods where we’ve faced a lot of difficulties, many of which were growth-related or due to people using the product in ways we hadn’t anticipated.

FRANK: Are you sometimes surprised at what many WorkFlowy users squeeze out of your brainchild? I mean… do you see people using WorkFlowy in a way you never personally imagined or intended? I know this might sound a little over-the-top for an organizational tool… but have you ever felt like this creation of yours is bigger than you?

JESSE: Yeah, I’m really impressed and humbled with what people do with it. Especially the things people accomplish with it, that is what I find most exciting. And the fact that people take their valuable time to write scripts and styles and stuff to modify WorkFlowy is insane. And that you wrote a 250-page book about it, and that people actually wanted to read that book – that really blew my mind.

MIKE: I am blown away at all the things people use WF for. That’s one thing that I find very gratifying – we wanted to build a product that gets out of your way and lets you do whatever you want with it. So it’s neat to see people doing everything with it, which is exactly how it should be used :)

In Thursday’s post Mike and Jesse will be spilling the beans about  the WorkFlowy they envision. Don’t forget to share some love below…

The “??” Filtering Trick Many Have Been Implementing All Along Without Knowing it

This is a guest post by Frank Degenaar (@ProMashUp), author of the book, “Do Way, Way More in WorkFlowy“.

I love the tips and tricks that people are emailing me. Please keep them coming! frankman777(at) Today we have a no-brainer from Richard Bird, who we’ll be hearing more from in future posts.

Richard Bird is an application engineer for a transportation company where he builds custom scripts and applications to automate user processes… and he drives a Ford Mustang.

Richard tells me:

I started using this latest tip by accident. I have this odd habit of typing “??” in sentences where I didn’t know what else to write at the moment or where I needed more info. LIGHTBULB… why not just search for “??” to find all of the places where I left the reader hanging? Super simple, no frills. Just works. After a while I had a ton of them in there. Now I am slowly working my way through tidying them up. So it is kind of like a mini todo list. You know like …Define this, what is this?, get this info, etc.

Below is a snippet from my current outline that has the “??” hack. Any time I need to go back and define what a term means, or leave better notes on a subject, I type “??” with a brief note on what I intend to replace it with. Then later I can go back and make the proper changes by simply searching for “??”:

I went ahead and tried out Richard’s tip by typing “??” into my search box and found all of those entries with 2 or more question marks – which returned an interesting mix of head-scratchers that had either automatically been solved over time… or were even still valid items that needed my attention. I’ve got a feeling that this might be a similar case for many of you. The more question marks you add to your search, the deeper you delve into your past (and present) confoundedness.

In that sense, this useful tip is reminiscent of a guest post by Brent Kimber, who shared how he uses asterisks for prioritization.

Dee Jay Doc’s “Action Flow” Demonstrates WorkFlowy Tagging Magic 101, Bringing Together what Many Find Elusive

This is a guest post by Frank Degenaar, author of the book, “Do Way, Way More in WorkFlowy“.

Today’s post is an encore of Dee Jay Doc’s interview last Thursday. I’m incredibly impressed with how he put together his “Action Flow”. Dee Jay Doc is going to run us through the basics, but you absolutely have to zoom in, hit some tags and tinker with his shared list to see how all of the moving parts of his system integrate seamlessly.

It is well worth highlighting that Doc does a fantastic job of consolidating to-do items within individual project workflows and those in fixed daily schedule lists. He also uses a hybrid of date/ month tags – everything coming together in his tag indexes. You’ll most certainly want to take a page or two out of his book, since many people have found what he’s achieved in his Action Flow to be painfully elusive. There’s also a lot of magic here for those of you GTD fans. Here’s last week’s question I saved for today:

FRANK: Do you have any of your own home-grown tips and tricks which you wangle out of WorkFlowy – anything that you’ve been dying to shout out aloud? Because now’s the time to do it!

DOC: My life can get complex because I run the Fresh Camp, create my own Dee Jay Doc music and help my wife with her handmade jewelry business.

I’ve been tinkering for years with WorkFlowy as well as other task management systems. I really appreciate your new book, Frank. It got me into the next dimension of WorkFlowy use. Here’s a few things I’ve been doing to help manage my own workflow:


I can filter my whole system by area. This helps me focus on one aspect of my life:

FAMILY (#fam)



(My wife’s handmade jewelry business)


#goals” is a shortcut that expands all my yearly, seasonal, monthly and weekly goals. This is very important so I can check in with my deepest, most essential goals and make sure I’m doing what’s most important. Sometimes I get so caught up in the matrix of tasks, due dates and stuff that I can’t seem to perceive the most important objectives of the week and stay up on what I need to get accomplished this month.


I use a lot of GTD principles, in that I collect in an inbox (Reminders on my iPhone). I process them. I organize in WorkFlowy and assign contexts. I will check my @office context when I’m in my office, but I can usually only do a few things on any given day, so I spend more time in my Day views than in my context views. I try to schedule my week out this way and take work in chunks.


Inside the Today node, I have three buckets, “Priority”, “Call”, and “If I Can”. Each of these operate the same way. I can write my priorities for Friday in the Priority node with a tag @f. I can do this ahead of time and/or on the day of. They can be in any order because I don’t spend time just looking at the priority node. Instead, I click @f on Friday. This filters all the @f tags from the three buckets. It also filters out my schedules for all days except Friday. I love this view. It gives me an overview of my day.

If I am zoomed all the way out to “Action Flow”, and I click @f, I can see my Friday along with any other task from any PROJECT or NEXT BUCKET that is tagged @f. I can leave it there or drag it into my days PRIORITIES, CALL, IF or SCHEDULE.

Another cool thing that I could NEVER do in a Calendar program is click on the context tag of the context I’ve scheduled myself time in. For example, at 1pm on Friday I’m schedule to go into the studio. If I click @studio, I’ll see any task with the @studio label (I do need to click on @f to remove it from the search, or else I’d only see the tasks with @studio and @f).

Once again… do yourself a favor and go and play with Dee Jay Doc’s Shared list:

Your feedback is most welcome in the comments below!