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

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I love the tips and tricks that people are emailing me. Please keep them coming! frankman777(at)gmail.com. 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.


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Author: frank.dg

Author of the book, "Do Way, Way More in WorkFlowy", I blog on ProductivityMashup.com and for the WorkFlowy blog.

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

  1. I have been using this too… And this leads me to a ?? for you about the art of tagging:

    Is there a difference between a tag, or just searching a term like ?? (or anything else, for example a name)?

    Background: The other day, I wanted to make the tag #?? I realized that Wordflowy wouldn’t recognize the syntax of two adjacent characters. So I chose to make the tag #dudas (doubts). (I opted to not create the tag #question because in keeping with the spirit of ??, I’m not actually asking a defined question here but rather leaving the section incomplete or in need of confirmation.)

    Of course ?? is faster and has always been part of my note-taking. Any disadvantages to this (or other terms) not being formatted as a tag? I’ve seen that the Workflowy Getting Started video recommends not creating too many tags, so I’m curious about the art of tagging. Thanks!

    1. Hey Czarina,

      You’ll see this on pg. 116 of my book (I know you have it!):

      ——————————————————————————-
      KEYWORDS

      Don’t underestimate keyword searches…
      • One can search for keywords in general without strategic foreplanning as far as tagging.
      • One can search for groups of keywords, whether loosely associated or “quoted” strings.

      In certain outlines, it may not be necessary at all to tag, since most keywords might already be unique in those defined contexts. Here’s a blog post of mine at the time of the last soccer world cup.
      Here’s the shared WorkFlowy list of all match results from start to finish.

      TAGS

    2. • A tag is basically a keyword with special powers…
        • One can tap/ click on tags where they lie, bypassing the search box.
        • Tag formatting is distinguishable from “plain” text.

      • One can customize tag styles as a unique element in Stylish.
      • Tags can be exploded (on desktop). Can you say “speed”?
      • Tags show up with the autocomplete helper

    3. ——————————————————————————-

      In short, tagging automates things quite a bit. You may be a little new to the WorkFlowy thing… but you’ll get the feel of it before long.

      A huge theme throughout my book is about tags. Also do yourself a favor and take a look at the chapter I wrote on Journaling. Tagging helps to set apart your choicest entries for later purposes, as opposed to filtering for all instances of a plain keyword.

      Then there’s the ability to distinguish between”@” and “#” tags. This just gives us more latitude/ more elbow room to work with. (pg. 119).

      At the end of the day, the brilliant little “??” hack just expands things a tad more. No elaborate tagging dynamic… and it fits in well where you would have done so without thinking too much about it anyways. I wouldn’t, personally, go ahead and use question marks for more than what Richard laid out for us.

      1. 😉 Yes, I’m on p44 of your book and loving it!

        Thanks, really helpful insights from your Journaling chapter! This has clarified for me what I was doing intuitively:

        ?? for small things that come up (that I skip over temporarily to not break my stream-of-conscious writing flow by getting into Editor mode). Often I re-visit these in a more polished draft since they may be fine as is — truly me doubting myself and wanting a second look-over before pushing it out into the world!

        And #duda to highlight chunks that I really need to work through more. These are priority items for a first review of my work (still in the analysis stage) that I need to set aside more time for.

        So, in sum, the difference between tags and keyword searches I now see allows for a SUPER-QUICK prioritization of my analysis and editing tasks. I’ve just been doing this intuitively, but the tag #duda seems to tend to mark my prioritized analysis tasks (for initial drafts), and the ?? tends to mark editorial tasks (for drafts that are nearly ready for sharing).

        Looking forward to your Book Writing chapter!

    4. Makes me wonder why I haven’t been using languages other than English to spice up my tags (#duda). Certain words in our 2nd language(s) are often jam-packed with meaning. What’s important is that you get what your tagging nomenclature means. Another case of WorkFlowy being a vehicle that reflects the way our brains are wired.

    1. Not off-topic at all! Very interesting read! Thanks @scaldwell17!
      What’s surprising is that the modern usage of the hashtag… or at least the way it’s used on twitter was “invented” only in 2007.

      1. Frank, I have been somewhat disappointed in one of your suggestions.
        I started using one of your tags [ #getting-laid ]. This has not worked out well for me. Maybe you have a follow-up method or advice to “point me” in the proper direction. Thank you in advance. I am sure other old guys may benefit from this.

        ps your book is fantastic!

      2. Haha! I might point out the Doogie Howser’s “#getting-laid” tag (as with most journaling snippets) was included after the fact. So this sort of a tag is implemented as part of one’s journaling efforts to learn from one’s attempts and musings… and for nostalgia’s sake.

        Rather, you might want to make the “#getting-laid” tag part of a full-blown GTD-like project (more than one task involved). What’s more – I would suggest you get some Kanban going so you can visualize your workflow as you work towards your end goal.

        Additionally, I would employ the use of a #now-or-never tag for certain tasks which are imperative, lest your project be cut short prematurely. You might want to employ date tags or even a Kanban Calendar so that you are sure not to forget about important (and frequent) pleasantries which are foundational to the end goal.

        Lastly, you should use WorkFlowy to write poetry or song lyrics. Remember, it’s the thought that counts 🙂

  2. Probably that is not a news but I’ve found out how to make ‘nested’ tags.
    Set of tags #time-night #time-day let to search fo night and day. But search line ‘#time’ takes for both of them!

    1. Nice 🙂
      When writing, I have sets of “Editing” tags, for example: #edit-list-order, #edit-reference, #edit-icon, #edit-simplify, #edit-shared-list

    2. You can also nest tags by saving a search for all the tags under a main tag by using the search modifier OR. For example searching for “#tag1 OR #tag2” Shows all tags with either of the two tags.

      I add the URL to the second line of my note.

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