The Power of Reading Books in WorkFlowy



I’ve read over a dozen books in WorkFlowy so far. But why? Why in blue blazes would I do that? Simple, really: For the unparalleled flexibility WorkFlowy gives me in being able to turn any scrap of information therein into a #todo, a #reminder or a research #category… and being able to take notes to my heart’s content – so that it all becomes part of my workflow.

If you haven’t yet put a book into WorkFlowy, it’s a crying shame: You’ve been missing out on possibly the most effective way to (1) act upon gems of information being provided and (2) to glean, gather and group research data in the simplest of ways. Hands down, reading and interacting with book content in WorkFlowy is the most intuitive way I’ve found to squeeze every ounce of practical worth out of any book.

Bookmarking – baby steps

So… let’s just say that you already have a book in WorkFlowy and you’re minding your own business and just reading along… and it’s time to wrap things up and call it a day. What you might want to do is give the paragraph you’re reading a @bm (bookmark) tag. That way, when you filter for it with a master tag on, say, your home page, the exact place where you left off “magically” appears. Zoom into its parent list and… voilà – X marks the spot:

The above book I’m currently reading – Launch, by Jeff Walker – is a must-put-into-WorkFlowy book for me. I’m learning about internet marketing – and there is a heck of a lot of actionable information to be had. I rarely read a book twice, so I like to do a thorough job the first time ‘round.

But what about pictures?

Some hands-on books have more than a few images. Here’s a supplementary PDF that Jeff Walker links to in his book. I took the images, saved them in Dropbox and popped an inline image link to them into WorkFlowy. So now I’ve got text and images in what is becoming more of a project outline than a book outline:

Memorable information and note-taking

Last year someone sent me a link to an entire “book” that was posted directly in a blog post. There were many takeaways and ideas I wanted to be able to find at the drop of a hat… so I tagged all tidbits of information that I deemed memorable with an #m tag:

As you will see, I also experimented with taking notes in a separate “My Notes” outline. What I did to cross-reference my notes with the part of the book I was commenting on, was give them both an identical #n- tag with a couple of random alphanumerical characters.

Here’s a shared list to the above book outline if you’d like to get your hands dirty.

Serious Sci-Fi research

As many of my book readers are painfully aware, I use a lot of Sci-Fi references in my writing. Each of my references are carefully researched and double-checked with the original source(s) for accuracy. Below you’ll see an outline of an awesome book I read – Red Planet Blues, by Robert J. Sawyer. In the book they had the technology which allowed them to transfer the human mind into a synthetic body – the person was then called a “Transferee”. I thought this would be a great reference to illustrate the benefits of digitizing your information and/ or doing a brain dump into an external brain, i.e. an app of some sort (WorkFlowy). So I tagged all relevant portions of the book as I read through it with a #transferee tag. Below you will see that instead of taking notes in a separate outline, I wrote them directly into the note of each list in question:

A productivity spin

The book, Red Planet Blues, consisted of 47 chapters. I read one chapter a day for 47 days without breaking the chain, using Seinfeld’s “Don’t Break the Chain!” method. I also gave each chapter a time tag, indicating how long it’d taken for me to read each… and with just one click of rawbytz’s WorkFlowy Count bookmarklet, I was able to calculate that I’d spent almost 11 hours reading (and taking notes on) Red Planet Blues.

You get out what you put in

There are 3 things that can be said to be certain in life: death, taxes… and the fact that putting books into WorkFlowy may require an outlay of time and effort. If you’re looking to push a button and have everything magically imported into WorkFlowy in the perfect hierarchy, sorry to have made you read thus far. (Actually, sometimes a plain copy-paste from a PDF may render the perfect outline) It all depends. Let’s just assume that you’ll be copy-pasting in portions and that you’ll have to indent your hierarchies manually. BUT what I am hoping to convey here is that even if it took you a whole hour to get things looking pretty, the benefits of having certain books in WorkFlowy far, far outweigh the effort of inputting them. In fact, you’ll actually save tons of time in the end – that is, if you’re serious about doing the stuff you read about. It shouldn’t take you more than 5-10 minutes once you know what to do. Here are a couple of pointers:

  • The best method I’ve found for getting, say, the contents of an ePub file into WorkFlowy is to first convert it to a text (.txt) file online and then paste into WorkFlowy.
  • Some PDF’s will paste perfectly into WorkFlowy with the indents you’re after. If not, you’ll want to use Ctrl+F in your web browser to search for and highlight, say, “Chapter” so that you can indent the contents of each chapter – enabling you to collapse them. I’m confident you’ll figure this out for each unique book you’re trying to outline in WorkFlowy.
  • Remember that WorkFlowy now has a pasting limit of 2,000 list items at a time… so you may very well have to copy-paste chapter by chapter. Using a text (.txt) file as the middle man is a really decent strategy here: you can cut and paste your text chapter by chapter into WorkFlowy until you end up with an empty text file.
  • While on that train of thought, keep in mind that if you’re not a Pro subscriber, you have something like 250 lists per month you can burn through, unless you refer others to WorkFlowy and have them sign up. Suffice to say that putting books into WorkFlowy is an awesome reason to invest in a Pro account.

The Good Book

If you’re looking for a sizable book to test out – and if this is your thing, here’s a shared WorkFlowy list of the King James Version of the Bible. It involved yours truly copy pasting just under 1,200 individual chapters, one by one, into WorkFlowy. Not to worry, this particular translation/ version qualifies as a public domain body of work, given a number of considerations… so feel free to embed it into your account.

Keep in mind that if you ever wanted to edit any shared list and take notes on and/ or tag certain portions thereof, the only way to do this would be to duplicate the list after having embedded it into your account (Alt + Drag on a bullet). Besides having a 2,000-item copy-paste limit in WorkFlowy, there is a 1,000-item duplicate limit. This means you’ll have to duplicate an embedded list in portions. In the case of the Bible, trust me, I did all of the heavy lifting already – so no complaints from anyone!

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Workflowy replaces your notebooks, stickies and bloated apps with a simple, smooth digital notebook that makes it easy to get organized and be productive.

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41 Responses

  1. I think you just broke the internet with the greatness of this worklowyable bible!! Now I can look things up nearly instantly…. MIND BLOWN!!

  2. Yes, I did this before.

    However, if you put too many books in, WorkFlowy slows to a snail’s pace in the mobile apps. In fact, you can exceed the maximum storage space allowed for WorkFlowy (at least in iOS).

    So I stopped doing this.

    P.S. WorkFlowy is amazing. I just don’t see how you can keep on putting books in it without exceeding its capabilities.

    1. Hey Christoph,

      There is an initial slowdown when syncing a significant amount of information for the first time from WorkFlowy servers… but on my end, my iOS apps (iPhone and iPad) seem to be doing more than fine. I’m not sure whether one can exceed the mobile apps’ capabilities. I’d have to see this to believe it.

      I’ve got an insanely huge WorkFlowy database with quite a few books, and I seem to be doing fine. I could, however, export some of my book outlines that I’ve already worked through and archived if the need arose. The value of anything that goes into WorkFlowy is being able to do something meaningful with it currently. If you have no need for significantly large outlines, you could export them to text files and save them in Dropbox. No mess, no fuss.

      1. “I’m not sure whether one can exceed the mobile apps’ capabilities. I’d have to see this to believe it.”

        I got an iOS error message to that effect.

        Before that, ALL WorkFlowy operations on my iPhone app became very slow, even after syncing. So you may not have reached it yet, but it exists. There is a limited amount of storage for WorkFlowy by iOS, I believe.

      2. Thanks for the heads up Christoph. You must have had a *lot* of book content in WorkFlowy before. Of course, one way to work around any limit (while one gets ready to export outlines) would be to access WorkFlowy in your mobile browser. Rawbytz is a big proponent of the WorkFlowy app in Safari browser on iOS. Also, BTW, HandyFlowy draws on the web app.

    2. While this truly is awesome, I realized one should care about ones workflowy’s size. Loading times slow down (whenever you open the web app your entire data is sent over the wire, always), search slows down, ect.. However there is no Problem without a solution.

      For example: You can tag the really big outlines with e.g. #extern and move them to a second workflowy account where you would store all the really big things that don’t need to be searchable within your main workflowy account. Then you’d create shared links to the big outlines of the second account and paste those to the main workflowy account.
      Of course this is an end-of-the-world solution.

      What I do is I tag the the big outlines that I could live without and disable the search-as-you-type feature of workflowy with a tampermonkey-script that I made. So search starts only when i hit enter.

      1. What I do is I tag the the big outlines that I could live without *so that i don’t lose them*

      2. Hey Luke, would you mind sharing your TM script?

        Have you tried rawbytz’s WorkFindy extension? Not only does it search WorkFlowy once you’ve hit Enter… But it also searches your account globally from anywhere.

      3. Hi Frank.
        I have to apologize for answering so late.
        I’ve now put the scripting part of my workflowy-enhancements to my git-hub-account, so you can browse them. I may add a lot of stylesheets and little tricks as well.
        However I really should bundle this into a chrome-extension.
        I’ll tell you soon what my plan is.
        Here is the script you asked for:
        You may also like this one:
        Best regards,

      4. i forgot to mention: I did try WorkFindy, but at the time i mainly used safari for workflowy. So I couldn’t use it too much. So now I am accustomed to clicking on the wokflowy logo and then on the search field.

      5. Hey Luke, Awesome! Thanks for both of those hacks. I often inadvertently double clicked/ triple clicked on a zoomed in list title to copy the text… and accidentally expanded all children outlines fully. Huge PITA. So your confirm script for that is most welcome!

        Also… thanks for the script that deactivates auto search. I find that as my WorkFlowy database grows to monstrous proportions…if I hesitate after entering just one or two letters (“a”), I’ll get all lists that contain the letter “a”, which is EVERYTHING! OTOH, I quite like the auto search for many other use cases, which gives me an incremental, blow-by-blow of what I’m searching, so I can adjust easily mid course or thereafter quite easily. Tough decision. It would be nice to toggle this on/off.

      6. Hi Frank!
        Thanks so much for the feedback. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who profits from these little efforts!
        I think the script that deactivates autosearch is not for everyone, and it does require some attention to get used to it. I guess to toggle it on and off is not too comfortable either, because then you probably wouldn’t foster the habit of pressing enter every time.
        Thanks for sharing the inspirational ways of using workflowy. And also thanks for keeping the contact to us workflowyans.

    3. Hey Luke, you’re a really tough guy to track down! I can’t contact you via Github and your email address inbox associated with your blog comments is full. Would you mind shooting me an email ( or DM me on twitter (@ProMashUp)? Thanks!

  3. I don’t understand how to actually put books into workflowy. Are these books in a particular format?

    1. Hi James,

      Any visible text that you can select, copy and paste will do the trick. If you have an ePub or iBook file, you can easily convert it online to a text document or PDF. Once you have access to the text, as with anything, it’s a copy-paste affair… pretty much the way you would copy paste text from any website into WorkFlowy.

  4. Love this idea of books in WorkFlowy! Why didn’t I think of that before?!

    And Frank, THANK YOU for sharing the WorkFlowy Bible. What an awesome tool! I use “Professor Grant Horners Bible Reading Plan” and had not considered using WorkFlowy as the location for that.. but now that you broke that particular thought log jam… oh my goodness my mind is spinning with possibilities! Thank you!

    1. Hey Laura,
      You’re welcome! Maybe you’d like to do a post with me once you’ve figured out a cool Bible study setup using WorkFlowy?

  5. How do you get those little colored boxes into WFlowy? You know, like the one that you have in your article here? Which, by the way, rocks. I read everything you write.

    1. Hi Elliot,

      Although you don’t have to implement Life Logging to use “colored tag boxes”, here’s a post that’ll give you a head start on using color in WorkFlowy 🙂

      The above is for the blue tag box/ background you see in a couple of the animated GIF’s… but if you’re talking about the black tag backgrounds… what I’ve done is use Stylish to change the color of my search results (where I was filtering for tags). WorkFlowy’s default search result highlight color is yellow.

  6. Hi Frank, thanks a lot for all your contributions, not just WF but kanban/Evernote and the gtd/philosophy too, great minds think alike 😎

    1. Hey Hans, you’re most welcome. I think it would be tough finding a major productivity system, the core principles of which cannot have their incarnation in WorkFlowy 🙂

      1. I’m in the process of checking out Complice to track my WIPs and help isolate out TODAY specifically. They’ve just rolled out some automated parsing of Workflowy to populate your daily “intentions” based on date-tag syntax. Another monthly fee though after the first two weeks testing, so I’ll be looking to see if I can replicate its functionality in just-WF down the road, maybe the basis for a future post. . .

      2. You should definitely check out how I implement my Kanban Calendar in the book you’ve now got your hands on… and on my blog. I took a long look at Complice and their integration for the purpose of perhaps coming out with a blog post…

        There were 2 barriers: (1) a $12 monthly subscription and (2) the fact that WorkFlowy doesn’t skip a beat with the task management itself – and so I don’t see a reason to use 2 interfaces and complicate one’s life.

        Whatever your task management needs, WorkFlowy will go above and beyond. We can work through that 🙂 I don’t see any clear advantage that Complice adds to the mix. Brutal… but advice that will save one a lot of unnecessary and complicated tinkering down the road.

    1. You wouldn’t want to put 90% of your books in WorkFlowy – just those you’d like to dissect and pick apart. You can transform your kindle books into PDF or .txt with simple online tools… and from there copy paste into WorkFlowy (one section at a time).

  7. The tool I would suggest for working with any books would be the fabulous, free Calibre by KOVID GOYAL. There are versions for all OS and a portable version.

    Great way to organize, convert & manage all book formats and PDF’s. (It’s like a WorkFlowy for eBooks).

    1. Hey @1gratefulal,

      Thanks for the Calibre tip. I watched the “grand tour” video and downloaded it. The conversion tool is really powerful… and you’re right, it has amazing organizational capabilities. I’ll surely be using it in the coming days and years.

      What I’d like to point out about this post, though, is that I’m not encouraging people to put all of their books into WorkFlowy (or even categorize lists of books). The main thrust here is making very specific books part of your workflow for the purpose of taking research notes and gathering information – and making a particularly worthy book part of one’s workflow. In other words, I certainly wouldn’t read a book in WorkFlowy just because it can be done… I choose very specific books that I need to dissect for squeezing either research information out of… or to-do’s/ actionable cues.

      I haven’t found any other dynamic that comes close to making a book’s material part of one’s workflow as does WorkFlowy. Perhaps the title of this post would more accurately be, “Making a book part of your workflow”.

      Thanks for sharing the amazing Calibre 🙂

    1. One of my hardcore fans 🙂 Nice to know that I’m loved, ha!

      I have at least 2 more “BIG” WorkFlowy blog posts to get out of the way and then I will focus my whole entire existence on consolidating the material I’ve already gathered, outlined and written about over the last 9 months… to extend the book substantially with some really cool stuff. That may include a great deal of the meaty stuff I’ve blogged about over the last while – in a more candid, unabridged format.

      Of course, each successive version will be complimentary for those who’ve already previously purchased my book. So there’s no time like the present 😉

      1. Good answer, now I know that I don’t have to wait! 😉 #justboughtit
        Love the hacks you share on this post and look forward to master workflowy with your book!

  8. Hi, Frank!

    Once the book have been put in WorkFlowy, how do you manage the page numbers, ?



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