How to Use * and ** and ******* for Prioritization Awesomeness



This is a guest blog post by Brent KimberIf you’d like to contribute a guest blog post of your own, just email your idea to

WorkFlowy’s tagging feature is great for categorizing things, but the search engine is really powerful too.  Here’s how you can use it for some super flexible prioritization.

I’ve started marking my To Do items with a simple * (star).   A search by * brings up all of my To Do items wherever they are in my outlines.  This  good tip is made better when   I started using *, **, ***, and ******** (any amoutn of *s really)  for denoting priority.

Try it, Seeing is believing. It is amazing to watch your To Do list quickly focus onto your top priorities simply by typing * then * then * again in the search box. Each successive * whittles the list down to the most important tasks.    Sometimes I will add enough *s to the remaining items until only my top 3 tasks show.   It’s magical.  It sounds simplistic just reading but it is awesome to see the less important tasks “disappear” off of the page with each additional * typed.  It’s a fantastic short cut.

Commentary from Steve, WorkFlowy’s Semi-Official Blogger: You can prepend another character for the KIND of
to-do – business, personal, house maint, etc. So, maybe H*** stands for “House, super important” and H* is “House, not important”.


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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40 Responses

  1. I love it! Simple, and great. I have toyed with this some in the past, and liked but somehow forgot it. Will be implementing more fully now. Much easier than the way I’ve been doing it.

  2. Awesome idea! I can really use this prioritization for my GTD setup. This blog is getting better with the minute!

  3. Nice! I have been using tags like #p1 #p2 #p3 and so on. To search I need to do “#p1 OR #p2”. I’ll try this system out as it’s easier to search.

  4. Great idea! Works with most other characters too of course, such as ! $ % … but * is easy access if you have a number pad. I’m considering ` [ \ simply because they’re so easy to get to on the keyboard – no shifting/alting required. These other keys could work for other contexts too, if you can remember them.

    On a somewhat related note, I’d love to see a search-and-replace capability (and rename tags), then I’d be less hesitant to try out great ideas like this one.

  5. Also, these might be of use here:
    ★☆,☻☺, ☼☾, ☎☏, ☐☑ ✉≈✔♦♫✈☠☯¼,½, ¾
    Although, I’m sure using them is not exactly a best practice for scalability, maintenance, or server side escaping changes, etc. Some of them have a nice binary “state” you might find useful. Just in case my comment gets filtered, you can search the web for miscellaneous characters, geometric shapes, etc and get some useful results.

  6. Great idea – using it to create my day job list. VERY effective. Don’t forget to put a space between the word and the asterisk. Otherwise the search doesn’t find it.

  7. Best tip ever. My daily routine consists of flagging stuff I need to get done for the day. I used to add a #hot tag to each item, now I just add an asterisk. Brilliant.

  8. This is great and will add it to my tools.
    I use a date tag for time sensitive tasks and meetings. For example: #20140128 Meeting with Bob about system numbers.
    Then when I search I can search on #20140128 for today’s tasks or #201401 for the month’s tasks or #2014 for the year’s tasks. You can almost search by week by searching for #2014012 but month is close enough for me.

    1. I use “#due 20140401” so keeping the number of tags under control, but still making a searchable string, Can also then have “#completed 20140401”. For repeating tasks use “#repeat annual #due 20140818” , replace “annual” with monthly, weekly etc.

  9. Something similar to aid in prioritization is to use the tags #1 – #9 … this works, although searching for * will all occurrences of the * as shown above … searching for “*” still returned the ****** item …. whereas #2 will only return priority 2 items. Though #1 and #10 … will both return if you search for #1 …. thus I suggested 1 – 9.

    1. Great point. I noticed the discrepancy with retrieving multiple *’s too. Might try the #1 – 9 instead

  10. Great idea…but does not work on Android.
    For GTD, this would work great to have all projects as * , with each related task with at least two or more * according to priority.
    Any tips to get this to work on mobile version?

  11. Hey guys, just switched to asterisks, great idea! Is there any advantage to prefixing the hash tag? (ie. #* and #***) such as faster indexing/searching, etc.?

  12. This really improved my ability to prioritize, so thank you. I have a concern though – I’d like to be able to view “one star” or “two star” items *without* seeing my “four” and “five star” items. For instance, if I just went through “five” and “four” and only want to see “three,” it gets quite crowded since a search for “***” includes everything with “****” and “*****”.

    I think I recall it used to be that if you put a space after you search, it treated it as a word and removed the wildcard appendix, so a search for “***” (3) would include “****” (4) but a search for “*** ” (3 plus a space) would not.

    Was this functionality removed? Any way around it?

    1. Did you include the quotation marks in your search string? Somewhere I read that a search for *** would hit on ****, but a search for “***” would not.

      1. Oops, putting it in quotes doesn’t work as I supposed. You can search for *** -**** (3 *s, but not 4). Then you can star (like) the result to use the search in the future.

    2. yes!
      i figured something out: allways put spaces arround the stars. e.g.:
      [make me a nice warm cup of coffee **** ]
      see that little space at the end? – that’s the trick.
      now search for ” **** ” (with quotation marks and these two little spaces!) and here we go, you get all items with exactly four stars.

  13. I think this has solved a dilemma I’ve had ever since I started using Workflowy to do pretty much everything.

    I like to put each of my To Do items inside its topic area (or subtopic, or subsubtopic…), because that’s where I am when I think of it, and because when I go to act on it all the helpful context for it is right there. But I also need to see what all my high-priority To Dos are, and I’m not going to go and work on every topic area every day.

    I’ve been putting all my To Dos in a separate list because I didn’t know of a better way. Now I do! The weird thing is that I occasionally used this same approach on occasion (well, !!! instead of ***, and at the beginning of the item instead of the end, but same thing) — but that was pre-Workflowy. Thanks, Brent!!!

  14. This is a great tip – however, the search doesn’t seem to work reliably without spaces. For example if I have a task “buy milk***” then search for ***, it does not show up in the search results (which I believe it should). I would say this is a bug – what do you think?

  15. @nhowden: It is not. It is by intention that WorkFlowy does always start to search from the beginning of a word — making it much more responsive. That’s the reason, why you should surround the asterisks with spaces.

  16. I will clarify that I typically use the asterisk before the sentence un like the image in the post. It looks and feels like bullet points and has the same searching goodness.

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