Markdown Preview Directly in any WorkFlowy List



This is for all of you Markdown fans out there… and a teaser for those of you who need to take your writing places (and have yet to discover what Markdown is). Learning Markdown is as easy as remembering the names of 5-10 new people, max. And the more you engage with those people, the easier it is to remember their names. Go ahead and Google Markdown. I double dare you.

It doesn’t get any better than implementing Markdown in an outliner. If you’re a Markdown adept and you haven’t been writing directly in WorkFlowy, you’ve been seriously missing out on the punch that WorkFlowy packs as an outliner – you know, the ability to organize your thoughts. In my book I walk you through automating Markdown writing in WorkFlowy – from the very first bullet of your body of work all the way up to Word and Adobe Indesign for self publishing.

Seeing is believing

So you’re a Markdown junkie and you want to preview your work – to see what your end format looks like – especially displaying any images you might have – instead of copying to an online Markdown tool in another browser tab. Wouldn’t it be something if you had one simple keyboard shortcut that gave you the ability to preview (see the HTML) of whatever list you’ve zoomed into – right in WorkFlowy? I’ve been doing this for a couple of weeks already, and it’s sublime. First a show and tell… and then I’ll explain the very few steps to set it up. It’s going to be a breeze.

In the GIF below, I’ve zoomed into a chapter from my book (written in Markdown in WorkFlowy). All I do is hit Ctrl+Shift+F5 to have a configurable window that pops up with the entire contents of my list, giving me a preview of my work. I can resize or fully expand that window as I wish:

… and the best part is that every time I zoom into the same list, the exact same window will be right there where I left it:

I can minimize the window to a teeny tiny tile, place it wherever I want… and click on it whenever I want to preview my Markdown:

Presentation mode

Remember the Alt/Ctrl+Shift+9/0 Keyboard shortcuts from this post? What you’ll see in the below GIF is that I’ve created a Markdown “preview window” for each of the chapter lists within a section of my book. If I expand each preview window to fullscreen mode before exiting, when I flip between chapters using the above keyboard shortcuts, I get a presentation in HTML, especially if I go into my browser’s fullscreen mode. Tell me this is not brilliant:

Your toolbox

Now for the behind the scenes stuff. After this simple setup, it’s all smooth sailing from there on out. Here are the free tools you’ll need to make it happen:

  1. Chrome browser
  2. Web Page Sticky Notes Chrome extension.
  3. PhraseExpress (optional)

Web Page Sticky Notes Chrome extension

This little Chrome extension is what makes it possible. That, and the fact that every single list of yours in WorkFlowy has it’s own unique URL.

What this extension allows one to do is attach sticky note(s) to any web page you want. Any color, size, font family, etc., etc. When you revisit a web page where you created sticky notes, your note(s) will be exactly the way you left them. It simply works. So your mind is probably now racing with all the possibilities. You can use this extension just as most people do… or you can use it as a “preview window” for your Markdown writing. That’s the gist of it.

A quick Q&A:

Q: What happens if something goes wrong with the extension and you lose all your notes?

A: In the unlikely event, keep in mind that for the purpose of previewing your Markdown writing in WorkFlowy, essentially you’re copying existing information from any zoomed in list into your preview window. Nothing to lose, everything to gain. There’s no hard work to lose: Even starting from scratch, all you do (after the setup I’m going to show you) is hit your own tailor-made shortcut (Ctrl+Shift+F5 for me) in any list you’re currently in… and Bob’s your uncle.

In the same vein, I wouldn’t recommend that you go out of your way to create sticky notes containing new information – mostly because you won’t be able to filter/search for them within WorkFlowy.

Monkey see, monkey do

When you first install the Sticky Notes extension, your default settings will be a tad different. Here are the few tweaks I made in a one-time setup:

SETTINGS: Tool icon, top right of the note

  1. Default Background Color: white
  2. Default Width: 400px / Default Height: 250px
  3. Disable Auto Resize: Yes
  4. Default Rendering/ Editing Mode: Github Flavored Markdown


PhraseExpress (Windows) is optional. You could also attempt the same key-stroke automation with AutoHotkey (Windows) or Keyboard Maestro (Mac).

Basically what one of the above tools will allow you to do is to take what would have been exactly 5 keyboard strokes or shortcuts and whittle it down to just 1. Here’s the command you can paste directly into the “Phrase Content” field of a new PhraseExpress phrase. Then just choose an available shortcut (after testing in WorkFlowy):

  • {#CTRL -chars A -count 2}{#clipboard -copy}{#CTRL {#SHIFT {#INS}}}{#CTRL {#SHIFT -chars V}}{#CTRL {#HOME}}

UPDATE: (4/27/2016) Due to a tweak on WPSN’s part, in the above code I have swapped out a clipboard paste, with Ctrl+Shift+V, which pastes as plain text into the Sticky Note, thereby avoiding pasting in rich text, along with your WorkFlowy outline formatting. It’s good to go!

The essential ingredient in simulating the above sequence of keyboard shortcuts is finding out what the keyboard shortcut for the Web Page Sticky Note Chrome extension is to bring up a new note. The default is Ctrl+Shift+Ins.

It’s a wrap!

One final tip: make sure your entire list is expanded before you either copy your list manually (Ctrl+A,A) or activate your keyboard shortcut. You can do this by double-clicking on your list’s title.

Happy previewing!

Here’s the WorkFlowy list that I wrote this blog post in (in Markdown). You can use it to test the Web Page Sticky Note Chrome extension once you’ve installed it. (You’ll need to add the list to your account before giving it a working over).

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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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27 Responses

    1. Wait until you’re using this with your own lists and at your own leisure. It will make a whole lot more sense. The above GIFs don’t do this justice.

  1. One tip I failed to mention is that you don’t have to copy your whole outline into a Sticky Note… you can simply pop in a Markdown formatted image reference… and that window can be re-sized and placed in any blank space you have anywhere in your outline.

    If you need multiple blank spaces in a single outline, all you would do is use Stylish to keep all notes fully expanded and make sure you hit Enter as many times as you need to create the space to hold your image. It works. You can then go ahead and make the Sticky Note border invisible. Also, you could superimpose the Sticky Note directly over the image’s Markdown link to hide it.

  2. Finally I am Pro.

    It is great for my life completely.

    thanks for your work.

    Best regards,

    Eliseo Javier Asso

  3. Web Page Sticky Notes developer here…
    First of all, thank you Frank for the vote of confidence!
    To your audience, I kindly ask for your feedback and suggestions to make your Workflowy Flow even more flowy via the use of the sticky notes.
    Warmest regards.

    1. Hi Erik,

      Congratulations to your Extension!

      Would it be possible for Sticky Notes to:

      — link directly to a WorkFlowy ( web ) address, without having to copy the content, if one would like a specific ( sub ) list to be displayed and not a portion of it?

      — periodically check for any changes and to update the content accordingly? An option to manually force an update would be either a good alternative or a welcomed addition.

      Copying and replacing the content of the sticky note would be something of the past.

      1. Hey Stefano, what I had envisioned was using WPSN as a super fast and convenient way to preview Markdown without shifting to a new tab. I would not count on any extension becoming a permanent part of my WorkFlowy landscape – visually. The whole process is so quick that it’s fine by me to have a Sticky Note be temporary… and even self deleting after exiting would be acceptable behavior for my purposes. I wouldn’t become too attached to these sticky notes (pun intended), especially if you can recreate one with a keyboard shortcut every time you revisit any list. That way you wouldn’t have to remember whether the content is updated or not… you just create them on demand. It’s like toggling in and out of preview/ edit mode, so to speak. You could even set your default note size to cover your entire browser window.

      1. Understandable Frank, if one has an application like Keyboard Maestro for Mac or PhraseExpress for Windows — that’s my route 😉

        Nevertheless, it would be a nice addition to have for those, who ( still ) are not on the automation path.

      2. I’m with you on being able to forego copy-pasting 🙂 Imagine an extension you could activate and simply navigate through your WorkFlowy lists (same WorkFlowy keyboard shorctuts) with a Markdown preview as a full-screen overlay. It displays everything either visible on the page or even your entire list fully expanded. Makes me want to start learning programming.

  4. This is so great. I’m looking forward to trying it out. I was looking at (and had tested) various other hacks, extensions, and bookmarklets for MD previews but this is killer.

  5. Thanks for the writeup Frank. Related to getting the Markdown I’m writing in Workflowy I’m having trouble pasting it into a Markdown editor When I copy the text over it comes with leading spaces that throw off the Markdown. Is there a better way?

    1. Hi Rick,

      How are you copying over? Are you copying directly from your outline or copying from the export feature?

      Also… Be sure to create paragraph breaks in WorkFlowy by creating a note with an empty space (Shift+Enter > space). You can automate this for an entire outline by using a text expansion app like PhraseExpress. Let me know if you need further help.

      1. I’ve tried copying from export and just copying the text in Workflowy. I think I might have gotten it by putting it into a note of a bullet point as you suggested and then exporting that bullet point.

        It does work now but it still feels like I’m missing something, what does the empty space do for you? I’ve created a test outline here:

      2. Hey Rick,

        thanks for the shared outline. As you will see, I have created paragraph breaks between all of your items by creating an empty note (Ctrl+Shift … Space). If you’re writing in WorkFlowy lists as opposed to within a note, you’ll need to create these paragraph breaks… if not, what you intend to be multiple paragraphs (because you’ve got them in separate bullets) will end up forming one paragraph in a Markdown editor. So just like I said in my first response, you need to create an empty space in the note of each list. That ensures paragraph breaks in any Markdown editor. When it comes to lists, for example, those don’t require paragraph breaks.

        Go back to the outline you posted for me and see what I’ve done. Alt+click on “My big fat title” to select that entire list and copy that into …That should do the trick.

        You can automate paragraph breaks between all WorkFlowy lists (space in the first line of every list’s note) by using a text expansion app like PhraseExpress. Here’s a script you can copy paste:

        {#loop {#SHIFT {#ENTER}}{#SPACE}{#DOWN} -count 200}

        You’ll need to create your own keyboard shortcut to go with the above… and because it’s going to loop 200 times, just hit Esc when your cursor gets to the end of your outline.

  6. Hi Frank and all,

    I’m writing everything in WorkFlowy now, usually in Markdown and then outputting as HTML using Porter for WorkFlowy. What I’d like to do next is create a script that allows for fully formatted Markdown or HTML to render as fully formatted text in Google Docs, because I have clients that want my stuff as a Word doc and I don’t want to invest in Office 365.

    Instead, I’d rather use this workflow:

    Write in WorkFlowy -> output as HTML -> copy / render in Google Docs using the script -> download and email Word file

    That gets me everything I need without having to switch out of WorkFlowy as my primary writing and productivity tool. Anyone have thoughts on how to build the script or alternatives to try for achieving the same end?



    1. Hey Tim,

      glad to hear that WorkFlowy is an entrenched part of your writing workflow. It’s incredibly powerful! Prompted in part by this comment and a number of emails, my next post in this space in the next day or two will be on writing using Markdown in WorkFlowy.

      To answer your question, here are 2 solutions I’ve used for exporting to Word even if you don’t have Word installed.

      1. The downloadable “Texts” app (Windows and Mac):
      (Recommended by Andrew Mckay)
      2. The online freemium Gingko app (paste Markdown into a card and export to Word):

      1. Thanks, Frank. Texts works great for exporting Markdown as Word, but it doesn’t capture the formatting. It just shows up as a Markdown doc in Microsoft Word — cool, but what I really want is to get Markdown or HTML to render as fully formatted text.

        Right now, the best way I know of to do that is to:

        1. Grab either finished Markdown or finished HTML from Porter for WorkFlowy
        2. Copy into StackEdit, Dillinger, or a similar tool
        3. Re-copy the now formatted text into Google Docs or Word
        4. Fix any font or formatting issues in the final document

      2. Hey Tim, quick thing with “Texts”. The Word (Docx) export works like magic… BUT… you have to go to Edit > Paste as Markdown… then File > Export > Word (DOCX) 🙂

        Have you tried Gingko? They export Markdown to fully formatted text via a word document generated on the spot.

      3. Ahhhhh. Yup, that works. It’s also a better solution because I can save files directly into my Google Drive and then open as Docs to perform any finishing touches. Thanks!

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