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[Automated] Searching and Replacing in WorkFlowy


April 14, 2016


On occasion it’d be massively convenient to search and replace in WorkFlowy. This is the simplest way I know how…

Some time back, a WorkFlowy user emailed me with a tip on searching and replacing with the “Search and Replace” Chrome extension. After tinkering I dismissed it: It worked its magic before my eyes… but no sooner had I navigated to a different list, then most changes seemed to inexplicably revert back.

Recently I revisited the extension, determined to figure it out. The secret to getting the changes to stick is an interesting, yet dead-easy cursor “handshake”. I’ll explain:

Seeing is believing

In the GIF below, I use the Search and Replace Chrome extension to swap out “NOPE” with “YES!” across an entire outline. This extension only replaces all visible instances of the word/ phrase – which means that you need to either…

  1. expand the entire outline (by double-clicking on the list title) or
  2. filter for your phrase in WorkFlowy’s search box to reveal it.

The secret handshake

In the above GIF, you’ll notice that after all instances of the word “NOPE” have been changed, I…

  1. place the cursor in the list title (Ctrl+Home) and
  2. hold the down arrow on my keyboard to whiz through all the lists.

The only way your changes will stick, is if subsequent to using the extension, you place the cursor in each and every list that underwent a change. In so doing, you basically give WorkFlowy the green lights to go ahead and close the deal with the “preliminary” changes that the extension made. This probably has something to do with each WorkFlowy list having its own unique URL. That’s why you place the cursor at the very top of the list and hold your down arrow until you get to the end of the list. This will ensure your changes are made permanent.

A couple of use cases

  1. You might want to change up your tagging strategy by renaming certain tags throughout your account in one fell swoop. Now you can do that.
  2. If you like the idea of revising what you write, you might want to keep a continuity/ error checklist in WorkFlowy and use it together with the Search and Replace extension to iron out some boo-boos once all is said and done. Here’s a list I kept while writing my book on WorkFlowy. I wish I’d known about this extension at the time!:

Three caveats – a small price to pay

  1. This is a Chrome extension – If you cannot find a suitable add-on or extension for your favorite browser, switching to Chrome for this part of your workflow will save you oodles of time.
  2. After your changes have been made, in order to navigate around your WorkFlowy account as usual, you’ll need to reload WorkFlowy by refreshing the tab.
  3. This is an odd one… nevertheless a heads-up is in order: if you attempt to change any of the individual, isolated words on your WorkFlowy page that are include in the screenshot below (or part thereof), your page will freeze and you’ll have to reload. That’s because you’re telling the extension to change something it can’t change permanently. Capish?

  • Just so that we’re clear… if you try to change these individual words: “Home”, “Make”, “lists”, “not”, “war”, “WorkFlowy”, “Blog”, “Privacy” and “Policy”… or parts thereof: “Work” “Flow”, “log” and “no” (without a space), you’re not going to be able to do so.
  • EDIT: Thanks to @tpolzinku for pointing out 2 more details in the comments below. See my response for some workarounds.

The list used in the above GIF

You can add this list to your account, duplicate it and tinker a bit:

Now go forth and replace… responsibly.

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Philip Bravin
Philip Bravin
6 years ago

not sure if i did it right..doesnt seem to work on a mac?


[…] change up the language – you needn’t do it manually. Follow the advice in this post about [Automated] Searching and Replacing in WorkFlowy. You’ll get it done in a […]

7 years ago

Super helpful (as always) the lack of this extension changes “sticking” was driving me bonkers!
I had the same problem with personnel change. So I just changed “Barry” to another name. I could see creating a special tag version of Barry eg. barry_t to make the finding process easier. In this case tbd_t. I’m not a huge fan of replacing with blanks, unless you are certain you are never going to assign these tasks again – as it makes it quite tricky to reallocate. Thanks again!


[…] 参考にしたworkflowy公式ブログ(英語) […]

7 years ago

This is great as far as it goes, but I really wish this was a native feature of WF (along with some of the other functionality that Rawbitz and others have created in bookmarklets and Chrome extensions). So many of these add-ons are for Chrome, and all things being equal, I prefer Firefox (love having my tabs on the right side of the screen rather than at the top–for some puzzling reason, it’s not possible to make a good extension that does this in Chrome). If stuff like search/replace was native, I’d have more choice about which browser I use.

Beyond that, when I’ve had the need to search and replace I’ve simply exported either a portion of the outline or the entire contents of my WF to a text or OMPL file and then done a search/replace in a text editor, which has better tools, etc.Then I can bring it back in and overwrite the existing outlines.

Admittedly, this is a better solution when you just need to do a find/replace on a subset of your WF. It’s also a little bit less elegant than using the chrome extension in some ways, but it probably has more predictable results once you get you workflow down (i.e., less caveats, workarounds, etc, needed to make it work).

In any case, native find/replace and notifications are my two top missing features. Otherwise, it’s such an amazing program.

7 years ago

I found a couple more caveats. I use the @ symbol when referring to people in my lists. The autocomplete feature within WorkFlowy saves me a lot of time this way. I recently had a coworker leave, so I wanted to remove his name from my autocomplete list.

First, this extension would not replace the name if I left the @ symbol in the search string. I settled for just searching for his name and adding a space in front of it so the @ symbol wouldn’t be attached to a string.

Second, holding the down arrow key did not fix the notes sections. I had to manually click on each notes section individually. Luckily, I only had two of those.

7 years ago
Reply to  tpolzinku

Good to know. Thanks for that!

So… searching “@ John” would search for all instances of John where “@” is also included in the same bullet. This ensures that one doesn’t find simple mentions of “John” where a tag is not involved. Then one replaces “John” with nothing.

So your tag autocomplete is freed up of “@John”. That still leaves the “@”

A suggestion for the future might be to replace “John” with, say, “x”. That way you could still search for those tags and/ or explode them when you come across them anywhere in your outline.

I must admit, I don’t use notes that much… and much less tags in notes. You’re right in that the instances of tags occurring in notes are likely far fewer than in lists.

If you’re planning on obliterating more colleagues in the future… or changing up tag names, a strategy to do a more thorough job the first time ’round and replace text in notes too would be to create a Hotkey with, say, PhraseExpress that looped these key strokes: Shift+Enter, Down Arrow

{#loop {#SHIFT {#ENTER}}{#DOWN} -count 99}

Then hit Escape to come out of it whenever you’re done

Tested it… It works 🙂 … Not as fast, but it gets the job done.

7 years ago
Reply to  frank.dg

Thanks for the PhaseExpress suggestion. If I end up needing to replace a tag that shows up in a lot of notes, I will definitely use that. I think moving forward I will just keep tags out of notes as much as possible.

In my case I was using something like “@JohnSmith”, and turned it into “@ John Smith”. I’m perfectly happy leaving it there. I can still search for John if I want to know what he was involved with, but he’s out of my autocomplete list. Plus, everything John was involved with are already completed, so it’s all just historical information at this point anyway.

7 years ago
Reply to  frank.dg

Aaah, I see. That’s a better solution. Nice!

Have you tried searching the name plus an “@”:

“@ John” or “John @”? No quotes.

That way you exclude mentions of John in your search, which are not tags.

BTW, I credited you in the post for finding those quirks.

7 years ago
Reply to  frank.dg

This is quite a while after the fact… but it came to me in a vision. This is how you can get rid of any specific tag (without getting rid of instances where a person/ keyword is mentioned):

Let’s say you want to get rid of #sam …

1. Search for: sam | Replace (all) with: % (or any single symbol/ number so that a tag is not created)
2. Search for: #% | Replace (all) with: [nothing]
3. Search for: % | Replace (all) with: Sam

Remember to do the “Secret handshake” after each search and replace.

7 years ago

Hey Bob,
Thanks, you’re a die-hard fan 🙂

It’s still an absolute privilege for me to share ideas and connect with WorkFlowy users through this space.

7 years ago

Frank, I don’t know if you receive enough appreciation for your generous contribution of WorkFlowy enhancements presented in such an entertaining and thorough manner.

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