Archiving in WorkFlowy & the 3/4-Hyphen Filtering Hack



To erase or not to erase…

In the 2004 movie, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet) break up. Clementine decides to undergo a procedure to have her memories of Joel erased. When Joel finds out, he also decides to undergo the same procedure – and as the movie unfolds, we find Joel racing against time within the recesses of his own mind to try and safeguard his fading memories of Clementine.

It’s a classic case of not knowing what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone. Does this sound like your relationship with WorkFlowy? I mean, do you have stuff (tasks, etc.) that you might want to safeguard for posterity or just for the record, but you may have deleted some or all of it because it messes with your search results on occasion?

I have a simple system where I move completed tasks to a separate “Archive” outline – and in particular, I’ve had to delete tags associated with many items, simply because they show up when I’m filtering from my home page. Deleting those tags sometimes means that I’m deleting the context they used to be in. Wouldn’t it be great to just temporarily shut out those “memories” rather than delete them in part or entirely – just in case?

One possibility

Of course, WorkFlowy has an inbuilt mechanism for hiding/ archiving lists… you can complete them (Ctrl+Enter) and then make them invisible (Ctrl+O). That might work perfectly for some… But what if that doesn’t work for you? I could do that but I don’t. I generally like to keep my completed tasks visible and/ or move them to a “Done” stage in a Kanban workflow before relocating them to an Archive in the WorkFlowy backwaters. I occasionally toggle Ctrl+O, but that’s temporarily.

The 3/4-hyphen hack

Recently, I stared at 3 hyphens in a row in a shared WorkFlowy list. I stared at the list title so hard until I willed a hack out of it. This is what came out of it:

  1. Prefix 3 hyphens to any list you want to relegate to an “archived” status (whether or not you have special “Archive” outlines).
  2. Whenever your WorkFlowy search obviously includes archived items that you do not wish to see, include 4 hyphens in your search… and presto.

Tinker with this shared WorkFlowy list:

Why prefix 3 and search for 4?

When you put a series of hyphens into WorkFlowy’s search box, the first hyphen is recognized as a minus sign. So to exclude lists with 3 hyphens, you need to pop 4 into the search box.

Why not prefix 1 or 2 hyphens?

Single hyphens are obvious… and double hyphens may or may not be possible for you. Do a search and see. I use double hyphens as place holders for certain statistics yet to emerge.


  • Whenever you see something that “pollutes” a search, you can prefix 3 hyphens to any parent lists as you go. You’ll filter those lists out the next time you do a similar search (or refresh your current search).
  • I’ve had the habit of exploding most tags on tasks that are done so they don’t pollute my tag filtering at a higher level/ from my home page. Now with this archiving/ filtering hack I don’t need to explode any tags. I simply filter for tags and include 4 hyphens in the search box to exclude my archived items from a search (along with their tags) – if need be.
  • Search for 3 hyphens enclosed in quotes to search for only archived lists/ items.
  • If you ever decide to change your archiving method in the future, search for all archived items and complete them (or their parent lists, depending), move them or delete them and/ or their tags.
  • You may first want to search for all instances of 3 hyphens or more in your account before you set about using this method to determine whether it’s even practical for you. Maybe you’ve been in the habit of decorating lists with hyphens and would like to keep it that way… or maybe, like me, you’ll only need to delete a handful of these triple hyphens where they serve no obvious purpose.

If you’ve got some quirky archiving method or philosophy, please do tell 🙂

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16 Responses

  1. Re: Archiving, I call my archives “————-Below the Line————–” and have it at the bottom of my WF. Then if I do a search, I know I can ignore items… below the line.

    In terms of search, there are two sides of the coin. One side is what you are talking about here of ignoring items you don’t want to see. The flip side of the coin is highlighting the items you DO want to find, whether with tags, special character sequences, or location within the overall WF. You need a combination of both sides of the coin to maximize search efficiency.

    I can’t get the 3 hyphen idea to “work”… could you link a sample?

  2. Here is something that has changed my life: Once a node in my Workflowy outline stops changing and becomes static, I clip it into Evernote using their web clipper.

    (Depending on how likely it is that the content could change in the future, I then either move the node into an archive area of Workflowy or I delete it. Usually I just delete it, especially if it is something like notes from a live lecture, etc.)

    The key point here is that Evernote will then show me that node whenever I do a Google search for anything in that node (along with any other related content from non-Workflowy sources). The problem with leaving static/archived nodes in Workflowy is that I rarely remember to search Workflowy for things after they have become old. Now I never have to ask myself: “Does that collapsed node contain something important?”

    Workflowy + Evernote = Bliss

  3. Chip, the Evernote clipper is a great option :-), especially for those who use WorkFlowy in their browsers. You can also do a simple copy-paste into Evernote, and from my testing the outlining seems to turn out right.

    One consideration with clipping to Evernote and deleting a WorkFlowy list is that the hyperlinks in the HTML (bullets) copied over will no longer lead anywhere… But it certainly does look like WorkFlowy in an Evernote note.

    I quite like the idea of having Evernote’s Google Simultaneous Search come up with related results in your Evernote (including clipped WorkFlowy lists). I always have it in the corner of my eye when I’m doing a Google search, specially since I’ve got a database of over 25,000 notes in Evernote.

    Very nice tip! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  4. Thanks for this, really good tip! I am about 1/3 reading the book and loving it, the Style changes especially have made unreal changes to the speed with which I can make my way around Workflowy, I’m often down from 10 clicks to 3. I can’t wait to get to the Kanban system, I already use the Kanban system from your blog (somewhat edited for my particular doings) to great success. Your site has really enhanced my productivity!

    This post, I think, is subtly awesome. Archiving is really mandatory both after a certain amount of content and when it’s been a certain amount of time since one accessed something. Great article.

    1. I’m guessing you’re making use of “List title tags” by the sound of things… however, that should bring you down to 2 clicks to get anywhere from the home screen. What’s up with the 3rd click? 😉

  5. If I am done with tagged items and want to still see them in search results I will usually prefix the hashtag with a hyphen. This deactivates the link on the tag so it’s not clickable, but if you click the same active tag elsewhere, the search will find the hyphenated tag. If I want to be able to search manually for the item by tag, but not by clicking the tag then I will modify the tag by placing the hyphen after the hashtag. This way I can maintain context and meaning within the work flow, without cluttering search results too much. This works wells with projects that have several smaller tasks that I want to track until the bigger project is done. When the project is done, then I mark them complete.

    Here’s an example:

    1. Nice strategy James 🙂
      My advice to anyone who’s going to write another book on WorkFlowy is to use the #-tag/ @-tag dynamic described above – when you’re giving examples of real-life tags that will appear in your book, otherwise they will pollute your search results within WorkFlowy. Then in, say, InDesign, you can automate the removal of these hyphens throughout.

  6. Great hack. Frank! However, I seem to be doing something wrong. Check out this test list: When entering “—-” (without the quotes) in the search box, the first list item prefixed by “—” (without children) is filtered out fine. However, the second item (with child) remains visible, even though it’s also prefixed with “—“. Any idea?

    1. Hi Aldo,
      Wow, that is puzzling behavior… and I’ve tested it out on a smaller scale like you have with the same results. However, what I find is that if you’ve collapsed all parent lists prefixed with 3 hyphens (so that the children lists are not showing) and perform the same search with 4 hyphens in the search bar, that should filter everything out.

      I’m not sure why it happens this way, but it does seem that this sort of thing works better when tested in your real-life filtering as opposed to small-scale mockups. In other words, this hack works fine when applied to my archived lists, whether they have children lists nested therein or not. But the caveat here is that you’re filtering from some place else where you wouldn’t ordinarily have those lists expanded… and so it works on a larger scale… if that makes sense.

      In other words, nest that exact outline somewhere and activate your search from a level higher up.

      1. Thanks for the follow-up, Frank. However, I keep getting the same non-filtering even in the real life list with everything collapsed except for the two sublists where I use “—” (at level 7 down from the root list). Still, this one “—” list-with-child keeps showing up. I will send the url to user support for them to check out if they can figure out what’s going on.

      2. Hi Aldo, thanks for catching that. In fact I noticed today that it’s doing the same whether you filter for tags, keywords, whatever. Brought that to Jesse and Mike’s attention today. So you can revisit this hack and all other filtering dynamics in due course and they’ll behave as they should 🙂

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