For years — insert dramatic music here! — I’ve been trying to find the right task management solution. I’ve tried quite a few: Google Tasks, Omnifocus, Things, Taskpaper, Clear, Wunderlist and even this new analog thing called pen and paper. Nothing stuck. I find a lot of these systems – some of which are modeled after David Allen’s GTD, or Getting Things Done system – too heavy for everyday use, even after you get past the learning curve. I know some folks love them (Merlin Mann loves Omnifocus and has dozens of great tips on how to use it), but ultimately these tools wind up getting in my way.
If I don’t want to use my system, I can’t trust my system.
What I really needed, I came to learn, was a glorified note-taking solution that allowed me to create data however my brain wanted. I needed tags so I could bubble certain notes to the top, and a great search mechanism. Primarily, since I’m a writer, I tend to think in text, so a text-based tool would be great.
This is a first world problem, folks. I get it. If you pull up your designer chair and pour yourself a venti Starbucks, we can talk about this. I’ll bring the locally-grown fruit and you bring the grassfed meat. Deal?
So I discovered Workflowy recently. It’s basically a list app on steroids that supports tagging, which is what all the cool kids on Twitter are doing. The difference between Workflowy and, say, your average list app is that it allows each bullet with subitems to become its own document. It also allows hashtagging (#tagname, just like Twitter) and ‘at’ tagging for people, so you can filter on somebody’s name (like a task assigned to @Jeff or @Whomever). It has a blazing search function. The app works perfectly on my iPhone and iPad. Best of all, it takes 20 mintues to learn.
That’s probably a horribly (a) confusing or (b) inadequate explanation of Workflowy. Maybe you should just watch this quick video.
By way of further illustration, here is brief snapshot of a small portion of my Workflowy document:
If you’re thinking, “Hey, I could do this in a Word DOC. This isn’t special. Are you new to computers or something?” — not so fast. The fact that you can nest data however many levels deep you want and have each topic become its own document is huge. This allows a nice blend of task management and note-taking that is normally the domain of two separate apps entirely. They show this in the video above.
As a guy who routinely has 30 or 40 things in flight at any given moment, having a system to get everything out of your head and on to paper is a tremendous bonus. After learning and using Workflowy, I find myself doing reviews of my entire list once or twice a day to see what I can promote to #today status (which means I’m doing that thing today). This sounds completely minor on the surface, but let me tell you: there’s a sense of accomplishment when you’re using a tool that thinks the way you do and doesn’t get in the way of the work you actually have to do.
Your task management system should’t be work. It should help you manage your real work.
If you’ve been looking for something like this, I wholeheartedly recommend you give Workflowy a shot. You can use it for free (but you’re limited as to how much data you can enter per month), or you can go pro for about $50/year (pro accounts get you these features).
If you are interested in this and have any questions, I’ll do my best to answer them. Ask away in the comments, or drop me an email.
Have a good weekend, everyone.