‘WorkFlowy’, Just another Productivity App?

or, more of an instant Life Saver?

As Humans, we, in our parallel processing unit i.e Brain, can keep track of 7 different tasks in our prime time of the day. (Nope, not Amazon Prime!). Well now, don’t think of your Amazon order and make it 8. As the number goes up, it’s more like a thermal nightmare inside. As ‘Thermal Stability’ is a separate topic for discussion, we shall by-pass that here today.

Back to the point,
Everyday you would make a #ToDo checklist, only to crush it & get things done irrevocably and hoping nothing new crops up; that never happens, right? 
The #ToDo list you just made is obsolete even before Breakfast. And it’s time to make version 2.o now. At the end of the day, there could well be 10 checklists with no actual progress on any of the items.

Frustrated yet? Don’t be.

I understand, really, it’s sad. But you don’t have to give up and carry around this intangible stress at the back of your shoulders (or head, I’m confused. This is embarrassing and so stressful. .)

Anyways, WorkFlowy’s here to the rescue! Yay! 😀

What’s WorkFlowy ?

They say, “WorkFlowy is a zoomable document that provides unprecedented flexibility in organizing our ideas.”

While that’s right, I would simply tell you it’s more of a list making App that allows you to create and edit the items in your lists and peek into and out from every single item of your list(s) as well.

Let’s make it a bit complicated.

In technical terms, it’s a cross-platform application that allows users to make list(s) items (in unicode text format), nest them, edit them, zoom in/out using the Outliers architecture (internal OPML structure).

Thank you, makes perfect sense!
Roger that.

The App icon of WorkFlowy. Neat and crisp.

Intro & A Little Bit of History!

WorkFlowy was created by Jesse Patel and Michael Turitzin, friends who took part in the Y Combinator startup camp in 2010. The idea for the software grew out of Patel’s work for a nonprofit, “a job that was really overwhelming, where I had to manage a bunch of moving parts for 30 different projects,” he says. While at that job, Patel had tried many different programs to help him get organized with his huge project that in turn had a bunch of sub-divided tasks, and he found that nothing worked for him.

“The biggest problem with all of them is that they don’t support flexible data structures — they don’t let you define things the way you want,” he says. “Instead they make you work in a specific way. Everything was super-janky and hard to use. So I was like, I’m just going to start creating a hierarchical interface for myself to manage this stuff.” Patel got to work, and in November 2010, he and Turitzin launched the app. It gained an instant following of about 10,000 people and now has more than 1,000,000 registered users. Patel’s solution to the problem was to make a note-taking App in which the only data type is the hierarchical list. But what if you’ve got something that isn’t a list? 
Looks like anything can be a form of list which in turn, Text. Let’s find out!

WorkFlowy vs Zoho Notebook, Evernote, Trello; really ?

One of the problems we have with other note-taking apps is that they tend to get pretty complicated pretty soon after the start, and often with a steep learning curve ahead of actual usage. Blogger John Gruber calls this “untitled document syndrome.” He argues that the “mental friction” caused by having to come up with a name for every new Note prevents us from creating digital notes as freely as we should. In a way, many of these Apps seem targeted for specific use cases. Some are better for managing projects but less good for jotting down your shopping lists. Others are better for casual stuff, but aren’t powerful enough to let you manage huge tasks. Others are best for collaborative work, but they aren’t small or right enough for working solo.

Having said that, WorkFlowy is at a sweet-spot. First things first, it would mean absurd to compare WorkFlowy with any other actual Note-taking App. Infact WorkFlowy and the other gang of Notebook; Evernote; and Trello, complement each other.

  1. WorkFlowy is predominantly text-based while other Apps support multi media inclusion.
  2. Simply put, it offers an immediate ‘Post-It’ or ‘Sticky Note’ feature that is largely scalable and flexible.
  3. By largely scalable/flexible I mean, it’s dynamic enough to shrink or expand to accommodate our brains just enough all the time. Like Cloud storage capacity in Virtual private hosting, Virtual machines, and Containers, or, that one shirt you have from high-school which still fits you, remember?
  4. So, essentially, from 8th grade till one becomes a CEO, she can make the best use of App in accordance with her needs. It’s just that flexible.
  5. It is simply list of lists which could be even more lists inside. But not the traditional notorious way of <title> <heading> <body> <then close all tags here/>
  6. Therefore, we shall call it List-making App, here on.

In other words, Imagine you could have an uncontrollable flow of ideas any moment during a day. Then WorkFlowy is for you. You can jot down your thoughts immediately without having to worry about naming the notes file or indexing, formatting, indenting, or whatever. And you can do all that with any of the smart devices that lay next to you. Smartphone, Tab, Phab or your Laptop. You can even take a look at it later during the night and organise your ideas well under appropriate sections. If you forget to do that, don’t worry, an update mail is sent every day to remind you of what you had added the previous day.

Things are getting pretty serious!

When Patel says, “..instead they make you work in a specific way”, looks like he actually meant he couldn’t shape or structure his data his own way that would make him immediate sense even if he looks at it 6 months later.

In reality, WorkFlowy too, makes you work in a specific way that it thinks suits you the best. Not just you, but everyone. Lists and hierarchy of lists. That’s just all about it.

As far as the App, WorkFlowy is available as a web application (supports most of the popular browsers such as Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Edge, etc.), as a desktop standalone for MacOS, PC & Linux, and as mobile application for iOS & Android. All comes with solid integration giving you smooth transition between your devices. The free version contains 100 items. Everything in WorkFlowy is part of a single giant List. Each item can have sub-lists under it, and each of those sub-items can have their own nested lists, and so on. Oh, did I tell you what an ‘item’ is ?!

‘Item’ is a bulletin point in WorkFlowy. Items or number of bulletin points is how they monetize or make money from the App. Pretty straight forward — In App Purchases/Billing which is based on monthly/yearly subscription. Though, 100 items for free version seem generous at first sight, it quickly burns out and you are left with an option to either buy the Pro version or move out. Wait! You only move out temporarily, to refer or be referred by one of your friends who use WorkFlowy (or, create another . . oh, that would be mean!) and this way, you get further 250 monthly items in your bucket per referral. That’s a total of 350 items now (free 100 plus this 250), which is kind of OK unless you don’t have too many to jot down every single day. Otherwise, gettting the Pro version will be your best choice. The Pro version costs 50$ average yearly (steeply priced in my humble opinion). WorkFlowy offers 20% discount in its team version which is available for Business teams.

Screenshot of the PlayStore App

What is the Pain Point that WorkFlowy address?

Firstly, you may want to know if your flow of ideas get organised well and gets streamlined properly in WorkFlowy?

But before that, let’s understand something fundamental. We never just think of one thing for an extended period of time. It rarely happens. Most of the time we think of ‘this’ one moment and then ‘that’ the next moment. And we juggle our thoughts (actually, our focus) between several of these — yep, half a day — puff! What would a normal human do in such a situation? Take a piece of paper and make a list; and prioritize the items so that she can take up the first one and start working on it.

Each idea/thought boils down to an item-note or a decision (say, choice) to be made. The hierarchy structure suits most of these to make them organised, though not as sophisticated, it is much close to reflecting our daily parallel-functioning system that we have a love-hate relationship with. It helps us to put down all parallels away somewhere safe and be confident that ‘we didn’t lose that awesome start-up idea’, and lets us focus on just the task at hand, the priority one. Burden of parallels of the brain has just been taken away.

WorkFlowy simply does that; all the time. That’s the core functionality of the App. Even more, the design too revolves around the core functionality. Okay, what’s the core functionality, again?

It is the ability to convert your thought parallels into bulletin points and view your projects/thoughts/ideas from very high level and seamlessly/effortlessly drill down into the nitty-gritty details (and the varying levels in-between). This makes it very easy to navigate your lists and never feel ‘lost’ anywhere in it.

Alright, it may not be an exact replication of your neural network model or anything but, it would make sense when you view your ideas/notes in a drill down fashion (even after several months later), don’t you agree?

Let’s talk about the App, for real.

By this time you would have imagined how the App works, so there you go. .

This is WorkFlowy. A 90 secs intro video by WorkFlowy.

Take away features

Nested lists
Zoom in on any sub-list
Tag and filter list items
Full offline functionality
Auto sync on all devices
Sharing & Export
Collaboration (Only Pro version)
Add ‘Notes’ to any item
Expand and Collapse lists
Mark items Complete
Powerful Search

Pros

  1. Simple and elegant as a blank piece of paper.
  2. Core Functionality — Drill down/Hierarchy into Lists. They have crushed this big time. Shout out to the Developers!
  3. #Tag functionality works like a charm — one of the most useful feature.
  4. No steep learning curve. Anyone could learn to use the App in under 5 mins.
  5. Clean UI & neat tool placement (not many of them, anyway.)
  6. No garbage toolbar making you search for functionalities every now and then. If you want to accomplish any usual functionality, you just try something in reflex, and it mostly works — intuitive design of the App.
  7. Nice embedded tutorial on the bottom left corner. And they have used their own #Tag functionality for accessing tutorials. Nice touch — “I see what you did there!
  8. Non-distracting keyboard shortcut viewer/helper.

Apart from this, they do medium to heavy marketing with the emails (their source of address book). Sometimes, their mails explain certain tricky use-cases (tricky is rare) and functionality time to time while featuring product updates.

On a lighter note, the UI theme pose a dull look (grayed out in the free version) and so, feels like using an age-old product. I’m not sure how it feels in a ‘Pro’ though. I mean, Medium is creamy too. . So, chill! 😛

Cons or rather Suggestions

Below are needed features/Users issues and suggestions

  1. Options to have different page layout to make best use of screen real estate (in desktop/web App). Simply put, options to resize the document window (modify the width), so that User’s needn’t scroll down more in their huge lists.
  2. Options to view 2 or more pages parallely. (in desktop/web App)
  3. Bulletin points to zoom in and out could’ve been designed more obvious until user contextually learns to click on and understand the zoom feature.
  4. User Support could’ve been integrated on a low-level (like sending mail message (body) from the inside of the App)
  5. It’s hard to move items around (bulletin points). Pressing and holding on them just the right way to move up and down in their smartphone App. And often, the results seem inconsistent.
  6. Spell check is a must need. Please, not an annoying Auto-Complete; but the one where you can press the Auto-Correct Suggestion which then completes the next word would be nice to have.

Cool customization on WorkFlowy (themes & colors)

Blogs and Support links

Best part of the App that prompted me to download it!

Here’s the link if you just want to try out WorkFlowy— No hassles of registering or sign up involved. Just You and the end Product.

Feedback from an avid user

“I started using Workflowy two weeks ago to control my overflowing legal pads and post it notes of random to do lists. From my two-week experience with Workflowy and multiple years with Evernote, I’ve concluded that these are tools that complement one another, not compete. Workflowy is the first product I found that is simple and elegant as a blank piece of paper in a legal pad. The ability to zoom in and out of individual projects (relationships) lets me hyper focus on the task at hand (sharing workflowy with my team so we have all our next steps in one sharable place) is spectacular. The idea that Workflowy is a single piece of paper is an asset not liability. I find peace returning to the HOME screen with only two items: PERSONAL and WORK. I use the # now and # soon tags to manage my day and fill any dead/down time. Perhaps me favorite feature is one that has not been mentioned: it sends me an email at 6am to let me know what was added AND completed the previous day. I now know (and have searchable notes in my Google Apps managed email account) on what I actually did every day. Stunning!”

My own experience with WorkFlowy

Viswanath Subramani (Nov 27, 22:02 PST)
Hi WorkFlowy Team, 
I’m a new user to your product. It looks fantastic and so much easy to organise thoughts of the cognitive Brain. Thanks for that! I have a feature suggestion. It would be great to have a small quick ‘Sketching layout where Users can quickly draw graphs or other drawable things that can reflect their thoughts more precisely. Sometimes a neat little drawing/sketch can convey things more quickly and with great simplicity than chain of words, you know. 
Maybe something like this — flash sketch. Not entirely though. 
This was a random google search result for ‘sketch and draw online’ query. 
So, there you go. Thank you for hearing me out and kudos to your smart productivity tool again! 
Cheers! 
Viswanath
Your request (17546) has been received and is being reviewed by our support staff.
Workflowy Support (Sasha) Nov 29, 03:40 PST 
Thanks for your suggestion. It’ll be shared with the team and reviewed for consideration in future design. 
Regards, 
Workflowy Support

Personally, I’m happy with the product that I use more often than any other; both on my smartphone and laptop. Frankly speaking, for creators, it’s a relief to know that there’s something to capture all our important thoughts anytime-anywhere rather staying cautious of our memory all the time. Instead, with WorkFlowy beside, simply doing its job, that part of memory (RAM) of ours could be used for processing other important stuff. It just works well.

Thank you for reading. Hope the App helps you with daily ToDo’s like it does to me. You can let me know if you would like to have a detailed technical dissection of the design and functionality of WorkFlowy by commenting at the bottom of this story. It will be part 2 of this post covering subtle features of the App to make the best & in-depth use of it. ☺️

Disclaimer — I’m in no way involved with any of the WorkFlowy business, nor marketing their product for commercial benefits. I’m just an other consumer of their product and have grown liking it more with time because of the dedication shown to the craft of product development. The only intention of this post is to share the productivity tools’ usefulness so that it helps many other people who may find value in it. The above stated review of the product is completely personal, written after extensive use and some online research of the product spoken about.



A word on this article from the Creator himself !

Viswanath Subramani
Wed, Jan 24, 2018 at 11:13 PM
Hello Team,
It feels great to provide feedback on such a wonderful product. In fact, I couldn’t contain the words and had to write an entire article about it. Do take a look at the full product review of ‘WorkFlowy’ on my Website below.
 Curious Camp — WorkFlowy Product Review
 Or,
 you can also choose to listen to the Audio version of my Medium Article — WorkFlowy in Medium
Keep Rockin!
Cheers,
Vishwan

-

WorkFlowy Support (WorkFlowy Support)
Jan 30, 13:08 PST
Thanks, Vishwan!
That’s an awesome article, I read it through and thoroughly enjoyed it :) I appreciate the effort going into how something so simple can also be surprisingly powerful.
All the best!
 Jesse