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Cool Tools #1: WorkFlowy

Lists within your lists within your lists within your...

Welcome to a non-consecutive series of posts in which I write about the digital tools I use throughout my life. I won’t be writing about how Google Maps is better than Apple Maps—I’m aiming to talk about uncommon tools, or common tools I use in an uncommon way. We’ll see where it goes!

Today, I want to share WorkFlowy, a terrific web app that I truly adore. It’s dead simple: infinite nested lists. Lists within your lists within your lists.

How can something that simple be so great? Because of the execution. WorkFlowy WORKS.

I’ve found that my favorite pieces of software tend to do everything I’d expect in exactly the way I’d expect. I guess that’s what you’d call “intuitive.” WorkFlowy definitely fits this definition.

How it works

WorkFlowy is just one big list. But each item in your list can have sub-entries. And each of those sub-entries can have sub-entries, and so on. Each item with sub-entries can be expanded or collapsed, and each item can be marked as complete (and you can toggle the hiding of completed items on or off.) Adding items is intuitive—hitting tab creates a new nested list under the previous entry, and hitting shift+tab “un-nests” one level. You can move entries around by clicking and dragging or by copy-pasting (with all hierarchy preserved).

This simple nesting list system is the core of WorkFlowy. But there’s one more feature that I think makes it great: when you click on the bullet point next to a nested list, it drills down to that list, expanding it to fill the window—allowing you to focus on just that subset of items. It makes WorkFlowy feel like the Prezi of lists. And once you’re “zoomed in” to a sub-list, a path appears at the top (kind of like the address bar in Windows).

How I use it

WorkFlowy can fit almost any need because it’s so simple and adaptable. I currently use it primarily as a long-term task manager. I’m a designer, but I’m also a photographer, and now, I guess, a writer too. So I have a list for each of those categories. Whenever I get an idea for something I want to design, or photograph, or write about, I add it to the appropriate list in WorkFlowy.

WorkFlowy is so perfect for this because my brain works very hierarchically. Inside the design list, I have a list of potential clients to follow up with, personal projects I want to create, online courses I want to take, and more. Under writing, I have a list of article ideas, and a list of saved links I want to read, etc. It helps me mentally categorize types of tasks.

But if you zoom out a level, all of those are contained within my career list. Believe it or not, I also have a personal life, so I have a list of things I need to do around the house, errands to run, etc. If I want to get a holistic sense for the upcoming week, I can view all of my lists together and skim through them, but if I want to focus on just the next piece I’m writing for medium, I can zoom into the list of bullets I’ve made about that topic.

I also periodically use WorkFlowy as a project planning app. Breaking down large tasks into smaller ones is a common-sense productivity strategy. The trick is keeping track of all the small bits. With WorkFlowy acting as an outline for your project, you can divide the tasks into different sections, and get as granular as you need to. Then, as you move through the project, you can mark each task as done. Lists are also shareable, so you can easily collaborate with team members.

The final thing I use WorkFlowy for (for now) is long-term list storage. Whenever someone recommends a movie to me, I add it to my ever-growing movies list. Same thing for books. Whenever I think of a great gift for someone important in my life, I add it under their name in my presents list. You can store whatever information you want in WorkFlowy, provided it’s in text form.

WorkFlowy helps me organize my brain, manage the things I want to get done, and remember things for later. There are a million and one apps that do that, but WorkFlowy is hands down my favorite.


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