Workflowy: A Good Tool

This is not a life hack. I'm not against life hacks per se, but productivity is overrated. I prefer a little inefficiency. I want to describe a tool, not a life hack.

Choose tools carefully. Nicholas Carr writes, "a tool that simply smooths and oils our way, that speeds us to the execution of an impulsion has a deadening effect" (qtd in "Productivity And The Joy Of Doing Things The Hard Way" by Rob Walker). Wendell Berry suggests nine rules for choosing new tools:

  1. The new tool should be cheaper than the one it replaces.
  2. It should be at least as small in scale as the one it replaces.
  3. It should do work that is clearly and demonstrably better than the one it replaces.
  4. It should use less energy than the one it replaces.
  5. If possible, it should use some form of solar energy, such as that of the body.
  6. It should be repairable by a person of ordinary intelligence, provided that he or she has the necessary tools.
  7. It should be purchasable and repairable as near to home as possible.
  8. It should come from a small, privately-owned shop or store that will take it back for maintenance or repair.
  9. It should not replace or disrupt anything good that already exists, and this includes family and community relationships.

My fountain pen, kitchen knives, and coffee grinder have proven to be good tools. Writer: The Internet Typewriter is an excellent distraction-free writing tool for the computer. My running huaraches, turntable, framing hammer, and many others are tools with which I get things done.

Beginning a new job, I need a tool to help me get stuff done. I've rejected Evernote, Google Docs, and OneNote in favor of the ridiculously named Workflowy. It is a good, simple, plain tool that does one thing extremely well instead of trying to do everything.

I came into computing in the eighties with a computer with no hard drive, no mouse, and no graphics. I wrote on a bare-bones editor known as Galahad which is for some reason still available for download. Computing consisted of a blinking cursor on a monochrome screen which is about what Workflowy offers three decades later. It opens to a blank screen on which I simply typed a heading, hit enter, typed the next, and so on.


The first three are job-related. Under Personal I have created two projects by hitting enter to get a new bullet and tabbing so that new bullet becomes a subheading like in an outline. Hitting enter after that created a second subheading.


Both of those projects are broken down into small pieces by hitting enter and tabbing just as before. The resulting structure is intuitive to the point of being obvious.


The subheadings can go on and on and each thing can be struck through on completion. Completed tasks can be hidden or just collapsed out of the way. When I'm done with the amplifier repair I'll mark it done and collapse it's sub-tasks.


A good tool should be simple and intuitive like the iPod with its click wheel or the first car you drove. Those things make sense like pen and paper. We're wired for them. Workflowy feels like that. It makes sense and is useful from the word go.

I've used it for two weeks and want to keep using it. That's a good sign. Workflowy helps me get things done and feels good as I use it. So far, it's a very good tool. Not a life hack but a good tool. I'm all about that.