Are you a list maker? I am a Major League list maker. I start each day with a list and have ongoing lists for work projects, home projects, vacation plans, books to read, you name it and I have a list for it. It is a major source of ribbing from family members who laugh at my lists of lists.
I am also a sucker for new organizing ideas. I have tried so many different tools for making these lists and keeping track of them all, but usually I just revert to a notepad and pen. No fancy system. Just a list of things to get done. I might do a basic prioritization, but nothing more sophisticated. I find whenever I use a more complicated approach, I get all caught up in the process and spend too much time writing, prioritizing, categorizing, and not enough time actually doing the things on the list.
So enter Workflowy. This is a fairly new entrant into the very crowded web-based productivity toolset. It has a long list of supporters from Evan Williams (Founder of Twitter), Matt Cutts (Google search spokesperson), John Jantsch (Founder of Duct Tape marketing) to an even longer list of lesser known folks. I figured with so many supporters, I should give it a try.
The beauty of Workflowy is its simplicity
You don’t need to watch tutorials or spend a lot of time in the learning curve.
Workflowy is a basically indented list of things. That’s all. Just like my trusty pen and paper process. You type in an item and hit “enter”. Pretty simple. You can have indented lists and can mark tasks as completed. Each major item on the list is a virtual page and you can star these pages for easy viewing. You don’t need to have a hierarchy, due dates, or deadlines.
Your lists may be to do items, major projects, action items from meetings and/or recaps of telephone calls. For story tellers it is a great place to store those story ideas and related tid bits that can so easily get lost. As it is web-based with iPhone, iPad and Android apps, you can access it from any of your devices.
The demonstration of the pebbles and sand
I am sure you know the time management demonstration of pebbles and glass jar. You can fill the jar with the big pebbles representing all your big projects. If you only use the big pebbles, the jar fills quickly and there will be no room for more projects. However, all those little spaces between the big pebbles remain empty.
Often this demonstration is used to illustrate that you should fill the jar with the big stones (your important life goals) first and then use the remaining spaces for the smaller stones, sand, and water.
Another lesson from this demonstration is to realize that between your big projects there will be small bits of space that you can use for smaller tasks. To take advantage of these random bits of time, you need to be organized. You need a list!
The filler list
We can only focus on specific tasks for so long before the brain gets tired. This signals a good time to switch to a different task and get a small thing done. Enter the Filler list.
One of my Workflowy lists is filler tasks. Anything from paying bills, checking my Google Analytics, tossing out old magazines that have collected in my office, investigating new productivity tools (kept in a different Workflowy list) or even taking a walk.
When my brain needs a rest from one activity, I can quickly scan the Filler list and find something to do that is productive rather than spend mindless time with Facebook or news sites or YouTube or (insert your favorite time sink here).
So is Workflowy a revolutionary product?
No. Is it useful? Yes! Its simplicity is its greatest strength. Plus, it is free, although a paid version offers more functionality, like synchronizing with DropBox. It takes only a few minutes to sign up and start creating your first list. Don’t let the simplicity fool you, the Workflowy approach is very powerful. Just work with it for enough time so you begin to experience the benefits.
If you need more ideas for using Workflowy, read John Jantsch’s post on how he uses Workflowy.