This is How You Take Better Notes, Even if You Usually Suck At It – Process Street

This is How You Take Better Notes, Even if You Usually Suck At It

Take Better Notes

Lots of text editors, like Word or Evernote, feel too ‘formal’ for proper note taking. They’re clunky and don’t work in harmony with my erratic train of thought at a meeting, lecture or presentation.

Lately, I’ve got instructions introducing me to new projects via video or voice recording, which I’d try to summarize in bullets, expand on and create to-do list items from the notes. When I was done writing and listening, I’d usually be left with a big mess of text that needs organizing, which would take more time still to go through and fix. With this method, I’d need to listen to the recording at least twice to get my notes.

Instead, now I use WorkFlowy to take and edit notes.

What is WorkFlowy?

WorkFlowy is… the most underwhelming app you’ll ever see.

At first glance it seems like Microsoft Word stuck in bullet mode, but after a bit of learning you’ll see it’s (probably) the best outliner, the best to-do list and the best note-taking app you could imagine.

Why is it the best at what it does? There’s a few reasons.

  1. You can create rough notes in one take, then zoom into each point to expand it
  2. Tag a list item with # to index it in search. Great for creating a focused to-do list
  3. It has breadcrumbs for jumping around quickly
  4. Star anything
  5. Access on desktop or with a mobile app
  6. The keyboard shortcuts turn you into some kind of note-taking samurai
  7. Share lists, list items, sublists, etc… Collaborate with others showing as much or as little of the list as you choose.

Check out WorkFlowy in action:

How WorkFlowy helps you take better notes

As Erica Heinz says, it feels like ‘the deep folds of your brain’. For people like me (messy handwriting, disorganized, thoroughly useless at taking notes), WorkFlowy resonates with my thought process, which is why I say that even if you’re usually poor at taking notes, it can help.

While it might seem strange to say that a text-based tool can help you take notes more efficiently (especially when you’ll always be typing at the same rate), it’s because you can break down blocks into bullets, move sections around and make notes inside notes.

WorkFlowy take notes

As well as indented bullets and dragging text around, you can use tags to create a to-do list out of your notes. If you’re listening to a recording of a meeting and want to create some quick action points from your notes, tagging them with a unique tag can do that. This is a cut from a screen recording of me taking actual notes whilst listening to audio instructions:

Arrange notes with WorkFlowy

It’s likely that you’re going to want to reference other lists when you’re writing your notes, just like you can link cards together in Trello.

Connect your meeting notes with the rest of your projects

While this guide is about taking notes, you’re probably going to see the value of mapping out projects in their entirety using WorkFlowly. If you want to reference your meeting notes in your separate lists, there are a few things to remember.

In WorkFlowy, everything has a URL.

In fact, they see URLs as ‘the irreducible atom of work management‘. When you click on a bullet (called zooming in), you’ll notice the URL in the address bar change. You can paste that anywhere and get taken to the other list in a flash. Super fast.

linking lists together Workflowy

Above, I’m linking a chunk of notes taken from a recording on growth tracking to a list made from an introduction to a SumoMe.

As I was looking for some extra tips, I saw this screenshot on the WorkFlowy blog:

workflowy tags

You can use blocks of tags like this at the top of your project lists to make it really easy to highlight relevant sections. It works like a table of contents (but better).

When you think about how easy it is to create, filter and link notes using WorkFlowy, it’s no surprise that Slack was built with it, or that some of the world’s busiest people plan their lives with it.

WorkFlowy doesn’t integrate, but there is one interesting hack…

If you’re using iOS9, you can ask Siri to remind you about WorkFlowy URLs while in Safari.

Here’s how:

  1. Zoom into a WorkFlowy list on Safari
  2. Hold the home button
  3. Ask Siri “remind me about this at [time] on [day].
  4. The WorkFlowy list is added to iOS reminders

… Yes, I realize this isn’t ideal and it’s extremely hacky, but once a list is in iOS Reminders, there’s a lot more you can do with it since Reminders integrates with a bunch of other stuff via IFTTT.

For example, you can add WorkFlowy items to Todoist, or any app that helps you remember what needs doing.

Here’s the screenflow with IFTTT, WorkFlowy on Safari and Todoist:

WorkFlowy integration workaround

Now your note’s action items won’t just sit in WorkFlowy, they can be pushed to your favorite task manager so you don’t forget about them.

Get out there and take better notes

So, there you have it. You’ve learned about a simple (but extremely powerful) workflow and note-taking tool that is easy to search and filter and make your own, all depending on the way your brain works.

The free version of WorkFlowy should be enough for most users, but if you’re part of a team, some kind of note-taking machine or you want your WorkFlowy to look even cooler, there’s a Pro version available for $4.99/month or $49.99/ year.

Got any WorkFlowy tips? Leave them in the comments. 🙂

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Benjamin Brandall

Benjamin Brandall is the Head of Content Marketing at Process Street, and runs Secret Cave on the side. Find him on Twitter here.


6 Comments

Really nice breakdown of WorkFlowy’s capabilities 🙂 … and thanks for linking to the WorkFlowy blog!

A nice little tip I stumbled upon: If you want to expand any list anywhere fully (without zooming in on it and double clicking the title), you can double click between its “+” sign (on hover over) and bullet.

If you do exactly the same for any list while in “search mode”, it expands up to the “grandchildren”… so you can get a peek deeper into a list without having to expand it and then each of its children lists. When you exit search mode, your bullets remain either expanded or collapsed – the way they were before your search.

Are you kidding me? You think taking notes, and then having to utilize 6 different apps, is a way to do something BETTER? This is insane…

C.Smith: Unless someone has used workflowy for at least a few times, its not really possible to pass on just how useful something that may appear so useless. (The first time I used it, I thought the app was broken).
It all takes on a meaning once you catch some of Franks enthusiasm (workflowy’s version of Yoda) and look at all the hacks

You don’t need 6 other apps to do something better.

Workflowy is the best in class, no outliner operates as fast and smooth.

I think the real question is, how has an app that appears so limited, been able to get some many people thinking outside the square.

already does something that no other app can come close to.

I almost had to force myself to use WorkFlowy because I knew its value, but wasn’t actually getting much out of it. Now I’ve upgraded to premium and stopped worrying about my list quota, I draft pretty much every piece of writing in there before exporting it out and structuring it in markdown.


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