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Workflowy Review: Example of Bad Productivity App

Update: These were my opinions about Workflowy prior to some of it’s updates. While I still don’t endorse it as a good outliner, considering it’s free, it’s not as bad as I showcased it in this review. Read a review from someone who actually uses Outliners (and that wouldn’t be me). Alpha Efficiency endorses quality reliable (offline) tools for task management such as OmniFocus and Evernote.

Update number 2: Wanna see what apps does Alpha Efficiency crew uses? Check our post: Digital Anatomy of The Alpha Efficient.

Review of Workflowy

Brankica from Blog Like A Star, recommended me to check out the new productivity web app. I just finished completing some non writing tasks on my computer and decided to take on the chellenge. She said you should write about this, therefore I am.  She was thrilled about the software, and “who is using it”.  Great marketing tactic, reach out to people through influencers, but not so great when it abuses the trust of the people.

This app was fairly long on the market since the time I initially did this review, and the recent comment about import/export functionallity made me do a refresh of this article.  It has minimalistic design and layout, but features are timid and limited. Since the product got out of the beta phase, you are limited to 250 items per month. Considering that this is the outliner, I tend to go crazy with adding items. When I am brainstorming I can add 250 items in one session, let alone one month. Now this wouldn’t be the problem, if the price was reasonable, but monthly fee is 5$ a month. Considering that you get the basic features that should be included in the freemium model, I find this insanely expensive. This means that for the full year, you would pay 60$ or 40$ if you pre-paid the whole year.

For 40$ you could get OmniOutliner on your OSX, which is recognized the best outlining tool, with support for OPML. For 60$ you could get Omnioutliner PRO. Ubiquity is even better once you save OPML files in the same Dropbox folder where you save your mind maps, so you can access them in 2 different views. Previously I’ve stated that Workflowy didn’t have mobile apps, while that changed (for iOS.  I had to make a review about it, in order to give developer feedback.    If you think of competing in this highly competitive market of Productivity applications, you need to re-innovate and defeat applications like EvernoteOmnifocus and Omni Outliner, or offer something that doesn’t already exist.

Here is the list of things that would greatly improve outlining application:w

  • Integration with iCal / Google Calendar – for those who rely on Google SMS texts as reminders
  • Powerful search – so I don’t have to waste time looking for the things that I need
  • More powerful import / export feature – OPML for outlines is an absolute must, especially if you want to use it with your mind mapping software
  • Cross-app / social sharing – So I can export my work into other applications where I can continue what I’ve started without friction or letting me share with my email contacts or Twitter followers.
  • Clipping and Multimedia integration – Ability for me to easily add content without asking me what it is (Cotton Feature)
  • Reminders – so we can setup alarms without finding the native app
  • Offline access – so we don’t have to rely on internet in order for our system to work. (this is announced as premium only feature, still not there yet)

This might seem like a big wish list, but the app doesn’t have to have all of these in order to be great. It needs to do just one thing right and better than other already existing apps out there. And some of these are a complete deal breaker for the outlining app, like the lack of OPML import / export. (Those who are into outlining and mind mapping know exactly what I mean.) 250-500 items limit is also a killer for an app of this type. You will quickly find yourself paying 5$ for a second grade product. For 40–60$ there is so much more that you can get out there. Cotton for example (which is only mobile for the time being, costs 4$, and offers more). iOS app is not Native app, which means that it’s just an icon on your springboard that completely relies on network access in order to work. You can do the same from your web browser. And even when it gets offline access you will have to pay for it. In this era where almost every app is coming with Dropbox support out of the box, this doesn’t make it the best contestant as an Alpha Efficiency recommended app.

What I didn’t like about this app, it was marketed by internet influencers and various bloggers, that were nudging people into trying it out, while not telling them, that there are far better alternatives to outlining than Workflowy. And this prompted me to write a bad review. As there are far better alternatives, which might be cheaper and offer you more options. If you are using free version of this app, it might be a good temporary solution. After that you should move on to some more cost effective apps. I hope you guys find something useful in this review and implement some of the suggestions in order to make it better. Now question for the readers. Have you used Workflowy? If so, what did you like about it? Do you mind paying 5$ if you know that you could get more bang for your $ elsewhere? Look forward reading your thoughts.

Brian Djordjevic
About The Author

Brian Dordevic

Bojan is Marketing Strategic Planner with a passion for all things digital. Feel free to follow him on Twitter or schedule a consultation call with him.

49 responses to “Workflowy Review: Example of Bad Productivity App

  1. Hey Bojan, 
    I don’t really agree on most of these. It is obviously a different type of application than Evernote and I would not compare them.

    There is a search feature and all you have to do is use it. I for exmple mark my notes with something like #urgent #today etc to find all notes with that tag. That way I always know what is urgent, what I need to do today, etc. 

    I would not want to integrate it with Calendar because it would be distracting. This way I jsut have… workflow 🙂

    Availability on all platforms sounds fine, but simply opening your browser in most of those will get the job done. 

    Sharing options – this isn’t Evernote where you want to share your notes, this is a workflow application and I think you missed the point of how to use it. Why would I want to share my thoughts and to do list, observations,etc?

    You can tag your sentences. 

    Reminders? You need a calendar then, not a workflow app. 

    Offline access, yes, this is a good one, I guess you will have to use Word doc for something like this. 

    I see your point with all the stuff you think they should add, but again, I think you missed the main goal of this app, it isn’t Evernote, it is a workflow application that is great for writers, reminders, etc. 

    Here is a short review how a writer uses it

    1. Integration with iCal / Google Calendar – for those who rely on Google SMS texts as remindersNO – and I wouldn’t want it to. One of it its virtues is its simplicity Powerful search – so I don’t have to waste time looking for the things that I needYESAvailable on all platforms (Mac, PC, Android, iOS, Black Berry…) – so if I change the device, I don’t need to be left apartYESSharing options (Facebook, Twitter, @mail) – so I can share my
      thoughts with my friends without writing it twice and copy pastingYES – lists can be shared and edited by othersTagging – so we can organize ourselves betterYESReminders – so we can setup alarms without finding the native appNO – and I wouldn’t want it to. one of it its virtues is its simplicity Offline access – so we don’t have to rely on internet in order for our system to work.KIND OF – if you leave website open on computer or mobile browswer it will save any changes once device is back on line. This hopefully will be improved in future.

      1. Everyone is different. I want one application where I can control entire of my workflow. Even when you have awesome functionality, you can still keep simplicity! So I disagree.

        Example of great fully featured apl, that is still simple is Omnifocus… just not multiplatform, so it’s not for me, yet 🙂

  2. Hi Bogan

    Workflowy could suite many different types of applications although it would fail your list of requirements for a  complete productivity application

    I use Workflowy as my task management list and all bits of relevant information relating to my tasks are captured in Workflowy

    I have also started writing basic reports for clients. The export is not the greatest and there is a bit of editing in MS Word but I have got my workflow down now and I can generate reports quickly now.

    I also using it for sharing tasks with staff, the share feature is very simple and powerful.

    I, like you, am still looking for the ultimate productivity application but in the mean time the pure speed and simplicity of Workflowy means it is constantly open on my desktop and has greatly improved my productivity.

    Agree about the offline access. In the long term if Workflowy is to really move forward I think this is very important 

  3. I mostly disagree with your conclusion of Workflowy. The strength of the simple productivity software lies in a different aspect than full service. They all have their pros and cons, and they all favour a certain kind of approach – which you just have to take or leave.

    Its always been so, starting from the earliest outliners and Tornado Notes / Info Select. BTV, Info Select was a good example of what a really good, simple and fast brain extension became when it was infected by elephant disease. It tried to do everything good, which resulted that it did nothing good, and very soon it became just obsolete.

    Same with Workflowy. I may hope it will get native apps for Android / Windows Phone, reminders for them, an option to consolidate a project list as part of all participant’s own Workflows instead of using them just as separate lists – and that’s it. NOTHING more.

    Keep it simple, lightweight and with few commands. That is how it works as an extension of your brain.

    1. It’s only my review based on all the apps I’ve used or purpose of note taking and list keeping. 🙂 take ir or leave it, as you say

  4. I really like your list of features that (productivity) apps should have – I have been thinking about this for a while. One extra thing that I think is really important, certainly for ones in which you intend to keep more permanent information, is the ability to import and export into standard data formats (this can vary by application – iCal would be one example, or txt, csv, qif). Google has a good record in this regard, and I think it makes their apps more popular: I actively don’t use apps when I know their system is proprietary and would be a pain to move on from. The fact that I could leave gmail if I want to, is one reason I stay with it.

    1. Glad you liked the list. I see some potential in this app, tried it again, because I’ve noticed that so many people are raving about it. For starters I like that it works, it doesn’t have bugs and similar things. But still there is still a long way before it becomes functional.

      Google is fighting for my trust on daily basis, but as the time passes I believe that personal clouds and rented servers are going to become more popular option amongst people who are privacy savvy.

      1. I really tried to like the app and it is clean, simple and just works. But it is filling a niche that a) doesn’t mind about your principles, and b) definitely isn’t me. I much prefer more general note-taking apps or specific task management apps.

        I understand your view regarding Google. Aside from the hassle of shifting email address, at least I can leave and not lose data. Interesting idea about personal clouds: it so far seems that the only real cloud options are with people like Apple or Google – the big guns. Maybe one day there will be a way to have a front-end web client, but the data stored on something like dropbox?

        1. Dropbox already has great features and the fact that you can encrypt your data makes it even better. It’s great use is for cloud sync of encrypted passwords.

          1. Geez, are you for real in trusting Dropbox with all your other passwords by storing them using their encryption? You must mean that you distribute a strongly encrypted file via Dropbox. On principal, you shouln’t trust Dropbox’s built-in encryption.

  5. Nope, not a programmer. Still liking Workflowy – A LOT. You labeling it as a productivity tool and then running against your checklist of what those should have… it just doesn’t make sense to me. Here’s why:

    I see Workflowy as roughly the same thing as a mindmap-creating app. It organizes my mind, which is a prerequisite to productivity. The advantage compared to mindmaps is the fantastic fast navigation via keyboard shortcuts – I can easily shift between overview “mode” where I create or move nodes/lists, or going to super-focused on one node without being distracted by the rest of all the content. Speed and zooming-out/zooming-in – those two things make Workflowy absolutely essential as a tool that lets me dump all kinds/all levels of input/ideas from my mind and free up creative as well as productive space. 
    And I hope the guys behind it do NOT implement some of the suggestions in order to make it “better”. The simplicity is part of what makes it wonderful. Your last paragraph clearly belittles and puts your personal as superior to that of those who honestly just love the product. And we’re legion.

    1. Hi Niclas,

      Thank you for dropping by to Alpha Efficiency. You got the wrong impression. Those are my opinions on the product, and if Workflowy works for you, by all means use it.

  6. Pretty much disagree with this rather quick conclusion about Workflowy. It actually has many of the features you said aren’t there. Tagging is pretty much there, and so is search. Sharing option is also present, although not via social networks. It’s web-based and practically I consider that platform independent. Yes, I’m eagerly waiting for their Andriod app to come out. Offline access is actually present in practical terms: I leave my chrome browser open and can work freely while I’m offline; changes are saved once I get back online. The only feature lacking is reminders/calendar integration. I stumbled upon this application after going through innumerable productivity apps (including Evernote which also lacks calendar integration/reminders for that matter, and takes for ‘Ever’ to sync). I started using it with the thought of abandoning after a few minutes, but it’s been weeks now and I’m finding it heavily useful for all the ‘stuff’ that cannot go onto the calendar.
    In my observation, by far the greatest amount of thinking that occurs on this planet, will result in (or can be organized into) lists, which makes this tool a more fun-to-use version of a simple list in MS Word. Any special creative thinking exercise however, has to happen on a whiteboard or paper and pen, not in a tiny application screen.

  7. I think you’re missing the point of this system. It’s meant for projects, so you can write down tasks and things that need to be done from very global levels right into the very details. 
    And then check them off while you’re completing the project. 

    The only valid point would be offline access (it’s already crossplatform) and the alarms/reminders would be welcome yes. 

    I see this for productive things, so I leave facebook out of it because it’s nobodies business what’s going on in projects.

  8. Nice! I like how you give a “list” of things to explain why non-programmers don’t think in lists 🙂

  9. I think you should do an updated review. Workflowy has mobile access, sharing ability, powerful search and tagging. Personally I prefer to see one things done exceptionally well instead of trying to achieve as many things as possible while integrating in to all of these other services. Workflowy is fantastic as what id does.

  10. As Niclas has said, the reviewer is missing the concept here. It is not another one-stop productivity center. Rather, think of it as a sophisticated notepad: an endless white piece of paper for organizing your thoughts or to-do’s through bullet points, with a powerful search bar up top. Workflowy has since added many more features, like hashtaging, without losing its intention. The reviewer should consider updating.

    1. I use Workflowy daily. There is an offline access solution – sort-of. You can now paste HTML compliant lists into Workflowy. So I have trying out using a CHROME app called Scratchpad – which works offline. I create my lists offline when I am at a customer – then when I am online I paste them into Workflowy – bam, done. Its an extra step of cut and paste, but it works fine. And I agree – tagging and searching is not an issue – these features work great in Workflow. Also I should add the ability to SHARE a list with someone else WITHOUT a Workflowy account is pretty awesome – I gave my wife a ToDo list that she has access to – from her cell phone of Mac, and she adds things in there for me to do. I am on Workflowy all day, so I see the list as long as I am online. Would I like offline mobile and desktop apps? HECK YEAH! And don’t think I don’t hound the developers for this – but to be honest I am getting by with my “1 extra step” method of copy/paste from another offline app into Workflowy.

      I realize this offline access method only allows me to ADD content – should I wish to SEE the content offline – well there you have me. I use Workflowy mainly for capturing notes because I like how it helps me organize them and search them.

      1. thanks for mentioning Scratchpad. didn’t know about. already installed
        also waiting for offline mode and mobile apps, which are planned by the developer (and being implemented)

  11. I know this article states it’s out of date but it wants to add complications to a an app that’s trying to avoid complications and, therefore, stress. Worrying about adding on features or interfaces to other programs means more set up time, debugging, testing and so on. As it stands today, the app just works very well as it is and does what it intends to do and I’m not sure it needs further complications.

  12. Agree with other posters – author misses the point of what workflowy is…

    I started out ages ago trying to use Evernote for everything and failed. Its really poor at structure. Workflowy was just another thing I tried and initially discounted since it seemed like glorified notepad, but I kept coming back. Why? It transformed the way outlined, made notes and planned. It does just enough and no more, and there is no overhead in doing that. Add more features and you lose the supreme user interface.

  13. First, let me state that I have close to 4,000 searchable notes on Evernote and consider it to be my exo-brain capable of remembering, storing, indexing and archiving vast amounts of data. I have taken “remembering” to the next level by using to automate what gets stored in Evernote (Google Calendar events, tweets, etc.). 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 compliment one another, not compete.

    As an investor and capital finder to multiple and diverse businesses I spend my days managing next steps that will lead to a closing and funding events. 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 shareable 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!

    1. Really glad you’ve found a way to leverage Workflowy as a task manager. If you would like to do some justice, you could write a counter review, would be happy to include it here.

      I started using IFTTT for Evernote automation also. Everything gets stored there. It’s getting big, pretty quick.

  14. Wow. I, like many of us, continue to look for the right tool (or suite of tools) to make my life easier. I appreciate the simplicity of concept in Workflowy, and find plenty to like about it. I am optimistic they’ll listen to well considered feedback to make it stronger – hopefully maintaining the simplicity that makes it so appealing. Good ideas, like yours, will undoubtedly be considered for future development.

    Maybe you’ll listen to feedback yourself? A less snarky attitude would make you somewhat less insufferable. Maybe you can fix that in BOJAN 2.0?

  15. Loved the simplicity of the videos! Women are big list makers because they multitask. They do think like the videos: they have core area of their life to organize with multiple projects and tasks in each area.

    They should have an app so people can have their lists at hand anywhere/anytime. Most people would not want to publish their ‘To Do’ lists on Facebook. Many things on a ‘To Do’ list are personal and not anyone else’s business.

    1. My to do lists are also my notes. Sometimes I really do have a need to share them, via Twitter or whatever, so I can colaborate with my fellow bloggers. Than again, I am not your average user. After using OmniFocus and Evernote combined for quite some time, I developed an ecosystem that works wonders for me. If workflowy works for you, it’s all that matters.

      How long have you been using it?

  16. Hello Bojan,

    maybe you should really do an update, it’s really a great tool. I love the simplicity and most of the points you have marked are fixed.


    1. Thanks Chris,

      I’ve stated already that it’s a bit outdated at the begging of the article, since so much time passed and people keep visiting the post. Thank you for your recommendation. I will leave it as an example, and will link to some more recent reviews.

  17. Now that I finally have an iTouch, I’m desperately waiting for the app to come out. Workflowy may have it’s flaws, (the implementation of @ and # tags have done a LOT for its usability), but simplicity is good. I actually have yet to find any other tasking app that functions the way I need. @ and # tags are optional and extremely flexible and lend themselves to GTD mentality. Others try to force a list based on priority or deadline. Taking time to think about the priority is time used I could be DOING something, and the concept of DEADlines just set people up to fail and just makes me resistant to using the app at all..I don’t want to log in to be yelled at for not having done something. I operate with the concept of “Goal dates” which I find to be much more positive and therefore functional. The #soon and #today tags work for that, without having to put particular (frequently arbitrary) end dates.

    Where, app lists tend to want to order themselves by either priority or deadline…it just doesn’t work. Bills are a high priority when it’s that time of the month. In some apps when I sort by priority OR date, Bills will constantly be at the top of the list, even if I JUST paid them, because I don’t take the time to put arbitrary deadlines on anything else so they always get left at the bottom. I don’t want to see “Bills” until I need to, it’s just a distractor.

  18. ..And Evernote, from my brief trial, while it’s been touted to me as so great, I’m still trying to figure out a use for it. I had to ask a friend and it still took 10 minutes to even find how to create check boxes. (Awesome documentation! not). I haven’t heard of Omnifocus so I may check that out.

    1. Evernote is initially designed as note taking application, hence it’s checkboxes aren’t it’s primary functions. Although adding them has became easy on all mobile devices, while on desktop there is simple keyboard shortcut.

    2. Now regarding Omnifocus, it is designed to be your task manager. It is quite pricey, but I would recommend that you see their trial version and check out MacSparkies Omnifocus screen casts. Google it, that way you will know right away whether it’s for you or not. It’s most advanced task manager out there, and I don’t believe it’s for everybody. It has a steep learning curve, but it’s very well worth it!

  19. Workflowy is awesome. I have been using it since February (’12) and it is just what I need. When I first saw it (and I read this article at the time as well),

    it really only advertised itself as “notepaper”. and I was looking for that. I didn’t even use the tags at first.

    Workflowy really does hit the right personality, or the right type of simplicity required.

    1. Really glad that I have this many positive comments regarding my negative review. It will make a difference for people who are actually looking for a tool like this! Thank you

    1. It’s a personal preference, but I am quite convinced that some people such as you, find it simply mandatory. Thank you for leaving a comment.

  20. I think why many Workflowy users are commenting here is that the original review misses the core feature of the app- the ability to view your projects/ideas from very high level and seamlessly/effortlessly drill down into the nitty gritty details (and varying levels in between). This makes it very easy to navigate your lists and never feel ‘lost’. While other features should and probably will continue to be added, I think the developers most importantly first nailed the core concept of the app and that’s why it has many fans.

    I’m not disagreeing with the review, in that the app is even now lacking many important features (for me it’s better import/export functionality). But I just wanted to add my input on what is a very unique app.

  21. Agree with what Steve said about drill down to details. I’m using Workflowy a lot. Add which is fairly zoomable too and you’ll get a powerfull pair.

    I’m not a developer and can just dream if someone integrate these tools.

        1. I keep hearing about Trello, but never bothered to try it, as I have my perfect setup. I should venture off, and give some other organizers a go…

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