Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Dave Ghidiu

Improving My WorkFlowy

As a teacher, I'm always looking for ways to improve my workflow. As an educational technologist, I'm also looking for ways to improve my workflow. As a human being, I am constantly looking for ways to improve my workflow.

Workflowy Logo
Cool software demands a cool logo.

And I've encountered a promising piece of software to do it.

And it's free.

And it ties in to Google Drive.

And it has a Chrome desktop app.

And there's an app for my iPhone (Android coming soon, but the browser version works great on mobile devices).

For starters, WorkFlowy is a very practical note taking/list making app. It's really an enhanced tool for lists, but also a lightweight project management tool. Where I work, we have the real-deal Microsoft Project. But it is pretty complex for the smaller scale projects my department does. WorkFlowy is the perfect lightweight solution, and has a few features that make the simple interface standout from similar apps:
  • It has infinite indenting (zooming)

  • Portions of the list (you decide which ones!) can be shared

  • It supports tags which can be filtered

    • #soon - use the hashtag for tasks, timelines, etc.

    • @dave - use the at sign for assigning tasks to people

  • It can be embedded in a webpage and you don't need an account to view a shared, embedded file, so it is perfect for embedding in an LMS

  • It copies and pastes spectacularly from a Google Document

  • It's easy to mark an item as done (and see that it is done)

  • It lives in the cloud and is easily accessible from any device

  • It has a "starring" notion, so you can favorite certain pages (which is really just saving different page views, as you are only allocated one "WorkFlowy" to contain everything; you just get to dive deeper to get to more granular items

  • Even without an account, a viewer of a shared list can print or export the content
Since this blog isn't a tutorial blog, I'm not going to go over how to use it. If you want to learn how to use it, create a free account and then watch the help videos (or watch one of their tutorials on YouTube). But I do want to discuss the merits of using it in the classroom.

But before we get to that, check out the embedded document. Go ahead and interact with it. If you click on the large, light grey circles, you will "zoom" in to the item. At first I just thought this was a really slick visual, but then I realized that honing in on an item allows you to focus on a specific topic (without the distraction of all the other pending tasks). You can also expand the topics by hovering over the text and pressing the "+" sign to expand the list.

Also try searching for "@john", "@markV", or "#bringToWork" to see projects that are "assigned" to John or Mark, as well as the tag to remind me to bring items to work.

Embedding in a narrow space omits the menus in the upper right hand side, but you get the idea. Try interacting with the lists I've shared. Either click on the circles before each item or expand them with the "+" sign. You can also click this link to see WorkFlowy the way it was intended to be experienced.

A few thoughts of how this could be used in educational arenas:
    While I think Evernote is a bigger product and has more features, sometimes you really want something simple. For those times, WorkFlowy is the answer. Using the "link only" security by obscurity model (or private invites with the pro version) to invite collaborators (no need for them to have an account). It's great for computer neophyte collaborators, and it's great for people who want fast, portable, and reliable list-making and note taking software.

    They say the art of writing evolution has been lost. I say that it hasn't (Google Documents allow for a granular history of changes, and PiratePad even has a sweet "time slider" function that lets you watch the evolution like a stop-action movie). Similarly, WorkFlowy lends itself well to outlining essays, research papers, or any other document. Some people even compose their writing in WorkFlowy.

    For classes where keeping a journal is important, WorkFlowy could provide a perfect solution. The topical organization can be enhanced by having dates and times be sub-headings, and students can share their journal entries with faculty.

    Currently, I use Google Drive to manage my notes in every meeting I'm in. I usually copy (or import) the agenda from my email (if I get an agenda), and then I annotate it during the meeting. With a solid hierarchy of folders, this system works well for me. I think it would work really well with WorkFlowy, as well. One deficiency is that WorkFlowy doesn't seem to allow attachments or images (both of which are important to me), but I suspect many people just want a common venue with an intuitive interface for note taking. Enter WorkFlowy.
I came across a few other people who have implemented WorkFlowy. Ava Jae suggests using it as a brainstorming tool, and I wholeheartedly agree. It seems perfect for brainstorming, planning, and outlining. Paul Wood talks about how he used it as a violin teacher. And Margaret shows how it helped her plan her wedding in a three minute YouTube video. I think this piece of software is very extensible, and attractive to users because it is really technology that enables people to effortlessly adapt it to their needs.

One word of caution before you start to use it - the free version only allows for 250 items (so don't start a project or list and find out that you can't use it without paying). The pro version is very inexpensive - $5 a month or $50 a year. With the pro version, you get unlimited lists, backup to Dropbox (which you can do manually), private collaboration, offline editing (which the desktop app supports now), themes, and technical support. Note that you can also extend your free, 250 item quota by getting other people to join.

In general, I'm a fan of the freemium model. And in this case, I upgraded. I really think it's worth it. WorkFlowy is a solid product with great features, and the folks who created it seem like really good people. 

If you're still not sold on WorkFlowy, create an account or watch this video. If you still aren't sold, make an itemized list and tell me why.

Dude. Organize your brain.

Dave Ghidiu

About Dave Ghidiu -

Dave Ghidiu is a Senior Instructional Designer for Open SUNY.

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