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Discussion Forum > Extreme Outlining

Following on a few things:
- I got a new bigger phone
- I wanted a system to help plan supper
- I was enticed by "an interesting link" with its Pivotlist concept.
- I was already seeking out kanban tools for Work

I ended up after all this searching to settle on "extreme outlining" as a way to go. There's a bunch of tools out there for the purpose, perhaps the simplest to explain is Workflowy.

You type text to make a bullet point. Press enter to start a new one. press tab to indend it. Type to make a sub item. So far, just the same as OneNote, Word, and a lot of outlining tools.
Workflowy adds a zoom function, where you can take any part of your outline and zoom in to look at just that part. You can also collapse any subpart of the document to only look at the level of detail you need. The effect is you can have a huge document that includes all kinds of things at the same time. And you only see the parts that matter to you.

There are several tools of this sort. I went with because it has better tools for linking stuff, a better iphone presence, and having several documents instead of just one makes sense to me: I can have a list for work, a list for home, and lists I pull off the web and not merge them all.

So what can I do with this?
1) Have a giant todo-list Mark Forster style
2) Split out separate lists Pivotlist style (, and have those pivots simultaneously be part of the main list.
3) I can set up a Kanban system where each category is an outline branch, and advancing is to move them down to the next branch.
4) This layout is more flexible than a kanban grid, and it was easy to embed a rotating calendar as part of the planning flow.
5) I also have a place to put everything else that fits into a text format, including notes, routines, archival stuff.
7) I can get rid of my pocket notepad and just have one bulky item in my pocket.
8) And as a web app it's available everywhere I want it.
6) I can write this post with it.

It's easy to use, but it's kind of geeky in orientation. Instead of giving you all kinds of functions for you to learn, it gives you all kinds of freedom to imagine how you might do things without all these functions but with more freedom. Kinda like paper gives you that trade-off but the digital outliner can suck you in deeper.
February 27, 2018 at 20:35 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Illustration of doing DIT in Workflowy:
February 27, 2018 at 20:45 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
This works so well I might never switch systems again, unless the technology fails me. (Or unless things spiral out of control after trying it more than a week.) I might switch brands, but unless I take my work to a place without electricity to charge my phone, this is a keeper.

The process is extremely free-flowing. I could describe a detailed process, but the real process is just doing what feels right.

Make a list of items to work on. At any time I may group items together using the outlining features. Or pull stuff out of an outline to the top level. To work, collapse the list down to top-level items only. Scan that list. If I choose an item that has content (e.g. more items, or notes) drill in and work that content. Then back to the top level, and move that item to the end.

And yes, this process encompasses everything I describe in the original post.
March 3, 2018 at 15:10 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
I tried it. Still figuring out how to move things around. Thanks for info.
March 3, 2018 at 16:33 | Unregistered CommenterErin
For me the trick is to go into Settings and change the keys for moving things around, to what makes sense to me.
March 4, 2018 at 20:14 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu

I also moved in the same direction recently. I'm using a different toolset, and I have a slightly different approach, but I'm really enjoying it. Here are the features that I'm most excited about:

Outlines are fantastic for catch-all working styles. I prefer to have a top-level section that serves as an inbox for all of the new material that I produce, and when I reach a point that there's an overwhelming amount of stuff in the inbox, I clarify each piece and move it to an appropriate subsection. Everything that I've touched or thought about is in the system, only a short text-search away.

Outlines are great focus tools. I don't need to elaborate too much, but I'll offer these two bits: Most outlining tools allow you to fold up parts of the tree that don't need your attention. The particular software I'm using (see below) goes a step further with a feature called "narrowing". If I find a subtree that really needs my attention, my editor allows me to treat that subtree as though it were a completely separate document. Focus on what you want to, and confidently ignore the rest, knowing that it is all still there whenever you need it.

Outlines help build small material into larger corpi. This is the feature that I'm most excited about. So far, I've just been throwing material at the system as it comes to me. Want to respond to a comment on the Mark Forster forums? Create a new subtree and start writing. Grocery list? Create a new subtree and start writing. Wrapping up the day and want to reflect? Create... you get it. What's great, though, is that I have all of these small artifacts of how my days and weeks have progressed. Once a week or so, I double check that individual items have been clarified, then I gather together everything since the last review and start looking for patterns. Did I do a lot of some particular activity this week? Too little of something to which I had assigned high importance? Are there chunks of knowledge that I've recorded that fit together into a larger thought? I feel like an outliner is the best tool I've worked with so far for gaining this higher-altitude perspective, and I feel like I know more about myself than ever.

For those who are interested in my particular tools, they are the text editor Emacs and the extension Org mode There's plenty of information available about both of these tools online, but I invite the forum to ask me questions as well.
March 5, 2018 at 15:39 | Unregistered CommenterVoluntas
I've used Workflowy a lot and have recently moved to Dynalist.

I love immediacy of paper and have even tried to work all-paper all-the-time but it quickly gets out of hand for me.

So now I capture in paper and process it in to an outline on an almost daily basis.

Recently I created a section in my Outline called Oasis based on another post in the forum

It really works well with Workflowy or Dynalist search/focus tool. When you search on a * only the line items marked with a * show up.

I prefix items with a * as I go through a long list and pick things that stand out. Usually that produces a long list so I search for the * in the outline and it returns only those items. I then cycle through again and add an addional * or two to whittle it down further. (Searching for ** omits * items so I search for either *, **, or ***. I never go past 3 *** )

It works wonders visually as it allows me to zoom in and out of the Oasis very quickly using the search field.

I did a guest post on this concept over on the Workflowy blog a few years back and was using the * to denote priority. However, I feel that using the *, **, and *** work better with the standing out mindset rather than a rigid priority mindset now a days.

March 6, 2018 at 1:00 | Unregistered CommenterBrent
Extreme outlining eh?

My "AF" list is still in my A7 paper notebook. However, almost all the things I do is in an outline on my computers, or started from an outline there.

Over the years I've tried many outlining mobile apps and programs on desktops. But I've always came back to this old favourite of mine since 2011 or so, . It a browser based web app so accessible from anywhere. And since last few years it has a mobile version that's tailored for small touch screen interface. So with checkvist I can work on an outline transparently on my mobile and on my laptops; sometimes simultaneously on both.

Oh I agree with the advantages of outlining mentioned above.

Filter or instant search is one of the must have features when using outlining, particularly when you collapse things to zoom out to big picture view.
March 6, 2018 at 2:49 | Registered Commentersabre23t
2 weeks in and still going strong. The details of the system evolve day by day, and work ends up being slightly different from home. The dynamic nature of things makes it easy to explore and change things. As an example, I had built a set of checklists for routine items, and it ended up evolving into a flexible day plan where I go through things in a certain order, with grouping and optional items. And unlike a paper system, I never had to restart or copy things over, it was just tweaking bit by bit until something new emerged.
March 14, 2018 at 0:15 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Alan Baljeu:

<< The details of the system evolve day by day, and work ends up being slightly different from home. The dynamic nature of things makes it easy to explore and change things. As an example, I had built a set of checklists for routine items, and it ended up evolving into a flexible day plan where I go through things in a certain order, with grouping and optional items. >>

So you knew what emerging goals and strategy were all along. You just used the word "evolve" instead of "emerge".
March 14, 2018 at 13:12 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I don't see how you get that conclusion. I did not discuss goals or strategy. If you are now telling me that evolving a habit is emerging a goal, I am confused. This has nothing to do with goals.
March 14, 2018 at 17:34 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Alan Baljeu:

<< If you are now telling me that evolving a habit is emerging a goal, I am confused. >>

No wonder if you are confused if that's what you think I'm telling you!

What I'm saying is that your flexible day plan emerged out of your earlier goal to build a set of checklists for routine items. Your original goal evolved into something else.
March 14, 2018 at 20:26 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Yes, I think a set of checklists is a powerful tool and could even be a system in its own right.

I have something quite similar I have been using for a long time now. A list of about 10-15 general tasks to help point me in the right direction each day. They are split for morning and afternoon routines. It is quite nice to slot in a new task/project that seems quite daunting, action it every day in small chunks for a few weeks and then see it all done and dusted.

It feels a bit like I'm on a washing machine cycle, but it works!

Mark: time for a new system? Would welcome you thought on anything up your sleeve?
March 15, 2018 at 16:41 | Unregistered CommenterMrBacklog
"your flexible day plan emerged out of your earlier goal to build a set of checklists for routine items"

That was only my goal at a detail level. My true goal was to get consistent at doing things regularly. More than that, it was to be systematic at this so that if I want to pickup a new habit I have a framework to make it habitual. That goal didn't emerge, it remained.
March 15, 2018 at 18:15 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Alan Baljeu:

If you still haven't grasped the concept of an emergent goal, well then you seem to be surviving well enough without it. So I wouldn't worry about it.
March 17, 2018 at 0:19 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Instead of Emergent goals, maybe Revealed?

If what you're doing will likely lead to good things, then keep at it. Sometimes formally stating a goal interferes with the enjoyment.
March 19, 2018 at 16:04 | Registered CommenterCricket
Perhaps in a team context or an organizational context, SMART is important for goals. Maybe less so for personal goals.

I don't know if my approach is right, but I put FAMILY as a single word goal, which in the context of a Mark system really means that I regularly consider whether I want to do anything related to FAMILY. Likewise HEALTHY.
March 19, 2018 at 21:31 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu