Workflowy and Tinderbox

If you’re reading this blog post, you undoubtedly know that Tinderbox is one of my favorite pieces of software. The mind-bogglingly versatile and powerful “tool for notes” is unsurpassed for helping me make sense of complex data (complex to me, child’s play to others perhaps). But I do not use Tinderbox as much as I would like for the simple reason that I can only run it on my MacBooks. I spend eight hours a day on my office Windows PC, and am frequently on the go with just my iPad with which to collect and write notes. Consequently, I end up dumping stuff into Evernote, which is terrific for keeping data sync’d across devices, but which does almost nothing for me in terms of analysis and visualization.


A note on nomenclature: It can become confusing writing about two different applications that may use different nomenclature. In this article, I will refer to any single item, whether in Workflowy or Tinderbox, as a note. The content of those notes I am calling note text. So, for instance, a note titled “Note A,” might have note text that says, “This is an example of note text in Note A,” 


Recently, I’ve started collecting research and notes for a book I want to write. Tinderbox would be a perfect helper for this project, so I am back to needing a way to bring in work that I do on other devices. And I believe I’ve found my solution in Workflowy. Being cloud-based and with an iOS app (not sure if there is an Android app, but probably), Workflowy is available to me most times when Tinderbox is not. [Update: The iOS app is a pretty weak implementation of the browser version. In fact, it is barely useable.] I can build an outline, add notes to the individual entries, and then import them right into a Tinderbox document. Here’s how to do it:

Workflowy is an adept, universally accessible outliner.

Workflowy is an adept, universally accessible outliner. Create an outline for importing to Tinderbox.

Of course you start by creating your notes in Workflowy. I’ve set up a section of my outline that I call Tinderbox Drawer, where I can work on anything I want to import into Tinderbox. (I could just as easily create a tag called #Tinderbox that would achieve the same thing.)

Select

Select “Export” from the little drop down menu that appears when you click on the bullet icon at the start of the top level of the notes you want to export. Click on the OPML option.

Once your outline is ready to go, click on the bullet icon of the parent note. A drop down menu will appear. Select the choice “Export.” When the export dialog appears, select OPML, then just copy that text.

When you paste the OPML text into Tinderbox, a top level note is created with the OPML text in the note.

When you paste the OPML text into Tinderbox, a top level note is created with the OPML text in the note.

Open Tinderbox and paste the OPML text wherever you need it. Tinderbox creates a new container note with the OPML text as the note content (let’s call this the OPML container note).  Within the OPML container note is another container note (let’s call this the parent container note), which correlates to the parent note from Workflowy; within this parent container note are the child notes. See below:

The original Workflowy parent note becomes a container note in Tinderbox, holding the original Workflowy child notes. Note text from Workflowy are also imported as the note text of these Tinderbox notes.

The original Workflowy parent note becomes the parent container note in Tinderbox, holding the original Workflowy child notes. Note text from Workflowy is also imported as the note text of the corresponding Tinderbox notes.

If you gave the items in your Workflowy outline some notes, those notes are imported into the Tinderbox notes as the note text. Here’s how this looks in Outline View of Tinderbox:

Outline view of the notes Workflowy notes imported into Tinderbox.

Outline view of the notes Workflowy notes imported into Tinderbox.

The one somewhat cumbersome aspect of this procedure is the redundant OPML container note, which you probably don’t need. You can eliminate this by copying the parent container note, pasting this where you want it in your Tinderbox document, and then deleting the original OPML container note.

Tinderbox now supports tags with a Tag attribute, but unfortunately Workflowy tags do not translate to Tinderbox tags. They just come in as part of the text. You can easily set up agents that will search for these Workflowy tags (just hashtags followed by the tag name as in #WorkflowyTag) and apply them to the Tag attribute of the notes in Tinderbox.

It is important for me to point out that this is a one-way process. There is not a way to keep notes in Workflowy and Tinderbox in sync. At least not one I know of.

By the way, Tinderbox does support Simplenote synchronization, but I’m not a fan of Simplenote and — at least in the past — I’ve found there to be some restrictions on how you can use the sync’d Simplenote notes in Tinderbox.

So that’s it. A simple and easy procedure. Now to put it into practice.

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2 comments

  1. Hi Steve –
    The workflow you describe would work with any app that writes or exports to OPML, so Omnioutliner, iThoughts, MindNode, etc. would do the same thing. Not sure if their tags would fare any better. now that there’s the more powerful iPad Pro, maybe an iOS port of TB will be possible.
    Also, speaking of iOS, I first read this latest post on my phone with iOS 9. There’s a display problem. Your wood-panel background takes over the screen and I get small dark letters against the wood-grain background. Very hard to read.
    Best wishes for the holidays and the new year!
    Stephen

    1. Sorry for the iOS issue. Not sure I can do anything about that. I use just a standard WordPress theme. Although it might be time for a new look. Thanks for the heads up.

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