Dynalist — one of my workhorse apps

Dynalist is a cloud-based outlining app that I rely upon heavily.

Dynalist is a cloud-based outlining app that I’ve come to rely upon daily. It isn’t all that flashy, so I tend to use it, but not think much about it. But it is so useful, it deserves a post from me.

Because it is an outliner first and foremost, Dynalist is extremely versatile. I use it for planning, making lists, keeping a list of key contacts, and even first drafts of some writing projects (such as this one). The main purpose I use Dynalist for is as my digital bullet journal. I will describe this process in an upcoming posting.

What I like about Dynalist

It’s a solid outlining app

My base requirement for an outliner is that it gets out of the way as I’m creating and structuring the content. Dynalist meets this requirement (if it didn’t, I wouldn’t use it). It also offers Zooming, which allows me to focus on sub-levels of an outline without the distraction of the rest of the content.

Inline notes

Any heading in Dynalist can have a note included, which is viewable inline; that is, as part of the outline and not in a separate window.

Lots of ways to categorize the content

Different projects and purposes require different ways of organizing. Dynalist has a multitude of ways to organize my outlines and the content within them.

Folders and documents. Unlike in Workflowy, for example, I can create folders in Dynalist to keep the various topics and purposes of my outlines (what Dynalist calls documents) where they belong with other related outlines. And I can nest folders for deeper organization

Tags. I can add hashtags to list items, then filter for those hashtags universally or on an document by document basis. (This is a Pro subscription feature.)

Color-labeling. I can color code my entries, which is useful in my bullet journal for visually distinguishing between my work entries and others.

Formatting. I can format items as one of three heading levels. This feature could be improved by allowing some customization of the formats of the headings (i.e. underlining or colors). I can also format using markdown.

Checklists. I can set any item to have a checkbox, so I can easily see what items are tasks and what are notes. One failing here is that for any item that has a checkbox, all its child items will also have checkboxes and there is no way to change this. Even though I can have “notes” for an item, I would also like to have sub-items serve as notes sometimes.

Bookmarks. I can mark any list or sublist (at any level) with a bookmark, so I can quickly navigate to that list from any other list.

Date Tags. I can use the trigger “!” to start a date tag on any item in any list. This is useful for setting due dates or otherwise referencing a date in my lists. It looks like this !(2019-03-13) when done.

Universal

I can access Dynalist on the internet with a browser. There are also apps for MacOS, iOS and Windows. So I can view and work on my lists anywhere. And the lists work offline, which I find important.

Images & Documents

Though I rarely need or use this feature, I can add photos and external documents to my notes. Drag a file onto the outline and Dynalist uploads it to its server and gives you a link to paste into your outline. If it is a photo, hovering over the link pops up a preview. Click the link to go to a new webpage with the photo. There is no preview of a document (at least not a PDF, which is all I’ve tried.)

Hyperlinks to other lists and items

I can easily embed a link to another item or list in Dynalist. I just type the trigger “[[” and start typing the text of the item I want to link to and Dynalist presents me with a quickly filtering list of options. When I get to the one I want, I select it and the link is automatically made. (Note, while you are editing the item, you see the code for the link, but once you get out of editing, the link becomes bounded by a horizontal box.) See the screencast below for a brief demonstration of hyperlinking in Dynalist.

Multiple export options

In truth, this is both a nice feature and one of Dynalist’s biggest weaknesses. I can export an HTML or OPML file. And I can control how the text is output into those formats: formatted text, plain text (with options), or OPML. This assortment is useful, but I would prefer to be able to also be able to export to PDF, Docx, RTF file directly. (I can use the print command to print to a PDF.) The formatted HTML is kind of a mess. For example, notes take the same formatting as the heading they are associated with. See the screen shot below to see what I mean.

The article exported as formatted text in an HTML file and opened in Word (for Mac).

Article vs. List views

This isn’t the strongest feature, but it is nice. I can switch between List view and Article view. The main difference being that in Article view the bullets disappear and the document looks a little bit less like a list and more like, well, an article.

Why I chose Dynalist over Workflowy

The truth is there probably isn’t a lot of real difference between Dynalist and Workflowy. The main one, and the key one for me, is that I can create individual outlines and categorize them in folders. I tried to use Workflowy before I ever heard of Dynalist, but didn’t get a lot of use out of it. When I discovered Dynalist, it immediately clicked with me and I’ve used it heavily since.

Some other notable differences:

  • Dynalist allows for limited markdown formatting
  • Heading formatting in Dynalist
  • Color-coding in Dynalist
  • Google Calendar sync with Dynalist Pro subscription

You can see the full list of differences (according to Dynalist) here.

Pro vs. Free

The free version of Dynalist is very robust, but I’ve subscribed to the Pro version. I got in with the early bird pricing, which is $4 per month, when paying annually. And that pricing persists for me into the future. The website is a little confusing, but it looks to me like the early bird pricing is still available. Here is the list of features you get access to with a Pro subscription:

  • Google Calendar integration
  • Item finder. Jump to any item using the keyboard (I’ve never tried this).
  • Capture to inbox.This is a feature that allows you to select any outline as your inbox and then add items to it without having to move from your current location in Dynalist. Honestly, I haven’t used this much.
  • Tag pane. Shift to the Tag pane to see a list of all your tags. Select a tag to view the items so tagged. A nice feature here is the ability to view all tags from all your documents, or just the tags in your current document.
  • Recurring dates
  • Unlimited bookmarks. You only get five bookmarks in the free version.
  • Version history
  • Image and file attachments
  • Priority support
  • Daily Dropbox & Google Drive backup
  • Custom shortcuts
  • Custom CSS
  • Custom date display format

The bottom line

As I have tried to disclose in this article, Dynalist is far from a flawless app. It is continuously developed, but in small, incremental steps. (View the roadmap here — I am eager for them to implement the email to Dynalist to add items.) Nevertheless, as it is now, Dynalist is one of the most useful apps I work with. I use it several times a day.

You can view the first draft of this article as a Dynalist outline here. (I forgot to mention that sharing is another nice feature of Dynalist.) You won’t be able to view the attached documents.

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3 comments

  1. It sounds and looks good. One feature available in OmniOutliner that might be a bit difficult for me to give up is multiple columns.

    1. I can definitely understand that. Columns are a great feature. In some ways (in my opinion) and outliner with columns is an entirely different breed of software from outliners without columns. What I guess I mean by that is that for most of what I use Dynalist for, I have no need of columns.

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