Author: Steve Zeoli

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 where they belong with other related outlines.

Tags. I can add hashtags to list items, then filter for those hashtags universally or on an document by document basis. (Dynalist calls outlines “documents.”)

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.


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.)


MacJournal 7 now available — and for free

MacJournal is now being offered exclusively through the original developer, Dan Schimpf. He just announced that the release version of MacJournal 7 is available, and he’s offering it free of charge. Learn more here. (Thanks to Drewster on the forum for the notice about this.)

Integrating Trello with Todoist

I work for a nonprofit publisher. Among my responsibilities is getting our books printed or reprinted. I have found that Trello is a great way to manage the flow of these tasks on a project by project basis. But I use Todoist for managing my other tasks. I was double-entering my printing tasks (Trello for all the details, Todoist for the reminders), but that wasn’t very efficient.

Enter Pleexy, an app that integrates Trello with Todoist. Here is how the developers describe Pleexy:

Pleexy boosts your personal productivity by channeling tasks from your email, note taking, collaboration, mind mapping and tracking apps into your Todoist or Wunderlist. Just set up a connection between the supported application and your task manager and Pleexy will make sure your tasks stay up-to-date in both places!

With Pleexy, it was very easy to set up my Print Management board in Trello with my Printing project in Todoist. Each card in Trello is turned into a task in Todoist; Trello card checklists are turned into sub-tasks in Todoist. Checking off a task in Todoist checks it off in Trello.

When you first set this up in Pleexy, you have a lot of options for what gets sync’d between the two apps, and how the syncing works. The default is to have all the cards on all your Trello boards sync to your Todoist Inbox. That would have been overwhelming and counterproductive, so I just linked the Printing Management board to my Printing project. It would be nice to set up other board > project integrations, but it appears you can only have one Trello to Todoist link. (If I discover I’ve got this wrong, I’ll update this post.)

I’m just starting with this integration, but on first blush it seems to work very well.

You can read more about this (and other Todoist integrations) in this Todoist blog post.

Update about the future of MacJournal (good news?)

Thanks to the eagle eye of one of my fellow passengers aboard the S.S., I was just alerted to the fact that Mariner Software is no longer distributing MacJournal. The rights to the fantastic journaling app have reverted to Dan Schimpf, the software’s originator and (to my knowledge) sole developer.

Read more about the move here.

I would like to think this is good news for the software, which languished over the past few years. Dan is working on an update, as I mentioned in my recent revew of MacJournal. I hope this means he has renewed interested in continuing to improve an already great app. (I do hope Dan updates his website!)

Diarly Redux

Last fall I wrote about a journaling app called Diarly. The developer has continued to add regular, incremental improvements and refinements. The most significant, I think, is that you can now export to PDF.

You still can’t print from Diarly, but since you can export an entire journal or individual entries as PDF files, you can print from Preview easily enough.

Another nice (far from unique) feature, which I mentioned in passing in the previous look at Diarly: You can review your word count over various time periods (ranging from the past week to the past 12 months) in all journals or journal by journal. You can also check the word count of the entry you’re currently working in. Nothing revolutionary in this, but a handy feature.

You can track your writing output in Diarly.

In the review I indicated that I was going to be using Diarly as my journal, but I have been using MacJournal for a variety of reasons. But I would be happy to use Diarly. It is a lovely app that does one thing, and does it well.

The main prompt for this follow-up is that the developer of Diarly gave me a few Promotion Codes to give out to my blog readers. I have them for iOS and Mac. Shoot me an email to request a set. (I’ll post an update when they are gone.)

MacJournal concatenated text demonstration

As a follow-up to my recent review of MacJournal, I wanted to show another nice feature of the writing application. You can select individual entries (use the Command Key to select them, or the Shift Key to select a block of entries) and view them one after the other in the editor window. The screencast above shows how this looks (using some excerpts from Mary Austin’s The Land of Little Rain).

You can also export the selected documents as one document.

This isn’t a revolutionary feature. Ulysses and Scrivener do this as well, and probably better. But it is a nice touch that I didn’t mention in the review.

The screencast also demonstrates the hover over feature I mentioned in the review. When you bring your mouse over an entry in the list, a popup shows details about the entry as well as a text preview.

MacJournal: Still the best notebook for MacOS

In this post, I want to discuss my reasons for returning to MacJournal as my number one notebook.

When I first journeyed back to MacOS for my personal use about 11 years ago, I installed Scrivener, CircusPoinies Notebook and MacJournal almost immediately. I didn’t really appreciate MJ at the time, but it was touted as the best diary app, and that’s how I first used it. I slowly uncovered other features that made it useful for all kinds of writing and note keeping, but I was committed to Scrivener and then Ulysses for longer-form writing (I don’t mean book-length work, but essays and long notes about specific things). I dabbled in using MJ for other types of writing, but then DayOne came along and it dazzled me with its clean appearance and the easy way it synchronized material between MacOS and iOS, so I turned to it for my diary. When DayOne went to a subscription, I looked elsewhere for a new diary app and relegated MJ to the app scrap heap. But after several years of failing to be satisfied with my diary/journals I decided to give MJ another go. And I am glad I did.

Diary vs. journal

I make the following distinction between a diary and a journal:

  • A diary is for keeping a record of what happened on specific days. It is very date-centric. You might record your thoughts about various subjects in a diary, but they are organized by date. If you just want to keep a diary, you might be happier with another app. I’d recommend Diarly, but DayOne and Lifecraft are both worth a look.
  • A journal should be able to handle date-centric notes, but it should also be a place to write about any subjects you like unrelated to the date. You may find that you write enough about a certain subject that you want to group those entries in their own sub-journal. A journal belongs in a notebook (or set of notebooks), which is why I used that word in the title of this post.

Some of the types of entries I want to keep in my digital notebook:

  • diary entries
  • notes about specific topics
  • blog post drafts
  • project notes
  • planning notes
  • spark notes
  • reading notes
  • movie and TV reviews
  • first drafts of correspondence

I’ve found that MacJournal handles these all elegantly and powerfully.

Before I discuss how, let’s get a few definitions out of the way. MacJournal calls the file you open to work in a DOCUMENT. Inside the document, you create JOURNALS. Inside each journal you can create individual ENTRIES. You can also create sub-journals and SMART JOURNALS.  You can also create BOOKS, which I’ll touch on later. 

Journals vs. tags

You can see from the screen shot at the top of this post that I have several topic/purpose-related journals in my main document. This is how I like to organize my notes, which is one of the major reasons I don’t use Bear for note-taking… it only has tag-organization. I like having the option to add tags, but I hate having to create tags to put my notes in order. With MJ, I can add tags as needed, or forget about it. For example, when I am creating diary entries, I tag the ones that refer to an important event as “notable.” Then I have a smart journal that hunts up the “notable” entries, so at the end of the year I can have a quick summary of the important happenings. 

Another smart journal I have is for spark notes. Rather than stash my spark notes in a dedicated journal, I prefer to leave them in the journal in which the idea first came to me, where I might get some insight based upon their context. But I will add the spark tag to those notes, and then I have a smart journal gather those tagged notes together.

In MacJournal you can set up Smart Journals that hunt through your entries to find those that meet a certain criteria. This one is simply based on finding a tag. But you can add several qualifiers.

Tons of meta-data

MJ allows you to hitch a lot of meta-data to each entry. You can use that meta-data for smart-journal selection, sorting or just visibly adding information to your notes. Here’s a short list of some of the meta-data you can add to your notes:

  • Tags
  • Annotations
  • Status
  • Due Date
  • Rating
  • Priority
  • Labels

The screen shot below shows the inspector panel for an entry:

With MacJournal, there are many types of built-in meta-data for cataloging your entries.

You can pop up the inspector panel to view all the meta-data (as in the screen shot above), and you can choose to see meta-data in the entries grid. Each entry also has an INFO BAR which will display the meta data you signify.

You can choose what meta data to view in the entries grid and in the info bar. The red arrow points to a disclosure triangle with a list of meta data to show in the entries grid.

Writing and editing

Surrounding your notes with all sorts of great tools is wonderful, but where the rubber hits the road with a journal is how it works for composing your entries. MacJournal may not be quite as nimble as some other dedicated writing programs, such as Ulysses and Scrivener, but I feel fully at home writing in its editor. First of all, the application performs like you would expect a good word processor to perform. It even looks like one, as this screen shot attests:

Open any entry in a separate editor.

You have three options for how you can work. You can write in the editor when it is docked with the entries grid and journal panel (as in the screen shot at the top of this post). You can open the selected entry in a separate windows (as the screen shot above). You can go to focused view to let your writing dominate the screen.

Almost every writing app has a focused view that allows you to let your words take over your screen. MacJournal does too.

So you can write in MacJournal as if it is a standard word processor. You can also use markdown formatting, although I have to admit that there is virtually no documentation for how to make the best use of this feature (the User’s Guide doesn’t even contain the word “markdown”). But trust me, you can write with markdown and then view a preview of your formatted text.

And if you prefer another editor for writing, no problem. You can choose to edit an entry in an external editor of your choice.

MJ does not do a split screen view to allow you to reference one entry as you work on another, but you can open more than one entry in a separate window at a time and align them on the screen for essentially the same effect. You can also open more than one tab, so it is easy to switch back and forth between entries.

Here’s another nice feature of MacJournal. You can use the keyboard to summon the Quick Note feature while working in any app (as long as MJ is running).

Sharing and exporting

Getting your work out of your journal is almost as important as getting it into it. MacJournal is very adept at allowing you to turn your work into a variety of formats for sharing it. You can, of course, share your work via email through the SHARE menu. You can also output your entries to DevonThink and other information management apps on your computer. I haven’t put this to the test much, but the little I have, it worked fine.

You can also export your entries to a wide range of formatted files. See the screen shot below for the list of options:


MacJournal is unsurpassed when it comes to the options it gives you for exporting your entries.

If you blog, you can upload your entries to your blog. I personally prefer working in WordPress, so I’ll just cut and past this text, then add the images from within WordPress. That’s my way of admitting I haven’t tested this feature, but I suspect it works just fine.


A journal usually contains private thoughts, which you may not wish to share with others. MacJournal protects your information in a number of ways. First, it allows you to set up automatic backups, so all your journals and entries are backed up regularly. The application also allows you to lock journals behind a password, and you can opt to have locked journals encrypted. (Note: the level of encryption used is not specified in the User’s Guide.)

MacJournal on the go

The iPad version of MacJournal allows you to take your notebook with you. It’s not as full-featured as the OS version, but it works well. It also has a nice wifi sync feature, so you don’t have to put your data into the cloud if you do not want to.

The iPad version looks sharp and has worked well for me, though I do not need it often.

Thoughtful features

MacJournal is full of thoughtful features. One of my favorites is that while you have one entry selected, you can hove the mouse over another entry and a little window pops up showing you information about the other entry as well as previewing the contents.

I also appreciate the breadcrumb trail at the bottom of the screen that shows where I am amongst my writing. This is especially useful in the floating editor window where your work is detached from the context of the document (i.e. the opened file).

There is a timer feature so you can record how long you’ve worked or set a specific length of time to work.

Other nice features

Make aliases. MacJournal allows you to store your entries in more than one journal via the ALIAS feature. When you alias an entry, you can put the copied version in any other journal. Changes in one copy appear in all the copies. You can see that an entry is an alias because the title appears in italics.

Publish a journal as a book through As I mentioned earlier, you can create a special journal type called BOOK. Here is what the User’s Guide says about this feature:

Within MacJournal, books are a special type of journal that are designed in a way that they can be published to, from where you can order a hard copy once you obtain a free account. You can choose from a variety of book formats including “Digest” and “Casewrap,” and easily glide from chapter to chapter while choosing which sections to include in your book. 

I haven’t tested this feature yet, but if it works as advertised, it could be useful for some writers. I for one would prefer to work with Scrivener to publish a book-length project.

Other views. So far all the screen shots I’ve shown have been in the EDIT view. But MacJournal sports two other views that may be more or less useful depending on your needs. You can choose to view your entries on a timeline, or in a calendar.

The Timeline View allows you to view your MacJournal entries in a diagram.

Not surprisingly, Calendar View shows your entries in a calendar.

One thing to keep in mind when working with these views is that MJ uses the date the entry was created.

Areas for improvement

MacJournal is darn good, but it isn’t perfect. Here are a few ways I’d like to see it improved:

  • Better markdown. Right now the markdown facility seems like a quick add in. I’d like to see markdown a serious option for formatting entries.
  • Smoother scrolling. For some reason scrolling feels difficult, like it takes a little extra effort to move up and down the editor.
  • Typewriter view. Any serious writing application needs typewriter view, to keep the line being edited/written in the center of the screen and not a the bottom.
  • Fix the icon bug. In the current version of MJ, if you try to change the icon for entries, the app quits instantly.

A new version is in the works

The current version of MJ hasn’t been updated in over two years. I had begun to worry that it was being abandoned. But recently the developer, Dan Schimpf, has issued a beta release of version 7. (Note: I believe that Schimpf is the developer and Mariner Software is simply the distributor, but I’m not entirely sure of the relationship.)

You’ll find a list of the extensive changes and improvements here. This is certainly welcome news. I have no information about the potential release date or what the cost for upgrading might be.


To summarize, I use MacJournal as my major notebook for the following reasons:

  • Its organizational scheme matches my way of doing things
  • It allows me to add all kinds of useful meta-data to my notes
  • It is easy to write in
  • It lets me output and share my notes in numerous file formats
  • It is full of thoughtful features that make working in it fun

For many, MacJournal will look and feel kind of retro. Don’t let this fool you. MacJournal is the most powerful journal I have found, even years after it was last updated. That it is still being developed is good news. 

If you want a digital notebook that can handle every piece of written material you want to tuck into it, you need to give MacJournal a try.

Task manager show down

I’ve been looking at various task management applications. My minimum requirements are:

  • Cross platform: accessible from my Windows PC and my MacBook as well as my iOS devices.
  • Not too expensive
  • Email tasks into the app
  • Recurring tasks

Other than this, I am open to different methods of organizing tasks, at least as far as trying them out to see if they work for me. Most of these apps have similar features, many designed with the getting things done model in mind. They have an inbox and built in views of what’s due today, tomorrow and other other points in the future. They let you break out your tasks into related groups. You can usually prioritize and add notes.

So when it comes right down to it, the “right” app is probably more about its feel and a few features that make that feeling.

Here is a partial list of apps I’ve looked at:

  • Todoist
  • TickTick
  • nTask
  • HitTask
  • OmniFocus (which is rolling out a web app)
  • DropTask
  • Taskade
  • Toodledo
  • Wunderlist

As I said, that’s a partial list. There are dozens more available. In the last week I narrowed my choices to Todoist and TickTick, the main subjects of this post. But before I get to them some quick comments about a few of the others:

OmniFocus. This app seems to be the most popular among Mac users. I tried it for a while and liked it, but the more stuff I put into it, the more my eyes glazed over by the sameness of everything. The web app is still in its infancy, but for the most part it worked. Nevertheless I abandoned OF for another option.

Taskade. I like the concept behind this app very much. Basically, you create pages of notes and each note has the ability to be a task and all can have due dates. But it does not integrate with my Apple Calendar and it did not yet have recurring tasks… both of those were deal breakers. I believe those features may be added in the future. I’m going to keep an eye on this app.

Toodledo. I have a lot of affection for this multipurpose app, which hosts many productivity tools. I especially like that it has dedicated notes and tasks functions. The problem is that the interface is stodgy and not very intuitive. Regardless, if Toodledo integrated the notes with the tasks, I’d probably be using it. It doesn’t, so I don’t.

Wunderlist. This is a nice task manager. It is also free. As far as I can tell, it has much of the same basic functionality of TickTick. But it is owned by Microsoft and there is a sense that they are phasing it out for a new task manager.

So on to the two finalists:


After I gave up on OmniFocus, I used TickTick for a couple of weeks. Some features of TickTick that appeal to me:

  • Meta data panel shows information for each task you select, including a large area for notes AND comments
  • Built in calendar for viewing your task due dates
  • Natural language parsing of due dates and priorities
  • Web, Mac, Windows and iOS apps
  • Ability to email tasks into TickTick

I like to make notes about many of my tasks, and TickTick handles this well. I also like that each task can have sub-tasks embedded in the notes area, and those sub-tasks can have due dates. Unfortunately, you have to choose between notes and sub-tasks, you can’t have both. This is somewhat mitigated by the fact that you can add comments, which are basically dated notes. Although — in my mind — task description notes and comments should serve two purposes, even if you are using the app without collaborators.

You can group your projects (TickTick calls them lists) by combining at least two with drag and drop. But you can’t nest lists beyond this one level. This is one of the biggest limitations of TickTick and why I looked elsewhere eventually.


At this moment, I am using Todoist as my task manager. Like TickTick, there are web, Mac, Windows and iOS apps. I can email tasks to Todoist (and the facility seems to be a bit more agile than TickTick’s, though that is a cursory opinion). You can archive projects in Todoist, which is nice: get completed projects out of the way, but keep them around for reference. 

The main reason I’ve settled on Todoist is because it allows me to nest projects down several levels. I find that helps keep the list of projects looking more manageable. Todoist also seems to have a wider support and user base; not crucial but comforting.

I can create sub-tasks easily, but they appear in the main list — not in the meta-data panel. This is only a personal preference, but I like TickTick’s way of isolating those sub-tasks. But Todoist’s method allows sub-tasks to have all the same features as any other task, which could be useful for more complex projects.

I am sacrificing the nice notes feature of TickTick, as Todoist only allows notes in the form of comments. I am also missing the calendar view. I can live with those limitations.

I’m not sure if this is a positive or a negative, but Todoist also has this productivity calculator which reports on your “karma.” That is, it tells you how you are doing at meeting your self-defined goals. This seems a bit silly to me, but who knows? Maybe I’ll get into the spirit of it and find it as a source of motivation.

So Todoist is an imperfect option, but it will work, I think. 

Both TickTick and Todoist have similar subscription pricing, so that’s not an issue. They are both (as are most of the apps mentioned here) designed for collaboration. I don’t need collaboration, so all I require is that the collaboration features don’t get in my way. They don’t with either TickTick or Todoist.

Another set of great Tinderbox videos from Beck Tench

Beck Tench has created five new videos demonstrating how she takes her research reading and translates it into a Tinderbox map. I found these videos fascinating. Not only are they excellent primers on Tinderbox, they are also interesting because they show a smart person making sense of complex concepts.

I am convinced that the best way to learn and understand how Tinderbox works is through case examples like these. If you have a short attention span, you may find these videos too long. But then, Tinderbox is probably not the right app for you anyway.

Find the videos here, with other videos by Beck. The videos I’m refering to are called “Turning Reading Notes Into a Tinderbox Map.”

A terrific video series about note-taking and Tinderbox

One of the participants over at the forum recently directed our attention to a great video series by Beck Tench about using Tinderbox to organize notes. You can find this series here:

I love Beck’s approach to Tinderbox, not trying to understand the whole thing and using every feature she can. I agree with her that that would be a recipe for frustration and abandonment. Rather, she makes use of some of Tinderbox’s most basic features, and as you can see in the videos, that still allows her to build complex and useful sets of notes.

Thanks for sharing, Beck.