Thanks to Dynalist, my searching is over

For years I have been trying to find the best note-taking tool. I wanted to have my notes all in one place, in a way that allows me to quickly dump individual notes from my reading, organize them by topics, link topics to each other, and quickly find my notes with a flexible search mechanism.

I have tried everything:

  • Evernote is great for saving images and clipping, but since even a pro account has a limit of 100,000 notes, it is not ideal for dumping and tagging individual notes.
  • OneNote has some benefits, but it doesn’t have real tags, its searching is not very good, and if I want to add an individual note I found somewhere, I need to drill down to the right notebook, section, tab and page.
  • I spent a lot of time in the last ten years contributing to the TiddlyWiki community, because TiddlyWiki is such a great – and fun – note-taking tool. It is infinitely customizable, has great tagging and searching, and hyperlinking notes to each other helps me see connections I never noticed before. But my interests are so diverse, and my notes are so many, that I ultimately found that I either had to create one big TiddlyWiki file, which slowed down considerably, or split up my notes among many TiddlyWiki files, which made searching and hyperlinking impractical if not impossible.
  • A year ago I discovered Workflowy, a unique outlining program. It felt liberating! It was basically one place where I could order my ideas in an infinitely expandable and zoomable bulleted list. I was pumping out new Spanish resources at a faster pace than ever, and organizing my own notes in one huge hierarchy. But the more I used it, the more frustrated I became with it. Search results were messy and required a lot of scrolling through the search results. To add something I found in my reading to a particular topical list in Workflowy I had to drill down to the right bullet. I couldn’t just create a note and tag it as in TiddlyWiki. The other thing that frustrated me with Workflowy was the lack of development. Its creators seem to have plateaued or become sidetracked.

Earlier this month I discovered Dynalist. And now my search is over. I have found my note-taking holy grail.

Dynalist was created by Erica Xu and Shida Li who appear to have become tired of waiting for Workflowy to implement their promised new features. So they built her own, better version. And they may not realize it, but they built the perfect solution to the problems I had with the tools mentioned above.

How can I best describe Dynalist? It is an outlining tool clearly inspired by Workflowy, but in which you create any number of separate, infinite outliner documents and can organize them in folders.

dynalist1Some details:

  • You can tag as in Workflowy, with a # or an @.
  • You can search for either document titles or for content in the documents. And the searching is fast and helpful.
  • You can add inline previews to images on the web (something that requires a complicated hack in Workflowy).
  • You can quickly create links to other documents or even to bullet points in other documents with the search-link function.
  • You can convert any list or bullet point into a separate document simply by dragging it to the contents pane.
  • You can share your documents so others can view them. Here is a shared Dynalist I created.
  • There are many other features like bookmarking, themes, and some customization settings.
  • I even created a couple of custom user styles for Dynalist (get them here), but that is for another blog post.

The other thing that impressed me about Dynalist is their fast, friendly service, and their plan for development of new features and functions. They have a Trello board here outlining their plan. And you can see how they have progressed in each quarter.


About pricing – the amazing thing is that most of the best features are available in their free version. I ended up buying the pro version for $50/year. This gives me backups (for when I accidentally delete something and need to go back and find it later) and bookmarking. It will also soon allow me to save files to Dynalist. But if your goal is productivity, note-taking, organizing your thoughts, brainstorming, or writing first drafts of articles, the free version lets you do pretty much everything you would want to. (More details on pricing here).

I hope you will do yourself a favor and give Dynalist a try. It is a great product, and for me, is the end of a long search for just the right note-taking tool.

8 thoughts on “Thanks to Dynalist, my searching is over

  1. ive had a similar journal as well. evernote first, then onenote, evernote again for a while. then i started using todoist since neither of the other two had a reminder feature at the time. i thought todoist was the one until workflowy showed up and i liked it so much i moved years worth of stuff from evernote, onenote and todoist to workflowy in the space of two weeks.

    but after using it for over a year now it is completely chock a block with all sort of everything. i could be working in one part when i think of something i need to add to another part, and it’s really tedious having to zoom out each time and then back to where you were you left off. yea you can bookmark things, but after you’ve made more than 5 bookmarks you then have to side scroll though a horizontal list.

    dynalist is a dream to work with though. its not as polished as workflowy yet, and it’s a bit buggy at times but at least they are open about their roadmap. you can see they are not going to just milk an unfinished product but are actually working hard to really improve it.

  2. My transition story had been similar. Evernote -> OneNote -> Google Keep -> Todoist -> Trello -> Workflowy -> Dynalist

    The lack of development and response from workflowy developers are frustrating.

  3. Dynalist is definitely close to perfect. However, it’s now nearly $100 a year for the Pro. That seems very high compared to, say, Todoist ($50), OneNote (free if you’re in any company that has Office365, or Google Keep (free). Yes, Dynalist is where I want to be, but not for double the cost of Todoist, with less features.

    1. Yes, I use both Dynalist and TiddlyWiki. My biggest project (sorry, can’t share it) is to take notes in Dynalist by topic, and use TiddlyWiki as an index with links to the pages. This system is working really well for me.

      1. That’s good to hear. I have just signed up because they give charities a 50% discount.

        Why would you create an Index in Tiddlywiki when you can do this in Dynalist? what purpose does it serve?

        1. Hi Simon,

          1) I just like TiddlyWiki for indexing because I can do automated lists, tagging, extensive styling, etc, but I like Dynalist for fast, outline-style writing. I am using each tool for its strength.

          2) Separating the index from the entries, one on each platform, makes searching easier in both, since there are no double search results for each topic.

          3) If I share the index file with colleagues, it is easier to navigate for people who are not used to outliners.

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