WorkFlowy and the power of tracking and feedback loops for personal development

Schermafbeelding 2018-11-27 om 10.36.43.png

Rarely have I learned to appreciate a digital tool as gradually in value and functionality as WorkFlowy. And the weird thing is, unlike TextExpanderTrello or Evernote, I am hardly able to explain why.

Most of the times, the people I work with are excellent indicators for the applicability of new tools. They usually wait six months and then see if I am still enthusiastic, to know if they’re going to integrate the tool into their workflow. But with WorkFlowy I get completely zero. Nothing, nada, zip. I am still enthusiastic, for over a year now, but they keep shrugging their shoulders.

Nevertheless, I would like to say to the readers of my newsletter that I think it is worthwhile to delve into it. I will once again try to explain again why I am so enthusiastic about this digital tool.

WorkFlowy is an online list. For local and shared use, on all devices. The slogan of WorkFlowy is 'Make lists not war'.

What is useful to keep in mind is that when it comes to computers, nothing is as fast as text-only files. Flat text and numbers can be processed by computers many times faster than items with pictures and other noise. One of the reasons for my enthusiasm is the extreme speed of the program. Not to be compared to something I saw before in my digital toolbox.

WorkFlowy is not just an online list. It is a list with sublists. Which can also contain sublists themselves. You can go as deep as 1000 layers if you want. The program also supports urls, and hashtags (# and @).

Every day again I am amazed by what you can do with those simple aspects. I mean: lists are useful, but lists 'on steroids' like these are indispensable. I feed WorkFlowy daily with information, which I can conjure out within a few seconds, at any time, wherever I am.

What do I use it for? What don’t I use it for, you should ask. I use it for my messages, tasks, wishes, jobs and lectures, as a research base, a reminder, an agenda, a notebook, for feedback loops, for my own development, for my mileage registration, my health log, my project management (Martijn-style), setting up new initiatives, and much more.

The lists I use most are the 'annual lists'. I’ve made a list that’s called 'years'. That list contains all years from my birth. And each of those years (all of which are also a list themselves) contains 52 weeks (all of which are a also list themselves). Each week list consists of 7 days and a 'week ending'. Every day contains items and questions that come by every day. This way I can easily find out what happened on which day; it’s a kind of logbook.

Agenda items also end up in the day lists, so they point out to me what needs attention on a particular day. Since I’m a lecturer, lectures often appear in my daily lists, which I provided with a template. ‘Catching’ feedback and useful information after my lecture is only a matter of a quick filling-in exercise this way. Sometimes weeks later I still get responses, by email or LinkedIn. I can simply attach them to the lecture in question, by copy-pasting them into the reactions-section. This way I create an organized system that enables me to easily find (almost) all reactions to each lecture.

For years I have been fascinated by the power of capturing data and information around me. Often I don't know why in advance, only to find out later. For instance, since a year I’ve been keeping track of the movies or series (including season and episode)I watch on Netlfix. Once a week I tag them all with the hashtag #netflix, so by clicking this hashtag in my 'yearlist 2018' I get a quick overview of the movies I watched and when I watched them. Very nice, but not very relevant. Until you come up with the idea of making a yearbook with all kinds of personal stats. Of course you don't do that yourself, you let someone with much better graphic skills do it for you, but based on the data you can quickly and easily get out of your system!

Talking about tracking, I found this text somewhere and it touches exactly what I wanted to say about it. I think it’s by Stephen Guise, author of the book Mini-Habits.


Why Tracking Improves Everything
Tracking enables analysis. You can’t analyze information that is either A) unclear or B) unknown. Tracking things defines them and makes them known. Analysis of good information brings ideas for progress. Many people are held back because they simply don’t know how to improve. They aren’t tracking their life enough! The more you track, the more you know about your situation, your behavior, and your projected future.

I really think that when you play with it for a while, a world will open up and you will realise how this tool can help with your personal development. In the next months I will try-out some WorkFlowy trainings. If you are interested in a one-on-one session about WorkFlowy, please fill in this form.

If you want to start right away, I have already created two year lists. After you create a Workflowy account and log in, you can copy the lists to your own account.

Have fun playing and discovering!

2018 (rest of the year per week and per day)

2019 (per week and per day)


I read Dan Brown’s newest book Origin on the very first day it came out and I was absolutely stunned. It almost seems like the story developed directly from ingredients in my own mind: Interesting stuff on quantum computing, synthetic intelligence, digital agents, Siri and DNA. It was almost like I was reading one of my lectures, but then wrapped in a Dan Brown novel. I was absolutely stunned.

This is not the first time Dan Brown pulled this trick on me. In the early nineties I had read all Baigent and Leigh books, like Holy Blood Holy Grail and The Elixer and The Stone. Inspired by that, I went on a journey to Rosslyn Chapel near Edinburgh and it was only ten years later Dan Brown appeared with his Da Vinci Code, generously dipping into those stories. Apparently we’re much alike, Dan and me.

Now I feel even more strengthened in my mission to make people aware of exponential technology and to keep talking about the ethical ambiguity of that development. But one thing is crystal clear to me: we’re rapidly developing towards a more equal division of human welfare. Old powers, including religious powers, who feel like they can change this course are delusional.

A lot of food for thought. But if this book becomes another bestseller, I predict prosperous times for the Permanent Beta movement and all her companions in the search for chances and possibilities in the network- and information society. Let us all be happy in a world that’s Permanent Beta.


And then there was Tehran last month. I’m ashamed to say that I had been so busy that I was very poorly prepared for this trip. I completely relied on my travel companion Mark Meinema, who speaks Farsi and knows his way around. The whole adventure started with Mark anyway. He had traveled to Iran a few times and had been invited to a TEDx Event in Kish. He told me that people in Iran are very curious, open-minded and interested in development. But all the different networks are hardly connected. Techies talk to each other, but not to artists or scientists. We decided to start working towards a Permanent Beta Meetup in Tehran to bridge brains, tech and culture and here we were.

When we arrived at our destination I was amazed by the contradictions. Women wearing headscarves, huge modern skyscrapers everywhere, terrible traffic, an overload of neon advertising, supermarkets like the ones I’m used to,  but no cash machines and no creditcards accepted. Money had to be changed in cash: 1 euro for 33.500 rial. Felt like Scrooge McDuck.

For us Dutchies, another thing to get used to was the size of the city and the time it takes you to get from one meeting to the next. Luckily the terrible traffic situation, including the headache-fueling smog, will be yesterday's problem with electric and self-driving cars. For now the Tehran metro was the best way to go and it gave us the chance to speak to a few beautiful locals.

There was one thing I couldn't get used to and I would strongly recommend the Iranian people to get rid of the custom rather sooner than later: Tarof. A range of social behaviours mostly between strangers. It takes way too much time to have to offer and decline an invitation three times, before you can move forward.

Finnova (a sort of Iranian startup) managed to host the event at the University of Tehran in a very professional manner: banners and posters everywhere and over 60 participants. We started of with a video prophecy, followed by the national anthem. After that ceremonial bit Mark introduced the speakers for the day in fluent Farsi: amongst others Kim, myself and an Iranian photographer named Ali Kaveh. He called to follow @everydayiran on Instagram, to get a better balanced view of everyday life in Iran, as opposed to international press photo's.   

Iranians are a tough crowd. Hardly any questions or other interaction, but it was clear bureaucracy is an important topic in Iran. There's definitely a need for a platform where people can meet and inspire each other, so Kim's very first talk on the practicalities of the Permanent Beta movement was also received very well. It wouldn't surprise me if we would get to know Iran quite a bit better over the next couple of months.



There was one event this year I was particularly excited about. A year ago I was asked to give a lecture in the Ziggo Dome for 8000 people. Minor sidenote: one of the other speakers would possibly be Barack Obama. As the date, November 8, 2017, was approaching, it became clear that the organization was far from flawless. Ziggo Dome had turned into RAI and Barack Obama was replaced by Kofi Annan. Still enough to be excited about, until they downsized to an audience of 500 people a week before the event and changed the location to Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ in Amsterdam. I couldn’t help but be disappointed with one sixteenth of the audience I was promised a year ago.

Because of the initial disappointment I probably wasn’t fully prepared for what was coming that 8th of November. Kofi Annan’s stage performance blew me away! Off stage he seemed approachable and normal, but all of a sudden there was magic! Pure charisma! I’m not easily impressed, but this was truly amazing to witness. I would’ve almost forgotten about having to perform myself and all of a sudden I was nervous. Just in time, because I gave it everything and got my first standing ovation ever.