Outliners: Outline Your To-Do List

ActionOutlineI decided to go looking at outliners. I’ve had one for years, ActionOutline, but it took me a long time to figure out a ‘best use’ for it.

At one time I had notes all over my computer in a dozen different programs. One day I decided it was time to skinny down to just one, before I lost my mind, and decided that would be EverNote 2. And EverNote 2 has been good to me.

But one thought that kept recurring was that it was not a good place to keep my to-do lists. EverNote 2 is where I collect email and computer code and how-to’s. But it never seemed the right place for to-do lists. So I’d move them somewhere else and struggle around. I tried post-its and didn’t like the clutter. Then I went to a six-foot swath of paper taped to the wall. Finally, I tried mixing and matching to-do’s with my calendar app, and then I kept changing my calendar app. At some point I realized I was spending more time shuffling my to-do’s around than actually doing anything.

Bullet List, EverNote 2Everyday someone comes into JLog looking for how to use Evernote for outlines. And I’ve wondered why. It can be done in EverNote 2. (Evernote 3 I don’t know about.) Just right-click on any note and there’s options for numbered and bulleted lists.

Or you could make a category structure in the left pane of items and sub-items. You can make it work but it’s not a native talent.

Through a long and winding road, I realized that outliners make way better sense for to-do lists. The problem with to-do lists are items like:

  • build a website
  • de-clutter the house
  • climb Mt. Everest

when really they need to be broken down into bite-sized steps that can actually be accomplished.

So, I went looking at free outliners. I looked at KeyNote, TreeDBNotes, The Guide, MemoMaster, SEO Note and several others I’ve deleted. None of them could hold a candle to ActionOutline for layout and ease of use.


I created 12 new tabs (outlines) in ActionOutline, representing each of the 12 main folders in My Documents. This mimics the same folder divisions I made in EverNote 2, KeePass, Firefox bookmarks, Zotero and my Lightning calendar. (Even my address books.)

If you think about it, does it make any sense to be calling something ‘ancestors’ in My Documents, ‘genealogy’ in your bookmarks and ‘cousins’ in your password manager? It’s just one more thing for your mind to trip over on its way to wherever it’s going.

All the tabs can be open at the same time so navigation is a breeze.

Tabbed Outlines, ActionOutline

Tabbed Outlines, ActionOutline

The free version of ActionOutline only allows 7 levels deep. But I now have a start on a dedicated to-do software instead of to-do lists all over the place. Each tab has its own list of 7 sub-items and as many as 7 sub-sub items, etc., and a wide open area on the right for notes.



If I ever need more I will be glad to upgrade. The mistake I made originally was that I decided I had to choose between ActionOutline and EverNote 2 when they’re completely different things with different strengths.

Although The Action Machine, the time-manager, (not to be confused with ActionOutline) is designed for creating to-do lists and I started out that way, there’s no point doing the same thing twice. The Action Machine has a box in the top left corner for adding timers on the fly. To set half an hour for scanning just type in “30 scanning”, click the plus sign and it automatically adds the timer ready to go.

The Action Machine

EverNote 2ActionOutline and The Action Machine living in harmony. It’s the best of all worlds.

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