Nested search


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Workflowy provides a limitless canvas to capture and organize all the information that's important to you. This is very useful but sometimes meant that it wasn't always simple to find something you previously put into it. However, nested searches make this a thing of the past.

Nested searches provide a powerfully intuitive way to search and filter through all your content. In a nutshell, nested searches works by letting you search for stuff inside other stuff, by adding a “>” between them. This means that you can use information about the location of the thing you're looking for to narrow down your searches. So it doesn't matter if you have lots of similar information inside your Workflowy, you can use their location within your account to choose between them.

So for example if you wanted to search for all items that match "Notes" that were inside of items that matched "Project" you would search for "Project > Notes".

Nested searches also don't care how deeply nested something is so as long as you can remember something about where an item is nested - you'll be able to quickly find it.

How do nested searches work

Nested searches work by letting you specify where it is that you want to search. You can also chain multiple nested to be extra specific about the items you're looking for. In the examples below we'll show you how you might use this.

Nested searches use the search operator '>', and the way you construct a nested search is by starting with the item or items you want to look inside of. Next you add a space and the nested search operator '>'. Finally you add the item you're looking for, or some property of that item like its type (a to-do, a document, a tag).

How to use nested searches

It might not be immediately obvious why you would use nested searches, however with a couple of examples it'll become clear how much additional control they give you over your information.

In addition, knowing you can use these type of searches to find your information allows you to confidently organize your information more freely and in whatever ways make the most sense to you. Since you're no longer worrying about being able to find information in your account, you're free to use whichever format and structure feels right. This also means you don't have to spend a lot of time thinking about how you put things into Workflowy, since you'll be able to find anything anyway.

Example 1 - Finding open questions from client meetings

Imagine you’re working with multiple clients and each of their projects has a “Meetings” section where you keep track of your discussions with your team.

Each client bullet has multiple sections for tasks, documents and meetings.

Whenever an important question comes up you tag it with “#question“. However, you also use the same tag in other parts of your projects. So say you wanted to only see the questions that have come up in meetings, how would you do that?

Before nested searches, there would not have been an easy way to do this. But now you can narrow down your search and specify that the ancestor item should match “meetings” as well.

Let’s first search for the ancestor by searching for “meetings“. This should show all items that match that.

Now we’ll turn this into a nested search using the new “>” search operator. So a search of “meetings > #question” lets us tell Workflowy that we want to see “#question” items, that are descendants of “meeting” items. In other words, show us all the “#question” items that are nested under a “meeting” item.

Perfect, so now we’re only seeing the items that have a “#question” tag that are also nested under a “meetings” item.

Let’s look at a second example.

Example 2 - Finding next tasks from your most important projects

Say you’re working with other folks, running a web services agency. Let’s also say you use “@” to assign tasks to other team members.

Say you wanted to look at all of Sam’s projects. You would of course search for “@sam“.

As you can see, Sam has a bunch of tasks assigned to different projects.

Now let’s say we only want to see their SEO tasks. We’ll do this using a nested search with the new “>” operator and search for “SEO > @sam“.

This will ask Workflowy to only show us @sam items that are also descendants of an SEO item. In other words, show us all the “@sam” items that are nested under an “SEO” item.

Great. But let’s say we only want to see Sam’s high priority projects.

Again, we’ll use another nested search to specify that we only want to see items where the ancestor has a “#high” tag.

And we’ll do that with the following search “#high > SEO > @sam“. This is basically saying, show us all the @sam items that are nested under an “SEO” item, that are nested under a “#high” item.

Nice. And now we only see @sam‘s tasks that are SEO activities that are part of #high priority projects.

Let's look at a third example.

Example 3 - Searching through lots of similar notes

This example works for all kinds of content but in this case let's image you're writing a draft of your next  screenplay. You've used nesting to organize chapters, scenes, and the dialogue of each character.

Now say you wanted to find where you've used the word "system" in your screenplay - you could do a regular search. However that's going to return a lot of results that you're not interested in, including stage directions and dialogue from all characters even though you're only interested in "Navi's" dialogue.

A nested search is perfect for this since you can easily filter out everything that's not relevant by using the character's name to only see their dialogue. You would then search for "navi > system"

And there we go, we can see this character has only used the word "system" in a single line of dialogue. And we've saved ourselves a ton of time by not having to go through each result for "system".

Hopefully you can see how this would be useful in other cases where you're working with a lot of information that has a lot of similar content and is nested. Some examples of this are journals, class notes, research reports, all kinds of creative writing, CRM information, customer orders, wikis.


Hopefully, these examples give you some ideas of how using nested searches with > gives you even more control over your searches and allows you to view your information in more useful ways, no matter where it’s located, and no matter how deeply nested it might be.

Nested searches also open up new ways to organize your information that might have not have initially appealed to you due to the amount of nesting. Usually, the more levels of nesting you use, the harder it would be to find something. But with nested searches, this actually becomes an asset. Each level of nesting becomes a flag you can use to find and filter in the future. So no matter how you prefer to organize your information, whether with little nesting or a lot of nesting - you now have tools to quickly and easily access everything.

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