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I have a very deal of trouble filtering visual information and so have problems working with lists, digital or analog. When I realized that the inherent visual nature of lists was the source of most of the anxiety I felt when working with the early versions of my productivity system, I switched to index cards.

For the most part, that set-up is lovely. Each "list" is a stack of cards and the card (usually a task) I'm working goes on top, with the rest easily accessible but out of sight. The downsides are portability and searchability (or, rather, the lack thereof). It hasn't taken very many misfiled cards to give me doubts about the long-term viability of the method. There's not much in the way of back-ups, either.

So, what are the digital alternatives? They needn't be a literal interpretation; the key functionality is just having items grouped in collections, being able to view either a single item or the whole collection, and having an easy way to switch between the two views. I'd prefer a desktop solution, but will consider web applications. In either case, it needs to work on Linux.

(Just to head off what is likely to be the first suggestion: I know about Trello and am considering it. It looks lovely and Fog Creek is trustworthy enough overcome my suspicion of web apps. However, I did want to still check for a desktop option and it's good to have backup options.)

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I don't think you need a Google account. That's an option, but it looks like you can just have a Trello account. – Adam Wuerl Mar 11 '12 at 2:01
Indeed, it looks very much like I got bad information on that point. Mea culpa. I've updated my question, thanks for clueing me in. – Belisama Mar 11 '12 at 2:12
up vote 3 down vote accepted

You might look at Evernote ( In your usage, think of each note as a card, and each notebook as a stack. Fully searchable, and you can also tag every note for cross-stack re-sorting.

I haven't looked at whether there's a linux desktop app or not. The Windows one is very nice, and the web interface amazingly desktop like. Did I mention its cross platform? I also use it on an iPod Touch and Kindle Fire, the sync between platforms has been flawless.

Another option that might be useful is Workflowy ( Its a web based outliner, with some very nice features that allow you to dive into a level of the outline and hide everything outside that node. Drag and drop reordering works well, as does collapsing and opening nodes. I haven't used this long enough for it to be an every day kind of tool, but I think it might become one.

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Evernote would be a good recommendation, but it doesn't have a Linux client. This, per se, is not a problem as I prefer the web app (I tried the client back in my Windows days and its inconsistencies gave me fits), but the only way to export one's data is through a client. Hmm, I had not thought about Workflowy in quite awhile. I vaguely recall having serious security and/or privacy concerns about it. However, it looks like it might have grown up a bit and be worth another look. – Belisama Mar 14 '12 at 0:31
Worth another look, indeed. While it still has issues, Workflowy meets the question's condition of being able to zoom in to just a single item on the screen (and with an arbitrary amount of nesting, too). – Belisama Mar 14 '12 at 2:02

It sounds like what you are looking for is close to a tool that has good support for outlines. You can open/close individual items to hide the details so they don't distract you. But you also seem to be asking for a way to choose "the top card" of a stack and hide the other items. This would show the title and details from one record while you're working on it.

If you put each project on it's own page, then you could hide the details of the other pages, but then there is not likely a view to show you a multi-page view to see all the pages at once.

You could try this: Use an outliner with all projects and details as nested bullets under one top-level bullet called "projects". When you want to drag a card to the top of the stack, move the bullet (and children) out of the "project" item up to the top level of the outliner page. Then you have two top-level bullets and "projects". Then you can close the "projects" item to hide it's contents completely, and only the current project is displayed.

I have tried a series of organizer tools, and the latest one I am happy with is Circus Ponies Notebook on the Mac. It's really just a very feature-full outliner tool. At least that's the way I use it.

I have also tried many paper-based solutions over the years, all using notecards in some way. The scheme I use now has the outliner tool, and also uses my smart phone for capturing ideas when I am not near the computer. But all the ideas move from the phone to the outliner at the soonest opportunity.

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Yes, quite a few of the programs I've tried have been outliners, but until Dennis S. suggested Workflowy, I hadn't been able to solve the problem of getting down to just one item. I like your workaround, though, and it's definitely going in my back of tricks in case Workflowy doesn't (ahem) work out. – Belisama Mar 14 '12 at 2:08

Consider trying out a combination of PDF files and kindle desktop reader. I am fairly sure that Amazon has a solution for linux. If not PDF, a paged type of document in another type of book/document reading software.

Most of the book reading software I have used allows you to flip between pages. Digital but similar to flipping cards or pages of a printed book. Some of the readers I have experienced also track the pages you are on. So, when you open up your card desk, it could open straight to the last page/card/task you were on. This may further help keep you focused.

You may be able to draft your cards/tasks in the average word processor. Place each on a single page. Print/export them.

Kindle, and many other readers, come in mobile form too. So, if this turns out to be a desktop solution for you then it may be good for you mobile as well.

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Interesting! Amazon actually has very little Linux support, but I already use a Sony eReader with Calibre, which will create ebooks from a variety of file types. I don't think it would work as the main system - too much overhead as tasks turned over rapidly - but might be just the thing for taking a list "on the road". – Belisama Mar 14 '12 at 0:39

Inspired by the wonderfully out-of-the-box answers provided by others, I went back and reassessed the categories of programs I had written off early in my GTD explorations. Sure enough, among them I found the program I'm now using, a two-pane outliner called Zim.

I had originally discounted two-pane outliners (in favor of the one-pane kind) because I felt that the second pane was superfluous. I needed an outliner, what was I going to put in this extra pane that was just taking up space?

The glaring clarity of hindsight has, of course, provided the answer of "as little as possible!" Zim automatically puts the name of the node at the top of the second pane and has an easy keyboard shortcut to toggle the outline pane on an off. So I navigate to the node I need, toggle off the outline pane, and now have nothing in front of me except what I need for one specific task.

(It also saves in text files and exports to HTML, so I still get to try out Charlie's idea.)

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Try FreeMind. I have used this for years.

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Gee, sorry! Why the downvote? – Ken A Feb 23 at 14:41

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