Think, Organize Visually: The Best Outlining Tools in 2021

Managing big chunks of work and solving complex problems on the fly isn’t exactly easy. In today’s article, we set out to find the best outlining software for 2021 that’ll help you plan, organize, and get things done, one indent at a time.

Here’s the thing. The legendary Emacs Org Mode has been around since 2003. But while its utility is still top-notch, it’s not the most user-friendly outliner out there.

If you want to create beautiful and functional outlines but don’t want to leaf through lengthy manuals, we have a steaming-hot lineup of 10 Org Mode alternatives at a ready.

Here’s a list of the best outlining software that’ll let you create intricate tree-structured diagrams with ease.

  1. 🌟 Taskade
  2. 🌟 Workflowy
  3. 🌟 Scrivener
  4. 🌟 OmniOutliner
  5. 🌟 Dynalist
  6. 🌟 Checkvist
  7. 🌟 Roam Research
  8. 🌟 Obsidian
  9. 🌟 Notion
  10. 🌟 ATHENS

But first, let’s do some explaining where explaining is due. 👇

What Is Outlining Software Anyway? 👨‍💻

Every action, no matter how simple, can be broken down into a sequence of incremental steps. This principle applies to everyday activities, e.g. preparing breakfast, as well as high-level professional tasks like managing a team, planning projects, or drafting documents.

🌳 Outlining is the process of creating hierarchies to contain whatever you’re thinking or working on. An outline breaks complex processes into smaller, more manageable bits.

Outlining software boosts creativity by allowing you to build an infinite number of outline levels. When combined with features like drag-and-drop editing, folding/unfolding, keyboard shortcuts, and real-time collaboration, you get an ultimate outlining experience.

Key benefits of outlining software include:

  • ⚡️ Unlimited space for high-level outlines
  • ⚡️ Quick indent/outdent to create hierarchies
  • ⚡️ Folding/unfolding outline levels
  • ⚡️ Intuitive navigation with keyboard shortucts
  • ⚡️ Real-time sync and backup in the cloud
  • ⚡️ Drag-and-drop workflows
  • ⚡️ The ability to outline collaboratively
  • ⚡️ Undo/redo to quickly revert changes
  • ⚡️ Customizable visuals and color-coding
  • ⚡️ Deep linking and multimedia elements
  • ⚡️ Powerful search and tagging features
  • ⚡️ And more…

A solid outliner/outline processor is a must-have tool for all kinds of creative and organizational tasks. That can include writing, project planning, knowledge management, note-taking, or bullet journaling!

So, what do you say we take a look at 10 awesome outliners?

Org Mode Alternatives: The Best Outlining Software for 2021 🏆

Outlining software comes in all shapes and sizes. That’s why we’ve put together a selection of the best outlining software so you don’t have to go through trial and error.

Use this list to navigate the article. 👇

  1. Taskade
  2. Workflowy
  3. Scrivener
  4. OmniOutliner
  5. Dynalist
  6. Checkvist
  7. Roam Research
  8. Obsidian
  9. Notion
  10. Athens Research

#1 Taskade

Taskade is dedicated, collaborative outlining software that combines project and task management with powerful outlining features, all fit for a modern knowledge worker.

Taskade turns the chaos of everyday commitments into a hierarchy of cascading tasks. By breaking complex problems into smaller chunks, you and your team can focus on the work that matters, one step at a time.

And the best part?

Taskade is the only outliner that syncs everything in real-time!

Outlining in Taskade is simple. All you need to do is add a few lines of text inside any of your projects and indent sub-tasks or lower-level elements with the ⌨️ Tab key.

Every outline you create in Taskade can be formatted and customized to give it a unique flavor. Choose from several different bullet styles, checklists, and headings and add finishing touches with beautiful highlight colors.

Finally, Taskade outlines are stored in a tree-structured database, which means they’re designed to be organized hierarchically. You can use Taskade’s flexible workflow to transform your outlines into mind maps or org charts.

Taskade mind map workflow.

But wait, there’s more!

Taskade Select Outlining Features 🌟

  • Fold/Unfold. Fold (collapse) a parent task/bullet element to hide its subtasks. Indent outline elements with the ⌨️ Tab key and unfold lists with the ⌨️ Shift+Tab keyboard shortcut.
  • Keyboard Navigation. Use keyboard shortcuts to reorder, format, or complete/check the elements of your outline without taking your hands off of the keyboard!
  • 500+ Templates. Taskade comes packed with 500+ templates for every occasion. Modify templates from our catalog or craft new ones inside your workspaces.
  • Multi-Select. Select and format multiple outline elements or bulk-assign tasks to other team members. You can also copy, paste, and indent selected blocks.
  • Customize Sub-Tasks. Customize the format of your sub-tasks at individual outline levels. Choose from headings, numbered lists, shapes, and more.
  • Recurring Tasks. Add due dates with start and end time to outline elements. Set tasks to repeat daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly and never forget a thing.
  • Communication. Combine chat, video conferencing, calls, and project comments. Engage in stimulating conversations while getting work done together in real-time.
  • Move Tasks. Move and copy selected tasks/outline elements to other projects across any workspace. You’ll receive a pop-up notification on completion.
  • Deep Linking. Use internal links and create connections between outlines in your workspaces. Use the @mention functionality to quickly select link destinations.
  • Drag-And-Drop File Uploads. Add images, videos, and documents to make your outlines shine. You can now drag-and-drop files to upload.
  • User Roles & Permissions. Manage outline collaborators, set editing permissions, and define user roles. Choose from four distinct roles, project Owner, Admin, Editor, Checker, and Viewer.
  • Sort Tasks. Sort sub-tasks/children elements by completed/uncompleted stats or the due date. Task sorting can be accessed from a convenient pop-up menu.
  • Project Views. Use Taskade’s flexible workflow to visualize your projects in several different ways. You can transform projects using the List, Mindmap, Org Chart, and Board views.
  • Comments. Comment and discuss the contents of your outlines with others. Invite collaborators to edit projects together and gather valuable feedback.
  • Keyboard Shortcuts. Move between tasks, add new content blocks, change the order of elements, and edit your outlines using universal keyboard shortcuts.
  • Project Activity. When somebody checks off an outline item, there’s a chat notification with the editor’s name and scope of the changes. Keep everybody on the same page anytime, anywhere.
  • Search. Find information within outlines or run global searches across workspaces and subspaces. Quickly move between projects anywhere in Taskade.
  • Project History. See all the changes made by you and other collaborators. Click on the entries to navigate to the edited items within the outline.
  • Notification Control. Prioritize deep, focused work with push notification settings. You can turn notifications off for each workspace or individual project.
  • Export and Print. You can export your outlines as plain text or markdown files. Attach them to emails, presentations, or for print.
  • Undo/Redo. Correct mistake and safely restore your outlines to a previous state. You can also use undo/redo when editing a project or collaborating with others in real-time.
  • Mobile and Desktop Apps. Sync your outlines between Mac, Linux, and Windows or outline on the go with Android and iOS mobile apps.

Taskade Pricing 💸

  • 🟢 Free (forever!)
    • Unlimited outlines, projects, collaborators, and guest users
    • 500MB of storage for files and projects (up to 25MB per file)
    • Chat, calls, video conferencing, and screen sharing
    • Real-time syncing across web, desktop, and mobile
    • Backgrounds, dark mode, and customization
    • Push notification, project history, and activity feed
    • Cross-linking, outline sharing, and task management
    • 500+ quality templates across 26 categories
    • Mind maps, org charts, kanban boards, and lists
    • Export/print outlines as markdown files
  • 🔵 Unlimited ($5/month per user billed annually)
    • Everything in the Free plan +
    • Unlimited storage (up to 250MB per file)
    • Sorting options, recurring tasks, and bulk assign
    • Upload custom logos and workspace backgrounds
    • Priority support and custom onboarding
    • Email, Dropbox, Google Drive, and One Drive integrations
    • Advanced reporting, permissions, and revision history
    • SAML, 2FA, and Single Sign-On (SSO)

#2 Workflowy

Workflowy outlining software interface.

Workflowy is streamlined outlining software that lets you map out all kinds of projects. The app offers a minimalist, distraction-free outliner environment. You can use Workflow in a web browser or get it for Windows, Mac, Linux, and mobile devices.

Like Taskade, Workflowy was nurtured under Y Combinator’s wings and was designed to address the everyday PM problems. Workflowy uses a hierarchical data structure that accentuates the flexibility of ordinary lists.

Workflowy Select Features 🌟

  • Infinite nested lists (in Workflowy Pro)
  • Filtering features
  • Color-coded tags and highlighting (beta)
  • Multi-factor authentication
  • Outline backup to Dropbox
  • A selection of themes and fonts 
  • Outline sharing and collaboration

Workflowy Pricing 💸

  • 🟢 Basic/Free
    • All features included
    • Limited to 250 bullets/month
    • File upload limited to 100MB
    • Only basic sharing
  • 🔵 Workflowy Pro ($4.08 billed annually)
    • Unlimited bullets
    • Unlimited file uploads
    • Advanced sharing features
    • Backup to Dropbox
    • Premium support

See how Workflowy compares to Taskade (click). 👈

#3 Scrivener

Scrivener outlining software interface.

Scrivener is a writing and outlining tool designed for students, academics, and writers. It’s a complete writing suite with everything you need to research, outline, and draft documents. Scrivener works on macOS, Windows, and iOS.

Scrivener Select Features 🌟 

  • Organization into folders and subfolders
  • Meta-data including keywords and labels
  • Drag-and-drop outline organization
  • Customizable templates
  • Side-by-side outline preview
  • Full-screen outlining
  • Printing and export

Scrivener Pricing 💸

  • 🟢 Standard macOS/Windows ($49 one-time purchase)
  • 🔵 Educational macOS/Windows ($41.65 one-time purchase)
  • 🟣 Mobile for iOS ($19.99 one-time purchase)
  • 🟡 Mac + Windows bundle ($80 one-time purchase)

#4 OmniOutliner

OmniOutliner outlining software interface.

A dedicated outlining tool from the creators of OmniFocus. OmniOutliner is a simple outliner app for brainstorming, organizing information, and creating high-level hierarchical lists. The app offers automation via JavaScript.

OmniOutliner Select Features 🌟 

  • Typewriter mode
  • Bult-in themes
  • Dark and light modes
  • Keyword-based search
  • Document statistics
  • Resizable columns
  • Keyboard shortcuts

OmniOutliner Pricing 💸

  • 🟢 Subscription ($4.99/$49.99 monthly/yearly)
  • 🔵 For teams ($4.99/$49.99 per user)
  • 🟣 Mac ($99 one-time purchase)

#5 Dynalist

Dynalist outlining software interface.

Another piece of distraction-free outlining software for personal and business use. Previously called Omniflow, Dynalist evolved into a lightweight outliner and a note-taking app for “logical thinkers.” It’s a solid choice for focused work sessions.

Dynalist Select Features 🌟

  • Markdown formatting
  • Color-coded labels and tags
  • List sorting options
  • Google Calendar sync
  • File and item finder
  • Internal cross-linking
  • A selection of themes and fonts

Dynalist Pricing 💸

  • 🟢 Free 
    • Unlimited items/documents
    • Internal linking
    • Markdown formatting
    • Dates, tags, and checklists
    • Sharing and collaboration
    • Up to 5 bookmarks
    • Export/import
  • 🔵 Pro ($7.99/$9.99 annually/monthly)
    • Everything in the Free plan +
    • Google Calendar integration
    • Version history
    • Dropbox/Google Drive backup
    • Custom shortcuts
    • Priority email support

See how Dynalist compares to Taskade (click). 👈

#6 Checkvist

Checkvist outlining software interface.

Checkvist offers a fair balance between a task manager, to-do list, writing app, and, most importantly, an outliner. Built around hierarchical data organization, Checkvist is a match for all kinds of creative projects.

Checkvist Select Features 🌟

  • Keyboard-first navigation
  • Focus and dark mode
  • Private and public sharing
  • Collaboration features
  • Markdown formatting
  • Word and progress counters
  • Tags, due dates, and attachments
  • CSS customization

Checkvist Pricing 💸

  • 🟢 Free 
    • Unlimited hierarchical lists
    • Unlimited sharing and collaboration
    • Add tasks via email
    • Markdown, notes, due dates
    • Import and export
    • Mobile (offline) web app
  • 🔵 Pro ($3.90/month per user or $39/year)
    • Everything in the Free plan +
    • 2 GB attachments
    • Google Calendar sync
    • UI customization
    • Private tags and tag colors
    • Bulk operations (multi-select)
    • 30-day backup + Dropbox sync

#7 Roam Research

Roam Research outlining software interface.

Roam Research is a note-taking tool designed for heavy-duty research, brainstorming, and knowledge management. Like other outliners on our list, Roam packs a simple, distraction-free UI that’s perfect for metacognition or “thinking about thinking.”

Rome Research Select Features 🌟

  • Bi-directional linking
  • Markdown support
  • The Daily Note and The Graph
  • Task management features
  • Theme customization via CSS
  • Search, tags, and filtering options

Roam Research Pricing 💸

  • 🟢 Pro ($15/month or $165/year)
    • 3 private or public Roam graphs
    • Unlimited collaborators
  • 🔵 Believer ($500/5 years)
    • Everything in the Pro plan +
    • Priority access to new features
    • Priority support and community calls

See how Roam Research compares to Taskade (click). 👈

#8 Obsidian

Obsidian outlining software interface.

A note-taking, brainstorming, and outlining platform designed to act as a knowledge base or a digital “second brain.” Obsidian can be used with local folders or external/proprietary sync. The app is based on plain text Markdown files.

Obsidian Select Features 🌟 

  • Markdown support
  • Cross-linking and graph view
  • Multiple resizable UI panes
  • Official and community plugins
  • Pre-made UI themes
  • Proprietary and external sync
  • Bi-directional linking

Obsidian Pricing 💸

  • 🟢 Free for personal use 
    • Doesn’t require an account
    • Plugins and API
  • 🔵 Catalyst ($25/50/100 one-time purchase)
    • Support the development process
    • Access to insider builds
  • 🟣 Commercial ($50/year per user)
    • Ready for commercial use
    • Priority support
  • 🟡 Sync Add-On ($8/month billed annually)
    • End-to-end encryption
    • Built-in version history
    • Priority email support
  • 🟤 Publish Add-On ($16/month billed annually)
    • Selective notes publishing
    • Graph view and outline
    • Priority email support

See how Obsidian compares to Taskade (click). 👈

#9 Notion

Notion outlining software interface.

Notion is an all-in-one workspace for personal and team projects. The platform offers a highly customizable workflow fit for engineering, creative, HR, and sales projects of all shapes and sizes. A good choice for productivity geeks.

Notion Select Features 🌟 

  • Integrations and templates
  • Real-time collaboration
  • Embed with 500+ tools
  • Fluid user interface
  • Drag-and-drop organization
  • Multiple project views

Notion Pricing 💸

  • 🟢 Personal/Free
    • Unlimited pages & blocks
    • 5 guests editors
    • Cross-platform sync
  • 🔵 Personal Pro ($4 per month)
    • Everything in the Personal plan +
    • Unlimited file uploads and guests
    • Access to version history
  • 🟡 Team ($8/month per user)
    • Everything in the Personal plan +
    • Unlimited team members
    • Collaboration tools
    • Advanced permissions
    • Admin toolkit
  • 🟤 Enterprise (custom pricing)
    • Everything in the Team plan +
    • SAM/SSO + advanced security
    • Dedicated manager
    • Custom contract

See how Notion compares to Taskade (click). 👈

#10 Athens Research

Athens Research outlining software interface.

An open-source sibling of Roam, Athens Research is an open-source note-taking, knowledge management, and outlining app. Athens is a solid choice for advanced users looking for an independent, self-hosted outlining solution.

Athens Research Select Features 🌟 

  • Built using a graph database (GDB)
  • Support for bi-directional linking
  • Organization with block references
  • Auto-complete and undo/redo
  • Import from Roam Research

Athens Research Pricing 💸

  • 🟢 Free Open Source
    • Unlimited pages
    • Unlimited blocks
    • Self-hosted, local-first
  • 🔵 Enterprise (custom)
    • Everything in the Free plan +
    • For commercial use
    • Contribute to Athens

Pick the Best Outlining Software Out There 🚀

Outlining is a simple and elegant way to manage the complexities of everyday life. With a solid outliner at hand, you and your team will solve problems, organize knowledge, and tackle every creative venture that comes your way.

  • ⚡️ Map out ideas as you would on paper
  • ⚡️ Create outlines with a great level of detail
  • ⚡️ Keep everything secure in the cloud
  • ⚡️ Use shortcuts and drag-and-drop magic
  • ⚡️ Revert changes to your outlines in a blink
  • ⚡️ Customize everything the way you like it
  • ⚡️ Collaborate with others and get things done

Choosing the best outlining software doesn’t have to be a hassle. Sign up for a free Taskade account today or test things out on our Live Demo page. Oh, and don’t forget to check these articles to learn more outlining tricks. 👇

  1.  🐑 Past, Present, and Future of Outlining Software
  2. 🧘‍♂️ Unlock the Secret of Distraction-Free Writing 
  3. 👑 Outlining A Case For Hierarchical Thinking
  4. 📝 Stay Organized with Collaborative Note-Taking

Till next time! 👋