Organise Your Hacks With TreeSheets: An Open Source Hierarchical Spreadsheet

Some people may have heard of Dutch programmer [Wouter Van Oortmerssen] since he’s the creator of the Amiga-E programming language, as well as being involved with several game engines. Heard of SimCity? How about Borderlands 2 or Far Cry? Having had clearly a long and illustrious career as a programmer for a variety of clients — including a long stint at Google, working on Web Assembly — many people will be familiar with at least some of his work. But you may not have heard of his TreeSheets productivity tool. Which would be a shame, as you’ve been missing out on something pretty darn useful.

TreeSheets is described as a hierarchical spreadsheet, which is intended as a replacement for several distinct tools; think spreadsheets, mindmaps and text editors and similar. In [Wouter]’s words:

It’s like a spreadsheet, immediately familiar, but much more suitable for complex data because it’s hierarchical.
It’s like a mind mapper, but more organized and compact.
It’s like an outliner, but in more than one dimension.
It’s like a text editor, but with structure.

Having been in development for about a decade, TreeSheets might look a bit dated here and there, but the design is clear and distraction-free, which is exactly what you need when you’re trying to focus on the task in hand. Why not give it a try and see if it works for you? After the break, you can see a video tutorial by YouTube user [DrilixProject].

No strangers to productivity hacks, here’s Pomodachi, a cute pomodoro timer crossed with a Tamagotchi. Sometimes productivity isn’t solved with software tools, but more to do with your attitude to projects. Finally sometimes the route to greater productivity is a little closer to home, like inside your head.

Thanks to [Paper] for the tip!

42 thoughts on “Organise Your Hacks With TreeSheets: An Open Source Hierarchical Spreadsheet

    1. Still much much much better than the recent GTK incarnations and their completely illogical placement of controls in the window title bar, including the action buttons, so you read from up to down the contents of the window, then to confirm your choices you have to go back up.

    1. Yes, it exports to several formats (XML, HTML, CSV, indented text…) plus the native files are compatible with 100% of the existing Hierarchical Spreadsheet applications.

  1. I looked at treesheets several years ago. I liked it a lot, but I couldn’t find a way to integrate it into the workflow of my employer’s systems.
    I think I will take another look.

    Thanks for bringing this up, Dave.

  2. Ahh yes, fill timesheets at work, come home and fill timesheets at home. /s

    Very cool project, I planned to make something similar in the early 2000s but thankfully big tech did it for me

  3. there are a bunch of things about this that make me uneasy but the underlying thing is just that i don’t think it has a use.

    for things like a todo list, you don’t really need a lot of structure. i have a note program that works on a flat text file with a very loose structure, just categories within notes. it recognizes a few conventions within the notes to provide nice features like a “today” pop up on android for the calendar i keep in there. it really doesn’t need to be arbitrarily nested, and when i do nest i just use you know indent and * like any other text file.

    and spreadsheets are brilliant for the same reason. everything’s a grid. there’s no other kind of hierarchy. just a grid. and there are downsides to that but the simplification to a grid is the only strength of a spreadsheet, it is why i can pop open excel or gnumeric or lotus 123 or oleo or 8-in-1 (does anyone else remember 8-in-1?) and i’m instantly at home. i resent the ridiculous file formats these things have (i really want something closer to undecorated text representation so that the git change history is sensible), but they are all very interchangable. you don’t lose too much converting excelgnumeric.

    i really think the secret to these things is to pick a *simplifying* assumption that inevitably makes it really awkward for some tasks. having one thing that is useful as a spreadsheet and as a day planner or whatever doesn’t make a ton of sense to me. and when you have something that does too much and isn’t taking the world by storm, you really are setting yourself up for a lot of headache in the future. it will be abandoned, and you won’t be able to find anything that makes good sense out of the saved datasets you have. you’ll have to convert and that conversion will lose structure or be a pain.

    1. I like the concept of focusing in and out. I could see this being useful for systems engineering activities, or perhaps planning program or logic flows. The problem is, it seems to be limited to blocks of text and lists, whereas the things I mentioned would really want something like a flowchart capability.

      1. I’m regularly nesting stuff into my spreadsheets related to a ‘parent row’ and adding dependent child task. I wish my tasks were so simple all the time I could keep a flat list, but alas it’s not on many an occasion. I usually have to break stuff down, delegate, divide and conquer. I’ve been relying on embedding notes and comments in other spreadsheet products. All work arounds. Standard spreadsheets aren’t going anywhere, but I like this idea for some applications in my workflow… If it lets me link to other nodes in the sheet then I will use it to keep track of some world building/writing projects too. I’m not resistant to the idea of trying it out.

  4. I like the idea. I’ve been using QOwnNotes because it integrates with an OwnCloud server letting me easily switch between machines, but it’s not great at organizing ideas. (Notes are written in Markdown, and go in named folders, and that’s it. Not that I can’t type a few pipes to whip up a grid in Markdown, but I can’t recursively embed notes in notes like this does; and QOwnNotes doesn’t have a Table of Contents. )

    TreeSheets doesn’t need a TOC because of the cool control zooming. I can easily see a “home automation” top level, followed by Home Assistant notes, inside there I’d have notes on z-wave, then z-wave devices, next to z-wave there might be my MQTT integration notes, etc. And it looks like it can export the sheet as very plain JSON, or other simple hierarchical text format. I just have to figure out if it’s worth trying to export my old notes into yet another new editor. :-|

  5. As per Greg A., I have similar concerns about using it in a “real” environment.
    However, taking it for a test drive, it’s very similar to what I format spreadsheets to for recipes.
    Same for many adhoc research notes (on topics too numerous), where I keep sources embedded, and go back and insert new info as that is acquired.
    So it provides quick (well, quick-ish), formatting for a subset of my spreadsheet use.
    I already have templates for my spreadsheet use, and can customize them as encountered.
    Completely undecided if I’ll use this. Likely not, sticking with spreadsheets.

  6. it’s not FOSS but i use nirvana ( but i’m a big fan of Getting Things Done by Dave Allen.
    has a mobile app and decent desktop app, you can pull all your data out as json or xml but it works great for me as is. I use it for shopping lists at the local supermarket to multi year projects for my home automation stuff. as with nearly all these systems. You can only choose one, and you have to put EVERYTHING into it otherwise you just end up with n+1 systems you don’t use.

  7. I’ve used this software for many many years. I love it for organizing my creative thinking processes and organizing works building for things like D&D.

    I’ve always thought it was a shame it didn’t get the attention it deserves. Seriously go try it out. It’s not new, it’s a diamond in the rough.

  8. It took me forever to find a multilevel nested hierarchy software with nearly unlimited nesting levels (since Excel is limited to 8) for making spreadsheet-like static BOMs that don’t require software complexity and expense needed for dynamic BOMs. TreeSheets and Dynalist are the best I’ve found with TreeSheets being the clear winner for my needs.

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