New Databases in the Notion Architecture

Category
Productivity
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Draft
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DL2
Productivity In Notion
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Apr 9, 2022 04:23 PM
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Recently, Notion updated their databases to what they are calling “Better Databases”. For any Notion builders out there, these do present some interesting options... and some challenges for adapting your old setup.

Better Databases

Notion highlights three things on their release page for Better Databases:
  • Quick Filters - easier to use filters now show at the top of a view and are able to be adjusted quickly.
  • Create Views from Existing Databases - you can copy views from the views made on the actual database itself, and you can also show views of multiple databases within the same view block.
  • Streamlined Design - different views appear across the top of the page, rather than on a semi-hidden dropdown.
In addition to this, the creation menu for a database is now different, all handled within a single, unified side pop-up. All in all, the new setup takes a little bit to get used to. While there are some QoL features that Notion should (and I’m sure, will) add to this over time, it’s a good start.
Let’s dig into what this means for your own Notion setup and design.

Changing Design Principles

Use the Database Itself For Creating Views
One big change is that the views on the base database itself can now be instantly copied to any new view block. In the past, views on the database itself were fairly useless: it was much better to create views within a Linked Database block that you could embed within a sync block.
Now though? You are better off building all the different views you need directly on the database itself. This is a change, and one that may be tough to get used to. But this will allow you to copy those views quickly anywhere else you need in Notion.
This is not as smooth as it should be though: say you make a change to the view on the main database: it does not cascade to all the copied versions of that. So you’ll want to be thoughtful about the main view before you go and copy it everywhere. If not, you’ll need to make the changes in multiple places, or delete and replace the copied views - neither of which sound fun.
Add Views of Different Databases Together!
While using the database itself is a neutral change, the BIG benefit to this new architecture is that you can add views of multiple different databases into a single block.
What does this enable? Where previously you would have to have potentially disparate data in the same database to view it in the same place, now you can bring 4-5 databases neatly together into a single pane.
Case-in-point: I had messed around with creating an app in Notion that I called “Dayli”. It would have a section for every part of what I’d want to do in a day: so one view for today’s tasks, one for my habits, one for workouts... and so on.
But this got unwieldy. Each was added after the other, and even after adding them into toggles, the app just wasn’t easy to use. Instead I opted to jump to my task management app for tasks or my habit tracker for habits.
Now though? Dayli is at the top of my app list, and it’s interface is pretty simple:
notion image
As you can see, my “view block” here has views for a daily database (shown), one for habits, two to manage tasks, a birthday calendar, and a few more (hidden under the “3 more...” option).
This makes it very simple to switch views, without having to navigate to a different page. It’s a small-but-meaningful adjustment that means that several “apps” can be consolidated into a single one. I’ll still keep around my task app and habit tracker as those have some additional options, but it is great to have one single page that I can use to manage my day-to-day.
This helps with other apps too. My fitness app now has a view for monthly summary stats that are stored in the “Month Database”, my writing app has views across three different databases that contain different things I’m writing, and so on.
Other Adjustments To Consider
  • One nice option is that the database title can be hidden. That is the case in the above screen where, in the past, a large “Day DB” would appear below the list of views. This saves vertical space and helps to keep a more streamlined appearance.
  • While we spoke about the downsides of only the views on the main database being copy-able, it does present some great options if you do take the effort to create those views on the main database. It will enable you to quickly add those views anywhere in Notion, without having to rely on a linked database wrapped in a sync block.
  • Make your databases easier to access. In line with using the main database, it is now helpful to have all your databases handy in one place! This is different than before, when the best way to handle databases was to simply create them and then interact with them only in linked views, often wrapped in a sync block.
  • Develop a naming convention for “production” views on your database. It’ll be easy to end up with 15-20 or more views on certain databases. When copying a view, it only shows the name, so it will help for your main database views to have specific naming conventions.

Conclusion

Notion’s new database setup does require some adjustment, but it does advance the capabilities in a pretty impactful way. There are a few rough edges: I’m sure once Notion makes views a bit more portable/syncable, maybe add the ability to color different view tabs at the top of a database, and more, the changes will be even more helpful.
That said, being able to combine a bunch of semi-related things into single apps or views or whatever you want to call them is worth the adjustment and investment you need to make in updating your architecture!