Notion Notion Notion!

Publish Date
Aug 30, 2020
Productivity In Notion
Last Edit
Mar 23, 2022 12:50 AM
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This is the start of a series on my Notion architecture for various life management systems. To see the full series, please visit the home page, 🏗️Productivity In Notion.
I'm really not one to shill for new software. Generally when I try a new piece of software, I am unimpressed. And as a general rule, I presume most people are able to choose the software that works best for them, and often have an aversion to switching to a new software or app.
That's why there's a good rule of thumb that new software needs to be a big step ahead of existing options for the challenger software to eat away at the incumbent. Good incumbents adapt as challengers appear (think Microsoft), while others will inevitably be replaced (think MySpace).


And it's with that preamble that I want to tell you about our lord and savior focus for today, Notion. I've tried many different apps for a combination of personal note-taking, project tracking, habit building, journaling, and writing. This includes: Trello, ToDoist, One Note, Microsoft Word, Evernote, Plain Text Documents, a bushel of Habit Trackers.
Here's the thing: Notion replaces all of them. That is a big step ahead. Since finally downloading it about 10 days ago, I've been spending most of my non-work waking hours building out my Notion workspace and importing all the threads I have in various other sources.

How It Works

Notion is hard to succinctly describe. But if you were to describe it, it's a sexy mashup of note-taking (like OneNote or Evernote) with easy-to-use tables that come with database functionality and can easily be transformed into other views: kanban boards, galleries, calendars, etc.
Okay, so maybe that wasn't that succinct. Nor does it fully describe the wonders of Notion. As with many things, showing may be better than telling.

An Example:

One beauty of Notion is that you can organize things however you like, and it is also easy to change that organization once you do. For me, I've opted to treat any effort (large or small) as a "project". Each project thus is an entry in a large table:
notion image
But a prettier way to look at them is in a "gallery" view:
notion image
So each project (there are many) has a few properties about it (shown above the page status and project status), and then have an entire page of its own that can then have its own tables and pictures and more!
Case-in-point: let's go to my "Learning Hub." This isn't fully built out yet, but will contain my notes as I go through learning various topics:
notion image
And naturally if you click on the one lesson that I completed here, you'll see my notes on Vietnamese Basics, links to the source material, et cetera!

More Power

Already, your head may be spinning, but there are many other features that really expand the possibilities of what you can do:
  • Templating - you can create a default page structures. This is great for journaling where you can start a page with certain prompts, and for daily or weekly to-dos that want to repeat.
  • Linking - while it's nice to have the Vietnamese lessons buried within my Learning Hub, I may want quick access to them, and I may want it focused on just the Vietnamese lessons so I don't get distracted by other topics. I can do this quite easily by creating a link to a different view of the Lesson Database!
  • Universal Search - naturally, I can end up with a bunch of things in a whole bunch of different places, but it is easy to search across the entire space for any references I make to, say, high-fructose corn syrup.
Lastly, you may have noticed that you are on Notion right now! Notion allows you to expose certain pages, so it can functionally act as a low-frills web server or blog!
And I could go on, but this is definitely the place to stop and let you give it a try for yourself. They recently removed the limit on total content for the free version, though the personal plan is well worth the $4/month price.

Closing Thoughts

As I am definitely more of a tracker/planner than many people, I've often tried to think about who to describe the benefits of such a process to someone who is less inclined to lay out much of their life in writing.
To me it comes down to a couple benefits:
  • Reducing the mental burden and enabling you to take a step back. Often you can have 90 different things on your mind, and they weigh you down. By dumping all of that into a "second brain", you can free up your own mind for more creative/strategic thinking.
  • It facilitates the ability to learn from the past. As humans, we largely are what we learn. Most of us only learn lessons the hard way, but we're quite likely to forget such lessons or not uncover them in the first place. By having records, it enables accurate and actionable retrospectives.
You may not go to the degree that I do with Notion, but even a simpler setup still provides you with a single home to organize your life in a way that works for you!