I try not to be enticed by the new apps that are cropping up left, right and centre because I don’t always need them and it would be a waste of time to set myself up on something if it’s not useful for me. However, Notion is one of those apps that feels very worth-it in the long term, and I can’t see it having a negative impact on my life.
I’ve been using Notion for the better part of a year now (not literally, 2020 has been a train wreck) and I feel like I’ve definitely gotten the hang of it now. I think I downloaded it after seeing a recommendation for it in a YouTube video last year and even though my current setup has certain parts that are lacklustre at best, there are some gems that have been serving me well for the past few months.
I wanted to take this opportunity to showcase some of the different parts of my Notion setup and just generally how I’ve been using Notion since I downloaded it.
What is Notion?
Essentially, it’s whatever you turn it into. Most use cases involve project management because of the handy relational database feature that allows you to link between different databases, but it’s also a way to store notes and anything you write, as well as offering collaboration on pages.
The point with Notion is that it starts off as a completely plain document, with lots of different things you can do. This can be quite overwhelming for beginners, and I certainly found myself a bit lost because the learning curve, although not difficult as such, is steep because you don’t exactly know where to start.
The initial setup takes some time to make, but once you have the bare bones created, you can improve it and add things on as you start using your pages more consistently. I’ll highlight how things have changed with time when I go over the different features of my Notion.
Notion and I
I mainly use Notion as a way of capturing and organising information that I collect about things that interest me, as well as tracking my progress around my goals and planning content for my blog.
This was the ‘homepage’ I created where everything would be located and easy to find. Honestly, this is a page that I’m not super happy with at the moment, and I don’t use it a lot. I have changed it a decent amount over the months, but something about the way it looks just doesn’t appeal to me all that much.
It contains all the main categories that things fall under for me (goals, passions and study) as well as a calendar at the bottom where I aimed to put general life events and things going on. The calendar kind of flopped because I prefer to use an app that’s more consistent across my main devices, and I didn’t think it was useful to manually put everything into here from my actual iPhone calendar, which is where pretty much everything goes. I like to use Google calendar too, but mainly to plan my daily timings for busier days.
When I first got Notion, I intended to mainly use it as a weekly planner while I was at university, and I actually got a lot of use out of it this way.
Initially, I made my own general template for the week, which involved ‘ongoing tasks’ at the top so I knew what I was carrying over from the last week, weekday checklists of the events I had to attend as well as what tasks I had to do, and a section at the bottom for the tasks I needed to complete over the weekend. There was some colour coding (purple for lectures), but everything else was pretty bland.
Then in the next semester, I came across a weekly schedule template that I liked the look of and incorporated into my own Notion. This was my first taste of template buttons, and I configured them to represent things in my life, like volunteering, lectures, uni classes and personal/home stuff so it got significantly easier to fill my timetable in. There was also a section at the top where I could put my focus for the week, which I really liked because it was a nice overview of the big things I needed to do that week. Along with that, there were running tasks, now at the bottom, and a similar checklist style for the weekend days.
I really liked this, and I may recreate this when I start university again, but the only thing is that it requires sitting down to do it every Sunday. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because it let me have a look over my week ahead and figure out if there was anything I needed to do in preparation for it, but I often ended up with no time to do this on Sunday. I normally postponed it to Monday mornings where I had some time before university started to make my week schedule.
This is a master database I’ve created of all the goals I have or have had at any point since creating this. I’ve attached certain tags to my goals so I can filter by different topics or timeframes as I see fit. There is also a link in this database to pages I have in another database, which allows me to see extra information in a different context about this same objective. So, in my goals database, I have a link to relevant research that I’ve done relating to this goal, so I can see if there’s been any concrete progress on it.
Something cool about Notion is that you can view databases with filters and sorts in relation to any specific things you want to see, and you can save this ‘view’ so you can go back to it easily. I like to view this one as having priorities come up at the top, and everything I’ve completed comes up at the bottom, so this view is called ‘View by Priority’.
My most used page of Notion this summer has to have been my research forest, which is where I write all my notes on anything that I come across. I’ve included my notes on lots of things, all the way from articles and podcasts to webinars and online courses I’ve been doing. This is also one of my favourite pages in my Notion setup because of all the work I’ve put into creating each separate page and how much it’s evolved over time.
I adapted this idea from Valentin Perez, who came up with the whole ‘research forest’ theme, in which every idea/piece of information is a tree and a lot of these together form a forest.
In Notion, databases can be viewed in a variety of different formats, like calendars, lists, galleries and boards that mimic Kanban boards. I like to view this one as a list, that also shows the completion status of it (important for me because I need to know what to work on), but the database view shows all the different aspects of it.
In terms of the other properties that I like to attach to each item of ‘research’, I use the created time/date to know exactly when it started, the type of content it is, a link to my goals database so I can see how to link that information into my real life, a URL if it’s something I can access online and the date I completed it.
I also have recently attempted to use a formula to figure out a ‘review date’ which is the hypothetical time I would want to look over the information again and see if I can apply it to my life at the time of review. I set this timeframe as being a month after I completed it, and I put it into another page on my homepage, but it’s not something that I particularly use a lot. I’m also not sure where to put the information after that, or what to do with it after it’s reached review, so clearly I’m not sure where I want to take this, but it’s been fun to experiment with. I think reviewing will have to become a manual, purposeful thing that I create a habit of doing, as opposed to having it automated.
Blog Post Ideas and Content Creation
The words ‘content creation’ make me feel so pretentious, I can’t lie. Regardless, another big use of Notion for me is for planning out blog posts and as a place to throw all my ideas down before they get refined into posts.
I view this as a Kanban board mostly because it’s the best way for me to visualise which step all these different ideas are at in terms of the conveyor belt of production. All my very rough ideas go into the ‘no status’ section and once I’ve figured out which direction I want to take a post in, I fix up the title, give it a little icon and move it into the ‘tangible ideas’ section. I have further statuses like ‘notes in progress/made’ and ‘in progress’ (this one is in terms of writing the actual post, as opposed to writing notes), as well as ‘completed’.
Recently I’ve also started using a template for a new post, that involves different information I need to consider while planning and writing a blog post.
Sometimes I’ll view this in calendar view to see what I’ve posted over the past few weeks or what I’m planning on posting – big up weekly posts!
I also have ‘content view’ that shows it as a gallery so I can see all the notes I have made for each post or idea. I don’t write my posts in Notion because I feel like it lacks as a word processor, but Notion has all my ideas and everything I need to include in my posts.
Random other pages
I have a few pages that I’ve made if I know I have a busy few days coming up, or I have a big project with a few specific tasks to do. These aren’t particularly well designed and often just involve checklists that I brain-dump into a page. It might be useful to make some sort of template for this, but my plans vary so often, I don’t know how useful that would actually be.
So that’s all the main stuff I use Notion for. It’s a really useful addition to my life, somewhere I can really put anything and everything to keep safe.
Something I want to incorporate into my Notion is maybe the idea of journaling on there or having a weekly review that encompasses the big things from my journal. I already journal on paper every single night, and I really enjoy the act of putting pen to paper to reflect on things, so I’m not sure I want to move that to digital, but as of late, I’ve been going through and highlighting stuff from my journal to extract the lessons I’ve learned and reflected on throughout the week. I think it might be valuable to take all these lessons and information and put that somewhere into Notion so I have a digital record of all the most important things from my journal.
I also have a lot of premade notes in my Notes app on my phone, like books to read and packing lists, etc. It might be nice to transfer these all across into Notion, but equally, I value my Notes app as its own entity, and I wonder whether it would be efficient to put this stuff into Notion when I put so much stuff into my Notes app.
These are all the musings I’ve had on ways to incorporate Notion into my life better, but as of right now, I quite enjoy my setup and the pages that I have made and use consistently.
I hope you guys enjoyed my detailed insight into how I use Notion, especially as I’ve been able to use it more due to having so much more free time now.
Do you use Notion? Would you like to try it? Feel free to share your thoughts and feelings!
Hope you’re all staying safe and enjoying life!