How I Organized My Life and Business in 3 Days With Notion
Feel like an octopus? It's not just you.
Whether you're freelancing, running a business, or just trying to train for a 5k, you've probably turned to productivity apps at some point:
Evernote (for quick ideas), DropBox (for file sharing), Google Docs (for collaborative writing), Trello (for project management), LinkedIn (for networking)...the list goes on.
I'm guilty of using too many apps. We all are. But up until a few days I didn't know there was a better option. One app can't do everything, can it?
I first heard about Notion on the Syntaxt podcast (shoutout to Wes Bos and Scott Tolinski). And while I had no clue what it even was, the name sounded interesting, so I decided to check it out.
Notion's landing page is super-minimal. In fact, it's so minimal that I almost clicked away—here we go again with another half-assed "one-in-all" productivity app, I thought.
But thank god I scrolled, because further down the page was a live, fully-interactive demo of Notion's app. (Seriously, how ballsy is it to let people loose on an app with zero context? You really have to believe in your product).
After playing around for about thirty seconds, it became clear to me that Notion was not just another do-it-all app. I happily signed up for a free account.
Hour one with Notion
I really can't think of an app I've fallen in love with faster than Notion. It does so many things so well that's it's actually hard to describe. But let me put it this way...
Imagine if The New Yorker, BaseCamp, and Evernote had a lovechild.
My first foray into Notion's app was porting over all the content I was working on—I created a page called "Blog Posts," then proceeded to add sub-pages for each post, which I realized was as easy as typing "/".
I also set up some pages for groceries, random ideas, back burner tasks, and daily todo items (more on that in a bit).
Notion automatically stores sub-pages in a folder-like structure under the parent page. Pretty cool, huh? Well, keep reading, my friend, because that's just one of about ten million things Notion just does "automatically."
Day one with Notion
Slash commands really are a thing of beauty in Notion. You can use them to create pages, headings, inline images, references, and a whole lot more—the writing experience is just as fluid as Mediumand ten times more powerful.
One "Block" I took advantage of almost immediately is the "To-do List." While Notion isn't a replacement for a full-on project management app, a basic checkbox list covers 99% of my personal and solo business use-cases.
You can Mention pages in Notion by typing "@", which creates a link to that content. Like Wikipedia, this allows you to jump between related assets much more quickly than rooting through your filesystem over and over.
If you really want to get fancy, you can Mention a date inside a To-do item, which sends an email message and mobile alert at the specified time so you don't forget to complete the task. Notion is even smart enough to covert "@Next Tuesday" into a real date.
I was already sold on Notion after the first few minutes, but the feature that really sealed the deal for me was the Database page.
At first, I thought "Database" just meant a data table, so I ignored it.
However, after loading 10+ articles under my "Blog Posts" page, I realized sub-pages weren't a sustainable way to organize lots of content. I took a closer look at the Database feature, and was completely blown away.
While Notion Databases look like regular tables, they're much more flexible under the hood. You can add custom properties, filters, and views—and each row opens (yup, you guessed it) a fully-editable Notion page.
Week one with Notion
Before stumbling across Notion, I repeatedly tried (and failed) to devise an organizational system to store all the information I need to access on a regular basis.
I used it all: project management apps, note taking apps, physical journals, note cards...I even made a go of it on my website's CMS, Contentful. Nothing fit the bill. That's why I'm so excited about Notion—it truly is a all-in-one solution.
People and Projects
I mentioned earlier (no pun intended) about how useful Mentions are for linking content, and one of the best use cases I've discovered is interconnecting common data between my Contacts and Projects.
For example, in the Projects database, each project has a property called "Primary Contact." In this, I link to a person in my Contacts database. That gives me quick access to the person's info—and if anything changes, I don't have to manually update stuff in fifty different places, because there's only one "source of truth."
Custom properties also give me the power to filter my databases and set up different "Views." For example, I have Views for different types of Contacts based on their "Relation" to me: "Contractor," "Client," "Lead," etc.
Nerdy footnote: I originally set my "Primary Contact" property to accept text. In each row, I was Mentioning (linking to) a certain Contact. I then realized Notion supports "Relation" properties that are meant for this—when I made the switch Notion magically converted all my inline Mention links into regular Relation links. Sweet!
I'll be honest, I'm pretty disorganized by nature. Even simple daily tasks like fixing meals and working out tend to fall by the wayside when I get busy and/or distracted.
With Notion, my personal and business tasks are now in one place.
I have to-do pages for today's tasks, daily tasks, and weekly tasks, as well as a planning page for my longterm goals. By simply checking Notion a few times a day, I can easily see what needs doing, and my productivity has shot way up, as a result.
Process, Resources, Inspiration
Like I said before, Notion is sort of like your own personal Wikipedia. I took that idea and ran with it during my first week, creating three more databases: Process (for documentation), Resources (for books, podcasts, videos, etc), and Inspiration (for design samples).
While I'm currently a one-man shop, I'll inevitably be adding more people to my team, and that means cultivating a high-quality knowledge base of processes and best practices. Whenever I add a new Process to the database, I Mention (link to) other Processes wherever possible, which creates a richer, more deeply-connected collection of content.
Resources works more as a database of external information that I can enter once and search for later—by Title, Author, or even Keywords. Inspiration is similar, except I use a "Board View" to paw through designs, photos, and websites when I'm trying to brainstorm ideas for a new project.
TL;DR: Four reasons to start using Notion today
I've been using Notion for less that a week, and I'm already seeing huge benefits. If you haven't given it a try yet, here are my top favorite features (aka why you should go give it a try right now).
One source of truth: Notion won't replace every app you use, but it might kill off 3-5.
Flexibility: You can define a digital workspace that makes sense to you.
Linking: Bounce between related content ten times faster than your filesystem.
Databases: Store, sort, filter, and search your content however you want.
Thanks for reading!
If you're already using Notion, message me @aofolts—I'd love to hear what else people are using it for.