I was a little late to the Notion bandwagon when I started using it last year. It was a little tricky to get started but I watched many YouTube videos and figured it out. I have to admit I find it useful for keeping certain documents organised. So today I want to share how I use Notion to stay organised and also highlight some of the areas where Notion doesn’t work so well.
How I Use Notion To Stay Organised
What Is Notion
Notion is a piece of free productivity software. You could think of it as a series of linked pages which uses databases as a way to store information. One of the great things about Notion is how flexible it can be. Notion works very similar to the new block function in WordPress, this means you can create a blank page and add blocks for text, headings, databases, images and many more. You also have the option to integrate other elements such as Google Drive and Todoist
I started using Notion right around this time last year after handing in my final pieces of university work. It seemed like the perfect piece of software to help me get my life in order and keep track of all the little details a newly graduated student needs to remember. I originally set up my notion space to save my CV and track job applications. Though as you will see, the way I use Notion has evolved and after making the move to freelance work, this was no longer something I needed.
My Notion Set-Up
What I love about Notion is just how flexible it can be. If you do a quick search on Youtube you will find hundreds upon hundreds of different ways to use a Notion page. It could be a daily planner or notebook. Some people use it as a way to keep track of books they read. I have a page set up to track my finances. But some even use it as part of their business, using a Notion page to keep their clients up to date with progress on their projects.
I’m not going to lie, I found Notion to be a really difficult piece of software to use at first. There are all sorts of videos and blog posts online about Notion, but it still took me a long time to get my space set up. It’s one of the reasons why it’s taken me so long to write this post. What I’ve learned through experiments is that Notion works better for some things than others. Yes, you can use it as a notebook, but it isn’t set up for pure long-form writing. It works better as a database, where you can link pieces of information together and display them as kanban boards, calendars or even Gantt charts.
A replacement for Google Docs
It took some experimenting to figure out how I want to use my Notion space. There are some pages I set up which after a while I realised weren’t being used. Or that something else would work better. My reading tracker was one specific thing I found to not be of much use. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve watched far too many videos of people using Notion to organise their reading list. I love being able to tick off read books. But in this one instance, I found it didn’t work for me because it was giving me more to do. I organise my reading using Goodreads and I like it because my Kindle books update automatically. With Notion, I had to remember to open my reading tracker and keep it updated. In the end, it was easier to just use Goodreads.
It’s taken a lot of trial and error but I think I’ve figured out a Notion set-up which works for me. Mostly I use it for organising documents related to my freelance work and personal projects. More specifically, I use it as a place to store documents I might once have saved onto a Google Drive. I’ll talk more about it later, but though Notion is set up to work well as a database, I found I don’t like using it as such.
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Instead, my Notion set-up is more like important documents and pieces of information I reference often. Yes, I could just save these to my Drive. But one of the benefits of Notion is that it’s a program, so I have it open on my desktop and can quickly find what I need. However, Notion also works on a browser and mobile app so if I’m away from my laptop I can still access my page.
One of the areas I’ve found Notion to work particularly well was organising my freelance business. I have a page set up within my space for my business, and from that, I’ve got links to my competitor research, target market and business plan. The block function, with text, tables and images make it easy to organise this information.
One of the areas I particularly love is how it has helped me with my business plan. Rather than my business plan being a document I wrote once and save it to a folder never to be looked at again. It’s saved in my Notion space which makes it easy for me to update or change my plan based on new information.
My Second Brain (and why it didn’t work)
I’ve talked about how Notion allows you to set up databases to organise information. This is a fantastic tool which allows you to create any number of organisational systems. I know some people love Notion’s databases but I have a love/ hate relationship with it. I think it’s really important to note that they aren’t easy to set up, especially when you’re first learning how to use Notion.
However, I did eventually get the databases figured out and I will admit, it’s a pretty powerful function. I set up my database to work as a second brain, what I mean by that is I created a database to store all the tasks I wanted to do. This is slightly complicated to explain but for each row, or task in the database, I can give it certain attributes, such as deadline, urgency and even link one database to another.
This means I can group all tasks from one project. The smart thing about Notion is then how it allows you to display the tasks in this database. You could have the tasks displayed in a calendar format, so you can see the day you’ve assigned each task to. You could also display this as a list or in a timeline format, creating the before-mentioned Gantt charts.
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But Notion also allows you to create a database and link to it from other pages. From there you can sort the database to give you specific views. For instance, you could tell the page to only show tasks which hadn’t been marked as complete. Or you could only show tasks you’ve assigned to a specific day. From there you can set up what many refer to as a home page. So when you boot up Notion in the morning it organises your tasks automatically and displays what you need to complete on that specific day.
I love my Notion set-up. And I loved the idea of creating a digitised brain to figure out my life for me. It sounded so much easier than needing to remember to do all these tasks, or keeping them written down on a list. However, as I set up and started using this organisational system I found it didn’t work out as great as I had expected.
Now, this problem was entirely down to me and how my brain works. Notion is a brilliant piece of software which is flexible enough that you can set it up to work exactly how you want. But this specific type of planning just didn’t work for me. I like my paper-based planning, I write about bullet journals a lot if you haven’t already noticed.
While my Notion set-up worked brilliantly for saving some documents. It didn’t work for me as a second brain. The problem I found was that my task list was hidden away in another program. Meaning, that I had to intentionally go find it to keep myself on task. I keep my bullet journal out in an easy-to-see location and it helps me because I don’t need to go looking for it. However, as I’ve said, this was very much a me problem and I know other people work well using this ‘second brain’.
Negatives of using Notion to stay organised
Notion is free to use, however, there is a premium option which for a single user is $4 per month. For this, you can upload larger files and don’t have a limit on how many blocks you can use. Free users have a limit of 1000 blocks though I haven’t hit this limit yet. If you’re a student you can get the pro version for free, you just need a student email address.
The one negative I have with Notion is how it works for businesses. I own a very small company with a few university friends and as you may imagine, there are a few online tools we need to stay organised. One of the benefits of Notion is that it combines many other productivity tools into one program. The only downside of Notion is that it quickly gets very expensive to have a business plan. Costing $8 per month per user.
This meant we would need to pay almost $50 per month for our small 6-person team. The frustrating part is that Notion would work well for our needs. It combines several other productivity tools in one place. However, in this one instance, it’s far too expensive to justify at this stage. Though I imagine would work well for larger businesses that have more money to spend.
That’s how I use Notion to stay organised. Despite some of the negatives, I really do love it. It’s not a tool which does everything, despite some people on YouTube insisting otherwise. But it’s flexible enough to suit most needs and is very easy to customise. I’ve tried several productivity tools and the benefit of Notion is that it’s far more than just a to-do list, or file storage program. It does both and much much more.