Spring cleaning my digital life with Notion

Yeah, Corona… Being forced to stay inside so much has brought out the spring-cleaning spirit in me (a bit). I have not only cleaned out my closet, but I have also reorganized my digital file cabinet. Well, file cabinet… I had my files, notes and a few places – and now I’ve added one more… LOL.

Seriously, here is my basic setup:

  • As all colleagues know: my first line of defense isn’t digital at all: I take notes in an old fashioned as well as fashionable way, a simple bullet journal. On paper. Only things that I need to reference often get migrated to my digital system.
  • Dropbox (but this can be any cloud platform) for files, photographs and such.
  • Google sheets for tables. Bonus points for collaboration. I have MS Excel through my employer, but we rarely use it. We do use MS Word though. (Why? I don’t know)
  • Evernote. This was my goto notes app for years. However, I have migrated everything essential out of there, so that it has basically become an archive app. With thousands of notes. (sigh) Seriously: I had stopped using it. And when I got back in there this week because of my digital spring cleaning, I found it was just slow, which is a deal breaker.
  • Notion. This is my new notes app. I also track todo’s here.
  • Google Keep for simple notes and fast note-taking on mobile.

What I love about Notion

  • It is visual. You can use colors in notes and each note gets their own emoticon and cover-image. And if you put your notes into a database (more on that later), those images can be used as visual references to those notes. I’m a visual thinker. I’m not bad with words, but though processes are primarily visual. With Notion I can tap into that. Which makes me comfortable using it.

  • You can interlink everything the way you want. You can nest things as deeply as you want. In other words: There are hardly any limits to how you organize your notes. Evernote has folders and stacks of folders and that’s it. You can interlink notes in Evernote, but it’s not intuitive.
  • Databases. These are the reason I’m not sure I would recommend notion to everybody, because they can be intimidating. However, for techie like me, they’re perfect. And once you do understand them, you can have various views for them, so that the same information can be organised in different ways that you define for yourself. And they too can be interlinked so that you get the full power of relational databases (which are what most software programs use to store and organize data). Powerful stuff.

  • Bookmarks and embed options. When you paste a URL into a notion-note, you get the option to link, bookmark or embed. The ‘bookmark’ option gives a preview – which is just so nice. It helps give context and remember what you will find when you click through.

The only downside to Notion is the mobile-app. I have the android app on my phone and it’s a bit slow and chunky. I get that: all that functionality that works great on the web (I haven’t downloaded the desktop-app) is hard to slim down for mobile. For instance, you can’t zoom in on an image in the Notion app. This is one area where Evernote still has the edge. However, on mobile I use Google Keep and if a note should live in Notion instead, I can just move it. Google keep is nice and simple and that works well on my phone. Their widget is also great. Notion doesn’t have a widget yet.

How to organise your stuff – building a second brain

Disclaimer: I did not read any of Tiago Forte’s books or take his course or any of that.

However, I do use the basic outline of his PARA system (projects, areas, resources, archives) in my notion account. I think that his approach to organizing your digital life is really useful and his wife Lauren Valdez offers a nice counterpoint for people who might be intimidated by the super-detailed way (almost anal) Tiago approaches his digital life. [For the record: he seems much nicer than Elon Musk]. See this explainer from a talented young fellow front-end-dev.

Learning Notion

There are loads of Notion videos on YouTube. Notion also has a full collection of templates to give you an idea of what’s possible. And yes, these days that includes Corona-templates!

However, I would recommend the Notion help-files for learning databases and shortcuts.

Starting out, I recommend the following videos to get started simple. Simple isn’t bad. Simple is what works, until you need complicated.

Someone who (I think) clearly explains how she uses Notion for a more organised life. Not the simplest setup (as in, databases, yeah baby), but clearly enough explained. She calls herself muchelleb. : How I Organise and Plan my Life (Using Notion) ☀️

She actually has an example template that includes a simple table-database (you won’t be overwhelmed with this one) Life Dashboard. 

Notion databases: why I love them!

If you’re still here and have tried out notion a bit (and you should), it’s time for learning databases. I would recommend starting with a tasks/todo database.

We all have todo’s and they’re frustratingly hard to organize. Some have a deadline. Many don’t. They have priorities. For some you need to keep track of related information. It’s a mess. For short-term tasks I use pen and paper. However, this only works well for me when it’s within say a week. Maybe two. After that, migrating to a digital system works better for me. At work this is Jira, but at home it’s become Notion.

And specifically: a notion database. A simple way to look at a notion database is that it’s a table. It can do more than that, but that idea can get you started. The advantage of notion-databases is that you can have different views for the same data. That is: you only need to put in a task once, and then you can organize the tasks in that database (think an excel-table) in different ways.

It starts simple. You can have a list, a table, a gallery, Kanban-board and a calendar view for tasks:


So the same table/database can look like a list, a gallery, a kanban-board or a calendar!

That is really helpful to figure out what has priority right now. Then there are also filter and sort options and ways to interlink databases. I do use that, but most people will probably not use that in their first week or even month of using Notion.

Remember: the basic thing isn’t to use a specific tool, but to get the clutter out of your head, so that you can get things done.

Wrapping up

What I love about Notion is that it gives me the freedom to structure notes, images and tables in a very flexible way so that it reflects my thought-processes and helps me keep track and clarify relationships between notes, todo’s and images. And as you can tell from some of the images: I even used Notion to draft this blogpost. 😎