Within our family, as probably for all organizations, over time the list of tools and ways of communication cumulate. We used Google Drive, Trello, Todoist, shared calendars in Google Calendar, Signal/WhatsApp, whiteboard, post-it notes, … All information is spread all over the place, stored in multiple accounts and sometimes impossible to share.
At a certain point, we spent almost more time managing and updating information compared to checking of tasks. As you can imagine, it’s impossible to keep all this up to date and accurate.
Time to look for another tool. Let the fun begin! 😉
Before diving in that rabbit hole, we took a few minutes to define what we really need.
What is information?
The first and most important must-have for us, is the possibility to drop every shred of information in the tool. We don’t want to be limited to only documents or only online pages.
In reality, we don’t have audio to store, so that was no requirement for us.
Sharing is caring
It must be possible to share our information (documents, to-dos, projects, …). Within our ‘organization’ or with outsiders, while we keep control over who sees what.
On the other hand, we also prefer to have our own private space to store information.
Organize and structure
Information is structured data. If we can’t structure the data so it’s meaningful for use, any tool is useless. There are many ways to structure data. To make it easy for us, we took the strengths of a few tools we already use. We need a ToDo-list, a Kanban-style overview and a table. Some hierarchical structure was also a must-have.
If we decide to use a tool that’s custom built, I’m sure it will (literally) take years before it’s somewhat usable. So one major requirement is a No-Code tool. This means we both can add new information or make use of all the features on the tool and it’s not dependent of my time to keep the tool/platform up and running.
This is not a ‘compare x tools’ blogpost, but I tried to explain the process how we came to choose for Notion as our preferred tool to organize ourselves. There are many tools available with comparable features, so why did we choose Notion?
Example of a Task template
Notion complies with our requirements listed above:
- Can handle all types of information
- Organize information in different ways
- It’s a no-code solution
On top, live collaboration is possible, which was a nice plus. We’re using this continuously in our Google Drive documents.
What makes Notion special
Everything is a block
Whatever you type in Notion, is considered an object. The consequence is, you can add properties to objects. These properties can be used to search, filter or sort the different objects. Or, if you look at it the other way around, every page is a collection of blocks. This adds extra flexibility to build your custom pages with all available blocks. For example dashboards, are easily created.
You can have all types of blocks, from just texts, over lists and tables to images and document embeds.
The second-most powerful way of using blocks, is when you create a table. A table is automatically a database, where every column is a property, for which you can define datatypes and add validation.
After you created a database, you start entering lines in the table. These lines are blocks on their own and can be converted in a new page, which makes Notion perfectly flexible to link blocks in multiple ways, over multiple pages for example.
Level-up! Notion made it possible to re-use the data of a database on a different page! They call it “Linked databases”. You can add a Linked database on another page (as a block) and show the data on that page. If you only need a selection of all the data in that database, you can create a filter based on the properties of that database.
Once you’ve decided which entries (data) you want to show in the linked database, you can create a view to show the entries in the most optimal way: table rows, Kanban-style, gallery, …
Linked databases are awesome
For data to become information, it needs interpretation and visualization. That’s where dashboards come in! You organize all information the way it makes most sense for you and your use-case. Add images and icons where it fits your needs, but most important add you linked databases!
After some experimenting, you finally created your perfect layout! With “templates”, you can create re-usable pages. You give them a name and reuse the structure on multiple pages. Templates are stored in a separate section in Notion.
Templates can even have pre-filtered linked databases, so you already have a view available for your new page with the right data.
Pro & Con
Getting started with Notion, as creating an account on notion.so! After registration, you have all tools available to make your own perfect setup. Having all these possibilities, can we a bit overwhelming. That’s why they made a bunch of ready-made templates available to work with.
Click in the left column on “Templates”, to get the overview. Once you’ve selected the one you would like to try, click on the “Use this template”.
A great template to start with and get the gist, is the “Task List”. Here you can find an easy to use template for your personal tasks, shown in a Kanban-board overview. Every task is a new page.
Single source of truth
When implementing Notion for our household, it was important to define where “the truth” is. Up until now, there were so many sources, but from now on, Notion is our Single source of truth. No more searching in mailboxes or random post-it notes or … The only place, information really exists is Notion.
Don’t repeat yourself
In our shared workspace, data is only entered once. With the powerful linking of databases and other pages, we try not to enter data multiple times. This prevents errors in the data.
How to start?
There are many examples and templates available online you can use. How to choose the best templates? I don’t know. We started with a process in our household or personal activities in mind and defined the key elements of that process. Then we translated these elements to notion. Many times, we searched how existing templates tackled some problems. If I had to guess, implementing a new template took 1 to 2 evenings.
Our use cases
Here are a few use cases that work for us. In later blogposts, I will explain how they were build.
We have a nice collection of books and like reading a lot. Also, we lend out books to friends and family. To keep track of our books, we created a book library.
- Books > Database
- Author (linked to authors)
- Lend to (linked to contacts)
- Read by (linked to contacts)
- Series (part of a certain series)
Based on this ‘master database’, we’ve created some filtered list with the Linked Database feature to get overviews. For example, which books did we borrow from others, to return them within a reasonable time.
I think, in a later phase, we can expand this to a full media library.
There are many meal planning templates available, so why did we create a new one? Apart from the database of meals, we created also a database of ingredients.
- Ingredients > Database
- Recipes > Database
- Linked to ingredients
- Food planning > Database
- Linked to recipes
- Based on the number of people eating
With these databases, we can extract a list of ingredients. And these ingredients are linked to where we buy them, even multiple options are available.
Probably the most frequently use case is the personal ToDo list. In Notion, it doesn’t matter which productivity system you use. A quick search online, give you a lot of examples of GTD, PARA and other ways or organizing your tasks.
- Tasks > Database
- Per project a dashboard
- Based on priority or status of a task
One major downside of Notion: You can’t create recurring tasks
Up to you
Let’s start implementing Notion!
How will you be using Notion? Do you have tips or suggestions? Let me know!