About six months ago, I discovered a tool called Notion, which promised to become the last all-in-one workspace I would likely ever need. Intrigued, I decided to give it a try to see what it was all about.
What was first a tool of skepticism has now become a tool of necessity for me. I’ve used it each day since first creating an account and very quickly, Notion helped me reshape the many ways that I organize, record, and plan my days. If you find yourself searching for an all-in-one tool, I would love to share with you how I have chosen to use Notion and maybe, I can convince you that it’s a tool worth your time, too.
I love experimenting with loads of software, automations, routines, and small hacks to try to make my days run a little bit smoother. Like many, I struggle with a mix of anxiety and depression and can quickly be hit with the many side effects that come with both. Overwhelming thoughts often take over, along with a bit of fear and self-doubt. Not cool, brain!
When I find myself having a good day, my instinct has been to dig deep and reflect on what may have happened that could have possibly contributed to those positive feelings or events. I enjoy trying to see if I can detect any patterns or routines, with the hope of coming back to them on one of those not-so-good days. What sorts of conversations did I have? Who did I connect with? Did I exercise? What about alcohol? How much coffee did I have? Maybe I finished a big project or maybe I did nothing at all. Whatever it was that took place, throughout the past six months, my goal has been to document it, reflect on it, and work to understand how I was affected by the things that happened throughout the day.
When I first discovered Notion through my good friend Alex Tran, admittedly, I felt pretty overwhelmed. I think what’s wonderful about Notion is the same thing that can make it feel daunting. The tool has the capability to completely conform and adapt to nearly any working style or organizational preference that one might have, but of course, setting everything up takes both work and time.
To create content and structure inside of Notion, a “block” is used. Blocks are powerful because they can exist to be a variety of things. For example, a block can be a header, body text, checkbox, list, code, toggled menu, an embed in-line table, and more. See what I mean? There are very few limitations for where these blocks can be placed and the size they can have.
Now knowing what a block is, you might be able to begin imagining how to build a page. Let’s say you want to create a page that allows you record what you got done on a week-by-week basis. You might first place a block that serves as the week’s header, and below, place a block that’s in the form of a checkmark, allowing you to indicate the task name and whether or not it was completed.
Even more unique to Notion is its flexibility in how it allows you to structure pages in almost any way you’d like. Just as you might when building a webpage, with Notion, it’s possible to create and link pages within pages. Imagine having a top-level page called “Home”, and within this page, you have many subpages that exist, such as “todos”, “reminders”, “notes”, and more. You may want to organize your reminders by month, so perhaps in the reminders page, you have a different page for each of the months, and inside, you have a list of all of your reminders. Hopefully you’re beginning to imagine all of the possibilities here. Having nearly an infinite way to organize your workspace allows for it to quickly become yours and allows for it to feel familiar and comfortable to use.
I have four different pages that I interact with and fill out daily: Life, Workouts, Personal Daily Logs, and Work Logs. For each of these pages, I prefer to organize their contents by month. So, for instance, the navigation structure might look something like this:
For each new month, I’ll create a new table inside of the page “Life”. The table is designed to be a very high-level recap of my day, which allows me to be able to glance at the month and quickly see trends or highlights that I want to remember.
In the table, there are a total of 13 columns.
Starting on the far left, I begin with the Date, as each row is its own day. Next, because I’m a type 1 diabetic, I have columns titled “Fasting” and “Bedtime”. These are spaces for me to record my morning and evening glucose measurements. It’s a nice way to see, at a very high level, how I’m averaging throughout the month.
Next, I have a multi-select column titled “Feelings”. I use this column to quickly select from a list of common feelings, or emotional events, that I had experienced during that day. Adjectives such as happy, productive, social, sleepy, sad, introverted, and awkward are all included in this list, along with roughly 20 more items to select from. This column just makes it easy to quickly record the emotions of the day.
The next two columns are titled “Positive Events” and “Negative Events”. These are free-text fields which I use to write in a few sentences about things that happened throughout the day. Recording positive events helps me focus on the good that happened and while I try not to focus too much on the negative, I believe it’s important to record what may have happened that might have brought me down that day.
Moving on, the next column is titled “Impactful People”. This is where I like to note the name or names of people who had a large influence on me that day. Whether the regular people in my life, such as my fiancée, family, coworkers, or friends, or maybe someone new, noting their name here is a way for me to remember those I connect with most and reminds me of all those who are important in my life.
Score is a column, most often filled out at the very end of the day, where I assign a 1–10 value. 1 indicates a poor score, or a bad day, whereas a 10 signifies a really good day. It’s been interesting to take the average of the 30, or so, scores at the end of the month and see how they differ from previous months.
The last of the major columns is called “Notable Events”. This is a column that’s reserved for those really big events, the ones I want to always remember, or easily reference in the future. Things that belong in this column for me are trips, the names of new people I meet, or even things such as when I received my flu shot.
Moving onto the last four columns, they’re all yes/no based, and serve as quickly logging a few things that I’m tracking. Right now, I’m quantifying when I practice meditation, practice a new breathing exercise I’m trying out, take a cold shower (first thing in the morning), and exercise. The checkmark entry serves as a quick way to record whether or not I did something and makes it visually easy to see, at a glance, how many times in the month I did or didn’t do something.
So, that’s the Life table! I know it probably seems like a lot. When I first started this table, it began relatively small. I was just recording a score, positive, and negative events. As time went on, I realized that I wanted to quickly track more events that I cared about and this table was the easiest place to do so.
Next up in my daily workflow in Notion, another page I write in is titled “Daily Log”. Similar to the previous Life page, I organize Daily log by month, and then by day. For this area in particular, I like to have an entire page to record thoughts and ideas that happened throughout the day. This space is very much like a journal for me.
At the top of the Daily Log page, I have a section called “Morning Thoughts”. This is a quick space where I write in bullet form, the first thoughts that pop into my mind as soon as I wake up. Stresses, worries, goals for the day, etc. all go here. It’s a place that allows me to sort of clear my mind in the morning and just brain-dumb. I never really look back at this section, but it’s nice to have a place to just pour out unfiltered thoughts.
Below Morning Thoughts is a section titled “Gratitude”. Perhaps self-explanatory, this is a place where I like just jot down the things that I feel thankful for on that day. I believe that over time, this practice will help me more easily focus on all of the positive in my life.
Next, I have a section titled “What Would Make Today Great?”. Just like the two sections above, I’ll fill this out early in the morning and will try to think about what sorts of things would make the day, well, great. Maybe it’s grabbing dinner with someone, spending time with my fiancée, or getting started on a new post or project. Whatever it is, filling out this section helps me think more intentionally about the day ahead.
As the day continues on, I’ll populate the last three sections. “Entries” are reserved for quickly writing about thoughts, learnings, or ideas. It’s a place to just quickly capture what’s on my mind that day and the act of writing them out really helps me shift those thoughts from inside my head to an external place, leaving me feeling like I have a bit more mental space to focus on other things. This really helps me reduce my anxiety a bit.
Second to last, I have a space titled “Three Awesome Things that Happened Today”. At the end of the day, I like to quickly fill this out and just like gratitude in the morning, it helps me focus on the positive a bit more.
The final section for this page is titled “Resources”. Throughout the day, I’ll throw links in here that may be useful either for that day, or at a later date. Design resources, blog posts, and new tools are often collected here. To better locate these in the future, I might add a quick caption under the link which contains keywords to make searching for and locating it in the future easier.
Workouts functions very similar to the Life table. Organized by month, its contents a table, I like to keep track of my workouts here. I’m no big athlete, but just keeping track of how many days I went to the gym last month has been helpful, and keeps me painfully aware of either how active or stale of a month it was.
Next to the date, I have a multi-select column, titled “Workout Type”, which allows me to quickly choose the type of exercise I did. Next to it, a column named “Details”, where I keep track of the amount of laps swam, reps done, or miles walked.
The fourth and fifth column, Notes and Feeling, both serve as spaces for me to just quickly jot down how I was feeling during the workout. Strong, weak, energetic, or tired are all things I like to try and record. Finally, the last column is for setting the location for where the workout took place. Like many, I have a gym membership, but go there fewer times than I would like. Quickly seeing how many times I went last month helps me keep track of whether or not the membership is still worth it to me or not. (I found that I was using our apartment’s gym way more than 24 Hour Fitness’ gym, and just recently cancelled my membership because of this).
I know filling out all of these on a daily basis might seem like a lot of work, but truthfully, I usually spend no more than 20–30 minutes a day inside of Notion. Once the initial structure is created, filling in each column in just takes a few minutes each day.
Last, but not least, is the work log! This is a section within Notion that I use to keep track of what I’m getting done daily at work. It’s a simple page, with three columns: “Date”, “What Got Done?”, and “Feeling”.
Inside What Got Done, I’ll record very quick notes about what meetings I had, or which projects I worked on. This is for no one but myself. Time moves quickly and it’s often really hard for me hard to think back to months past and actually remember the projects I worked on. Having this page allows me to look back and see how I’ve progressed in both the types of projects I’m working on, and the changes in my responsibility over time.
The last column titled “Feeling” is a spot for me to quickly indicate how that day went. In this column, I can record if I felt focused or distracted, if I had lots of meetings or maybe, no meetings at all. I can see how many days I experienced wrist pain, or which days I felt most impactful.
If you’re just starting out with Notion, or maybe you’ve been into it for a while, reach out! I’d love to hear from you! I’m always wanting to meet more people who are as interested in this stuff as I am. 🤓
For those interested, I made a template! Viewable here.