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Getting your shoes fixed at the cobbler is a pretty straightforward task, easily handled by any to-do list app. Yet in the viral Buzzfeed piece on Millennial Burnout, Anne Helen Petersen struggles to figure out why “small, straightforward tasks on my to-do list felt so impossible.” My theory: we’re suffering from app fatigue and productivity paralysis? We’re overwhelmed by the sheer volume of apps out there aimed at making slivers of our lives more productive. But there’s a new app in town, one that promises to streamline your to-do list, note-taking, calendar, kanban, wikis, spreadsheets, and databases into a unified platform: meet Notion.
Legos without the instructions
My 6 year old is getting really good at Legos and has mastered the 500-piece sets that recreate an entire town. The number of pieces isn’t daunting thanks to the extensive instructions that come with each set.
Notion is like a giant set of legos – by putting the various components together, you can create a simple tree house or the Eiffel Tower. The uses cases are extensive, ranging from mood boards, net worth trackers, and personal life dashboards. But there’s a catch – open the app and you’re greeted by a blank page. Literally, just a flashing cursor.
Wait, this is the game-changing app that will enable us to create a corporate wiki, a net worth tracker and consultant dashboard? (Well, you could check out the template gallery to kickstart your workspace.) Or you could head to Notion’s extensive Help and Support section or you could follow along with the tutorial below and build your first project encompassing all of Notion’s key features.
Your first Notion Tutorial
We’ve created an interactive guide (think case study) with two purposes: teaching you how to use each component (or feature) while having you build your own Notion workspace so that you can master the Notion app yourself.
1. An introduction to Notion
I’ve got a track record of spotting game-changing productivity tools. Omnifocus in 2008. Evernote in 2010. Airtable in 2015. My obsession with productivity is quite simple. When I’m not organized, I’m anxious. And when I’m anxious, I don’t show up for the most important parts of my life: my family, my health, and my business. Notion finally gave me the pieces to unify all my disparate systems.
Watch Video 1: Introduction (1 minute)
2. Getting set up
Before you get started, make sure you take the following 4 steps:
- Download the app (iOS and Android)
- Download the Desktop App (Mac and Windows)
- Install the Notion Web Clipper
- Grab your share link (to earn referral credits)
Watch Video 2: Getting set up (1 min)
3. Navigating the Sidebar and your Workspace
In this video, you’ll learn about the sidebar, on-page navigation, and manipulating blocks. Your left sidebar will serve as your hub for navigation, acting like a Finder/File Explorer. Your top sidebar will also facilitate navigation with breadcrumbs and search.
Watch Video 3: Navigating your Workspace (2 mins)
4. Understanding Blocks
Everything is a block – text, headers, images, databases, quotes, and other pages. What makes blocks special is that they’re recursive, meaning that a block (i.e. a table can be comprised of other pages) can contain another block.
Here’s a list of Notion’s basic blocks:
- Toggle Lists
- To-do lists
- Embeds (Video, Maps)
Watch Video 4: It’s all about blocks (1 min)
5. Understanding how “Pages” work
Pages are where you aggregate all the blocks listed above and are Notion’s equivalent to files. As we’ll later see, pages are the core building blocks of Tables and Databases.
As you write, you can highlight text to add bold, italics, and pre-formatted code. You will also notice that you can insert a new block by simply typing the “/” command.
Watch video 5: How pages work (2 mins)
6. Notion’s File System
Notion combines a traditional hierarchical file structure with the hyperlinked structure of the web. The cool part is that if you move pages (i.e. files) around, the hyperlinking adjusts automatically. The easiest place to look at your file structure is via the left sidebar (while expanding the toggles). You can also move any block into another page by right-clicking the block and selecting “move to.”
Watch video 6: How files work (2 mins)
7. The Versatility of Pages
Pages are more than just collections of words and headers. They can include all types of embeds, dividers, files, pictures, to-do lists. You can also drag-and-drop any block to move them around or create columns.
Watch video 7: The versatility of pages (3 mins)
8. The Magic of Toggles
Toggles are a simple but new and innovative way to organize your thinking and one of Notion’s most powerful (yet under-appreciated) features. Here are a few ways toggles can improve your thinking and workflow:
- Prioritize/de-prioritize text
- Visualize ideas as you go from draft to final
- Interact with your reader (i.e. FAQs)
Watch video 8: The magic of toggles (4 mins)
9. A Wonderful User Experience
The app is beautifully designed like the iPhone. Little finishes go a long way in inspiring your creativity, boosting shareability, while getting out of your way so that you can create your best work.
Watch video 9: A delightful UX (3 mins)
10. Sharing is caring
Sharing documents is clean and crisp. Your friends will think you’re a secret web designer
Watch video 10: Sharing is caring (2 mins)
11. Introduction to Tables
Tables are like Google Sheets on frigging steroids. They’re tricky to learn, but help you structure, visualize, and organize your data. (Here’s how a Tiger King uses tables.)
Here are some of the data types you can use in tables:
- Check boxes
- Single-select tags
- Multi-select tags
- Formulas (here’s our complete reference)
Watch video 11: Introduction to tables (5 minutes)
If you want to see the power of Notion’s tables in action, check out our GTD video (queued to 15:26):
12. Manipulating Tables with “Views”
As if tables weren’t good enough, you can take the data and present it in different views while applying sorting and filtering. (Here’s an example of how you can use Notion to recreate Evernote using views.)
Watch Video 12: Table views (2 mins)
13. Using the Web Clipper
We made it to the end! Here’s a bonus video on taking any web page and importing its full contents (including all text, images and formatting) into any table of your choice.
You could take this example and create an algorithmic Pocket/Instapaper that surfaces up relevant reading notes.
Watch Video 13: Using the web clipper (6 mins)
If this was your first time learning about Notion, congratulations on making it this far! I hope this guide has fueled your excitement for productivity with Notion.
Next stop on your journey is to learn how to take note taking to a new level with Notion.