If you’re at all interested in productivity, you’ve probably heard of the Notion app. I’ve gushed about it more than a few times, and I’ve mentioned before that I use it to organize all of my writing. The Notion app is touted as an all-in-one workspace and is a very simple, but very powerful tool. Notion is great for students, writers, and content creators, and it has been completely transformative in how I organize my life and get my work done.
Just in case you weren’t convinced by my repeatedly glowing recommendations, I decided to outline some of the reasons why you might want to give Notion a try. But as with anything, Notion has its drawbacks, and I’ve listed a few of the big ones here.
Before you decide if you want to use Notion, I want you to have a good idea of just what Notion is (and isn’t) capable of.
(And for the record – this is not a sponsored post. I’m just a really big fan!)
10 Reasons Why You Should Use Notion
1. Notion is Free
It’s one of the most powerful productivity tools out there right now, and you can use it right away without paying a penny. Of course, they have a tiered subscription service, because that is the industry standard these days, but even on a free plan you get unlimited blocks and pages.
For context, a page is like a note in Evernote or a document in Google docs – it is your blank workspace, and the blocks are each piece of content that you add to it – each paragraph, image, heading, or table – all of these are individual blocks, and you can have as many blocks on a page as you need.
There are some limitations on file sizes should you choose to upload images and the like to your pages, but I’ve been using the free plan for a few months now, and the limit (so far) has not impeded me. There is also a system set up to help you earn credits so you can give the paid versions a try without spending anything.
2. Notion is an All-in-One Tool
It is truly unbelievable how many different ways Notion can be customized to suit your needs. Besides the obvious (ie. Spreadsheets, Notetaking), users have customized Notion to work as a planner, a journal, a habit tracker, a PowerPoint presentation, a blog, a landing page and so much more.
The tools at your disposal are fairly straightforward: tables, headings, text, checkboxes – but with the clever application of things like linked databases and synced blocks, you can create just about anything you want.
The argument has been made that Notion can do everything, but that means it will never be the best at anything. Whether or not this is true, for users who like to have everything in a single place, Notion might be exactly what you’re looking for.
3. Clean UI
One of the things that appealed to me most about Notion, especially when I was looking at other workspaces, was the amount of white space. Notion looks clean. It is uncluttered. There are no toolbars at the top or bottom, and the sidebar can disappear, leaving you with open space – just you and the cursor, ready for writing (or note-taking)
For years I’ve used things like Evernote and Scrivener, and while I love those tools for other reasons, I’ve found that I work best in a clean and distraction-free space.
One of my favourite features is the ability to create templates for things you repeatedly use. This is especially functional for content creators who frequently need the same sort of material – social media posts, blog posts, keywords, newsletters – things you are constantly having to create to build your brand. You can create a template one time, with everything you need, and every time you make a new page in that database, you can select one of these templates. And you can edit them at any time to better suit your needs.
For example, I have a template for story ideas, blog posts, Instagram posts, and the like. I don’t have to build the same page from scratch every time. I click on the template, and it’s ready.
5. Page Customization
While it might seem fairly basic at first glance, if you’ve seen any of the aesthetic notion boards out there, you’ll see just how powerful the customization can be. You can make as many columns of content as you like, add as much media as you please, and change around the location and sizes of any of these elements at will. You can also lock a page when you are satisfied so you don’t accidentally move something you shouldn’t have.
This is where you can really tailor Notion to suit your needs, creating pages and headings to organize whatever it is you want to organize. You can also include databases, checklists and more!
These are just a few of the more recent dashboards I saw on Twitter. The #notiontwt hashtag is great for inspiration and templates, as people frequently share their setups there.
6. Linked Databases
What makes Notion powerful is the database feature. It operates like a basic spreadsheet, with cells you fill with information in what Notion calls “properties”. For each entry in the database, you can assign certain properties which allow you to organize that table with Notion’s sort and filter functions.
What makes this especially powerful is when you create new instances of that database, each with its own specific filter and sort. From a master database, you can split everything up into tasks, notes, and more. This is how my Notion functions – it all stems from a single master database from which new links and instances are created.
But it doesn’t just end there – you can create properties that link to other databases, or even within the same database, threading together your information. This means when you pull up any page from your table, you can access all other related notes and information. It’s extremely powerful when you are writing and/or researching and so helpful if you are the type to lose track of notes and information, even in a digital space.
While I haven’t dabbled in it much, you can also write formulas, as you would in a normal Excel spreadsheet, so that you can add information into one “cell” or property and the formula will fill related properties accordingly.
This is the part that I think has made Notion so incredibly popular – the ability to share our workspaces and templates. Every Notion page can be shared, and thus anyone can “duplicate” that page to their own workspace and use it themselves – all of the databases, templates and filters intact. A blogger or student can create a detailed and visually appealing dashboard with all of the necessary elements done for you, and from there you can tweak and customize to better suit your needs.
This way, a lot of the work is done for you. It’s also a lot of fun to share your dashboard with others! I listed a bunch on my post detailing how I use notion for writing, but I’ll link a few of my favourites below so you can take a look.
8. Embedding and Integrations
Notion is powerful all on its own but you can also use embeds and integrations – essentially widgets – that further enhance its functionality. Things like automation, forms, and even turning Notion into a blog are done through these various integrations.
Notion is already able to embed a variety of things, like tweets, maps, and pdfs, but with these third-party apps, you can include things like weather, Spotify playlists, and Pomodoro timers to really create an all-in-one experience on your Notion homepage. The website Apption.co has a ton of Notion embeds for you to try and further customize your digital dashboard.
9. Team Collaboration
Even on a free plan, you can have up to five users in the same workspace. For small study groups, content creators, writers and editors, you’re able to share and work within the same space under guest profiles. With guest profiles, you can control what they can see and edit, but guests cannot add new pages. This can also be useful if you are working with clients or have an assistant to delegate tasks to.
If you are a business owner who requires your team to have more access, you can include members but that requires a paid plan.
10. Mobile Functionality
Maybe it speaks to a bigger issue around hustle culture and our obsession with productivity, but at this point, I require any of the apps I use to have a mobile version, ideally with as much functionality as the original. In that regard, Notion delivers.
While a narrow screen means that some elements (tables, calendars) are squished and not as viable, for the most part, the mobile Notion app has all of the functionality of the Web version or desktop app, so you can do all the same work. It’s fast and responsive, and surprisingly easy to use, considering all of the features Notion has under the hood. When the bulk of your workspace is occupied by a single app, the mobile experience must be as seamless a transition as possible.
As a caveat, I use a fairly high-spec phone, so you’re mileage may vary depending on your particular mobile device.
It’s no surprise that I am a big fan of this program. It truly has changed the way I work and the way I organize in a way that I did not expect a single program to be capable of. It’s been a huge relief to me to know I have a system that supports my creative process.
But it’s not perfect. Nothing is, and Notion is no exception. As much as I love Notion, it does have some serious flaws which might ruin your experience, and I thought I’d go through what I think are the worst offenders.
5 Reasons Why You Might Not Want to Use Notion
1. The Learning Curve
When you first open your Notion dashboard, you can start writing immediately, especially if that is what you are using it for, but in order to create those pretty dashboards and databases, you will need to spend a significant portion of time learning the software and setting it up.
This is why templates are so handy, as they do much of the work for you, but it’s still a good idea to learn how to use Notion, if only so you don’t accidentally break your template. Learning how to organize it in a way that suits your needs will take time and no small amount of trial and error.
It can be very intimidating when you factor in embedded content, linked databases, and formulas. You don’t need these to make use of Notion, but they are powerful and lend a lot of functionality to the software – if you want to use Notion to its fullest, you will have to take the time to learn how to use it.
2. No Offline Mode
This is a tough one. As of writing this, Notion is online only. It isn’t stored locally on your computer, and you need an internet connection to access all of your work. This presents a few problems.
Firstly, is that if your internet goes out, you can’t get anything done. Unless you already have the page open on your computer, you are out of luck. You won’t be able to access any tasks or drafts beyond what you might have left up beforehand.
Second, if there is a problem with the Notion servers, you are once again out of luck. Until they get everything up and working again, you won’t have access to anything in your Notion workspace, which can really ruin your work day.
3. The Desktop App May Require Resets
I always prefer to use desktop apps where available, as it makes me far less likely to refresh Instagram or check my emails. The Notion app works just like the web service, with the handy addition that I can’t load up a chrome tab and end up in an internet rabbit hole.
For the last few months I’ve used it and it worked just fine, until one day I pulled it up and nothing would load. The screen was empty, and at first, I suspected it was a connectivity issue. Several tests later, I realized my internet was fine, but Notion still would not load.
Naturally, I took to google and discovered that you may need to occasionally “reset” your Notion app. I use Windows, so this just meant I had to clear the Notion folder in my roaming data.
For some, this might not be a big issue, but it is an extra step, and not something I would expect from an otherwise a clean and hassle-free user experience. I’m also significantly more tech-savvy than most, and this might be a more difficult step for those who aren’t as familiar with the inner workings of their computer.
4. The BackUp Situation
With no local files, you probably want to keep some sort of export of your Notion as a backup if there is data you need to access should your internet, or Notion itself, go down. As a writer, there is nothing more important than keeping backups, and thankfully, Notion allows you to do that.
With some caveats.
The first is that if you want a pdf export that includes all the subpages (and not just the page you are currently working on), you need to be on the enterprise plan. Either that or you can export each page one at a time, but that sounds like a lot of work when you have a lot of pages. Locking it behind a paywall is understandable, but as the enterprise plan is meant for companies, it’s not really financially viable for the average writer or content creator.
Notion does allow you to create backups that include subpages as HTML or markdown, but if you have a bunch of nested pages, you’ll end up with a zip file that only gives you an error message. The reason for this is the file names, which are apparently too long for Windows (thus, the error message). There are some workarounds – 7zip, for instance, will allow you to open it as normal (and if necessary, change file names).
At the end of the day, the backup process you get with Notion is considerably more involved than it is with many of it’s competitors, who offer a far more seamless solution, especially when Notion is touted as an all-in-one tool.
5. Limited Formatting
Visually, you have a limited experience with Notion. You have the same set of ten colours, three fonts, the usual formatting tools (bold, italicize, underline), and that’s about it. Every page can have a single icon and a header image, and you are free to add as many images as you like (or up to 5mb, if you are using the free plan)
If you don’t like the colours and fonts that Notion provides, then you might not enjoy looking at it every day. It can feel particularly limiting when everything else feels so customizable. If you like to have the full breadth of Windows fonts and a colour wheel to choose from, you might find Notion unappealing.
Not a deal-breaker by any means, but a lot of the community is focused on making aesthetic dashboards as an impetus for using the program, and if you don’t think it looks good – you might not use it.
I want to hear from you!
Do you use Notion? How do you use it? Do you agree with what I’ve stated here? If you don’t use Notion, are you interested in giving it a shot? Let me know in the comments!
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