Review: Notion

close up shot of a paper

I’ve always been a bit of a gadget nerd – I was the first of my friends to get a data-enabled mobile phone, I got the first generation iPad and I’ve had all sorts of nerdy pieces of tech over the years. This “early adopter” bent also extends to online platforms, particularly as they might help me in my work. I’ve got a few posts lined up to go over some of the ones that have been most useful to me, but I wanted to start with one that I found recently that I think is an absolute stand-out- Notion.

I found out about it reading an article about how Microsoft was bringing out a competing product, and I have to say I was a bit miffed that I hadn’t heard of the thing that Microsoft was going to copy (while at the same time making it a little bit worse, as is their way). So I went to investigate. At the time I was struggling with how to present our organisation’s Hybrid Working Guide that I had been developing, but didn’t seem to work as a linear Word document. And the the solution fell straight into my lap.

It’s a bit difficult to describe Notion – more than a document editor, less than a website builder, but with many similarities to both. The frontpage seems to pitch it in terms of its teamwork and collaboration potential, but I am finding it absolutely vital for personal life admin.

A bit like a lesser WordPress, Notion builds up through pages, which are composed of blocks. A block can be anything from text, to an image, to an embedded PDF, to a database. When you create a database, it can be presented as a table, a Kanban Board, a calendar, a gallery…

Here are just some of the ways I am using it.

As you may know if you read this blog regularly, my husband and I are planning an intercontinental move early next year. Notion is helping me in various ways:

  • for the first shipment of things we just sent, each box we packed is listed with a number, who packed it, its contents, whether it is fragile or not and the approximate value of the contents.
  • all the things we have to do between now and leaving are on a Kanban-style board for planning
  • our travel plan is in a page with a schedule that contains all the reference numbers, flight numbers, luggage allowances and hotel bookings. Maps are embedded showing where our hotel is. We can add in web clips as we find things we want to do in Bangkok. All our travel documents are uploaded into another database so we can refer to them easily.

As I search for crochet patterns on the internet, I can easily clip the ones I find that I like and add them to a database that is displayed as a gallery. I can add craft, yarn type, categorise by the type of item, all to help find the right pattern in the future.

All our pets’ veterinary information is in another table. Because Notion makes it really easy to share information, through a subdomain that you customise, I can share that information with everyone that will have care of them as we move them to Europe.

There are so many different ways to use Notion and lots of sites with experts walking you through the nuances so you can wring every ounce of productivity out of it. I started with this one from Radreads.

There are things I would like the service to do better. For organisations to really take it on, I think it needs to be more customisable, for example with fonts and colours. The Board view needs a bit more work before it is a true competitor to Trello (which I will cover another week). For example, cards could show labels or dates, and the whole thing could make better use of colour (and stronger colours, the current ones are very weedy).

But these are minor gripes. Overall it’s a fantastic service. And at $4 a month for the personal plan (and some good onboarding deals around), it’s a very affordable way to turbo-charge your productivity.

Published by Antonia

I'm a British citizen and European Union offical, who lives in Brussels again after 6 years in London and 8 in Melbourne. I went to the London School of Economics and University of Melbourne. In 2008 I took part in the Eisenhower Fellowship Multination Programme, the subject of 3 of my blogs. You can find me on Twitter as @antoniamochan or @antoniam

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