Organization of work

The Commotion of Notion

Organizing the Workflows of Writing

Greg Fishbone

Notion is the organizing tool I didn’t know I needed but now can’t live without. The slick web and mobile app interfaces collect notes, tasks, and projects together into a single Swiss Army knife of information. Other tools might do a few things better, but I’ve found nothing else that does so much so easily.

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What makes Notion so easy is its drag-and-drop interface, which allows users to create blocks of content and move them around and across any number of pages. These blocks include paragraphs, headers, to-do lists, URLs, images, embedded files, and more that can be built into a staggering variety of interlinked pages.

Many of the adaptable templates conform to most any writer’s unique workflow. I keep finding new uses for Notion and still haven’t scratched the surface.

Here are a few things I’ve used Notion for:

A Time-Tracker

Notion’s project management features can be used to assign tasks and track the time spent performing them. I can tell at a glance whether I’ve been productive with my time and where I need to shift my efforts. 

For freelance projects, I’ve set up a column of blocks for each day of the week and have a reference I can use to prepare my invoices. I can drag blocks around the time-tracker as my priorities change and alter the existing blocks as new projects arise.

A To-Do List

I’ve set up my to-do list as a database. Several views are available, including a grid with columns that I’ve arranged by urgency from ASAP to Maybe Someday. Each task can be set with a due date, and Notion will send me reminders as the deadlines approach.

A typical task in my ASAP column is titled “Write an Article About Notion.” Clicking the block opens a sub-page that includes the assignment sheet from my editor, some initial notes I’ve made, links to information I need to complete the task, and an embedded Google Docs file where I’m typing these words right now. 

A Cool Catcher

I found something cool on the internet today, which happens all the time. I like to collect these for future reference. I used to keep dozens of open browser tabs, but now I can use Notion’s Chrome extension to place the bookmarks into my links database with a Ctrl-Shift-K. Notion then allows me to add a note to each link, reminding me why I originally thought it was important, sort it into a category with similar links, and tag it with whatever projects it might best apply to. 

Things can migrate from my cool catcher into my to-do list, project notes, reading list, or any other place they’re needed.

An Expense Tracker

I use Notion to keep a handy list of writing-related expenses, copies of invoices, and monthly budget in one place that’s quick to update. When the pile of blocks is too much to handle, I can embed an Excel or Google Sheets version to hand off to my accountant during tax season. 

A Business Planner

Many people I know maintain a business plan for their writing. I use a format called the business model canvas, which creates a one-page visual dashboard. The interactive version I made on Notion uses toggle lists to keep additional details in a more compact form and links to subpages for a deeper dive into costs, revenue, stakeholders, services, reader outreach, and other areas.

As a side note, I use color coding and lots of emojis for visual appeal. Every page on Notion can have its own distinct header design and an icon that appears in the menus and tabs. The design is flexible but always looks clean and user-friendly, including the optional dark mode.

A Playlist Wrangler

I like to make book soundtracks with different types of music and different moods to play while I’m writing different types of scenes. Although these lists and songs may exist in a number of different places, Notion works well with multimedia content and can help sort and collect a variety of links and embeds into a single place.

A Resource Directory

Artists and authors are advised to view themselves as brands and to present an intentional and consistent image. For the sake of version control and consistency, I maintain a branding directory in Notion that includes current and historical versions of my biography in a variety of lengths, a headshot, book and series descriptions, cover art, links, etc. 

When I need a specific image or a bit of text, I can quickly and easily grab it. And when I need to update any of these elements of branding, it helps that each one has a list of all the websites and social media profiles where it exists out in the public-facing world.

A Social Media Planner 

I keep a list of my most commonly used hashtags on a Notion page, divided by book and social media platform. This makes the tags available and editable from either my laptop or phone and ready to paste into any social media post. I could do the same for content templates. Since individual tweets can be stored as Notion blocks, I also maintain a Social Media Hall of Fame and Shame for reference.

For quick access, I’ve marked my social media pages as favorites, which puts them into a separate menu. A widget on my iPhone also lists these favorited pages, making them accessible from my phone’s home screen with a single push of a button.

Getting a Notion

You can snag a free Personal Plan account at http://notion.so and gain access to all the features described in this article. Although it’s called “personal,” the plan will allow you to invite up to five collaborators to share pages privately. You can also make pages available for public view. 

A Personal Pro Plan grants individuals an unlimited number of private collaborators for four dollars a month or as a free upgrade for students and educators. Other benefits of the Personal Pro Plan include access to thirty days of version history and unlimited storage for uploaded files, versus 5Mb for the regular Personal Plan.

Caveats

Notion is a tool to organize your activities and workflow but not a vault for your most valued secrets. Without end-to-end encryption, third parties could possibly access your data. Therefore, I’d advise against using Notion to store passwords or banking information.

And what if the Notion servers ever go offline? To guard against the possible loss of your data, you’ll want to create periodic backups using the export function for the HTML pages and subpages that Notion generates, while data in a Notion database can be saved in CSV format for upload into the spreadsheet of your choice.

One other caveat is that like most tech, Notion has a learning curve. The basics are easy enough to pick up, but you will want to explore many features in order to achieve the greatest possible benefit.

Summing Up

Notion is a free-to-use and cheap-to-upgrade organizational tool and knowledge repository with flexible web and mobile app interfaces. With a small investment of time and effort, the platform can be adapted to the unique needs of just about any author. If you use Notion, consider sharing your own solutions with the rest of the community.

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