It’s time for some earth-shattering news – I have gone back to using Notion as my primary note-taking app.
Yeah, I know so what!
I started this move over a month ago but haven’t said anything about it. I knew that with my wandering ways when it comes to note-taking apps, there would be other apps to tempt me, and they did.
However, I have stuck with Notion with only minor dalliances with others. Most remarkably for the last three weeks I have only used other apps when I had to, not because I was fed up with Notion!
Over three weeks with the same primary note-taking app – do I even you know who you are Harold? The world is shaking, or is that laughing?
Okay Harold, why Notion this time?
Nothing else has really worked the way that I want. Many of the other note-taking apps I like are still in the Alpha or Beta testing stage, don’t have the features I want, or simply didn’t work the way I do. In other words, they all were missing what I consider essential features to make their product my daily driver without a lot of compromises or workarounds.
What I need is a note-taking app that I can use intuitively. You can read about the 25 or so apps I have tried here, and the sad thing I have added several more since that post.
Features I want in a note-taking app are:
- Apps for IOS, macOS, iPadOS, and a Web app I can access from a Windows or other computers if necessary
- Integrated daily note with a calendar function for past and future dates accessibility. Integrating with iCal is ideal, Google calendar if I have to, integration with a todo app or one within the app are not necessary
- The ability for me to create a homepage or dashboard that allows me to choose what is on it and what I link to, in and out of the app.
- Block editor, intuitive (easy) backlinking, synched blocks, and preferably block linking
- Useable tables, not markdown workarounds
- Web clipper or ability to use the Apple share menu
- No outside plugins for what I consider basic functionality (yeah, I know, but that is how I feel).
- Great to Fantastic search capabilities
- Dark mode
- Easily import from other apps
- Easily export of my data (it is my data) in a format that I can import into other apps
- Offline capability, I don’t want the lack of Internet stopping my ability to access my data i.e. local storage in a readable format if the app doesn’t work offline.
- A graph would be great, but isn’t a real need
- Reasonable pricing for an individual user
Pretty much the same as most users…well except for a few things.
Notion does most things to MY satisfaction…well, once I figured out that I didn’t have to create massive databases for it to do what I want.
As much as I would prefer something more than a cache of data, I will live with how Notion does their offline capability for the time being. This offline capability question and how Notion continues to handle privacy issues in the future are things that could cause me look at other similar apps once they mature. Especially if they import my Notion data without too many hiccups.
It is also a reason to not get overly dependent upon databases within Notion. It limits the ease of exportability of data to other apps, if I do decide to go in a different direction.
You can tell from the above statement that I am not all-in with Notion yet.
However, the more I use Notion and become familiar with it’s idiosyncrasies the harder it will be for me to move to another app. Right now Notion has a tremendous head-start AND advantage as my go-to note-taking app compared to its competitors.
The question is and will be, does Notion do enough to keep me here? I am hoping that it continues to improve and becomes the app I want to continue using.
My Notion History
I started using Notion back in January 2022 and loved it – well initially I loved it. Notion was doing all the things that I wanted from a note-taking app. It was easy to set up, despite my convoluted thought process, but it was also very easy to fall into the tweak this, add that, tweak that to make it even better trap. Even so, I could have survived that.
Until I discovered templates.
Not just the simple templates, but the more sophisticated ones from Thomas Frank, August Bradley, Red Gregory, and others. Of course, the first time around I attempted to meld all those disparate productivity system templates into something that worked for me. That wonderful idea of attempting to build the plane while learning to fly it, when it is already in the air. Which of course didn’t work. Plus, I was in over my head regarding how to use Notion’s databases, broken formulas, and links. Yep, I ended up with a miserable mess.
So, I complained that Notion was too busy and difficult and moved back to Evernote.
I came back a couple of months later and did a lot with Thomas Frank’s templates. While I really liked and still like how he put together the databases I was attempting to use. I got to messing around too much with them and screwed things up royally – again. My fault, but I blamed it on Notion and left for greener pastures, errr graph-based note-taking apps, and the luxury of no folders.
The next time I attempted to use Notion, I attempted to use August Bradley’s template and productivity system. Great system and template, but it was way more than what I needed, and quickly bogged down into the weeds of making the system work and not so much time on getting things done. Then I broke it and couldn’t repair the damage I caused while attempting to make it work for me. Again, I blamed the complexity of Notion and moved on.
In other words, I was taking how other people used Notion and attempting to make their methods and templates into something that would work for me.
That they didn’t work is an understatement.
I know now that my past negative experiences weren’t Notion’s fault, it was more Harold being Harold and messing with things with about half the knowledge set I needed to make them work correctly.
Over the several times, I have attempted to use Notion, I have learned that I can screw up a database with the best of them. For my rudimentary skillset and mindset, the best way to use Notion is to focus on the K.I.S.S. principle as much as possible.
One database to rule them all is definitely not in my best interests. Instead, I need to use databases specific to a particular process or interest and link those databases to my dashboard or if needed to a different database. This is not as efficient as having one database for everything, but I want to be more modular in my approach so that if I screw something up in one of the databases (and I will), it doesn’t take down my whole Notion setup.
I have a feeling that I am not the only one who has left Notion because they have done the same things. This is something that I believe is a weakness in Notion. Most of us, instead of learning to use Notion properly, use other people’s templates, screw them up and then blame Notion for the problems we caused through our own ignorance.
Yeah, the wonderful templates are nice, but if you don’t have the background knowledge of how they work, you will break them, get frustrated when attempting to fix what you broke, and then go find some other app that doesn’t break as easily for you.
At least that has been my experience.
Through my past experiences with Notion, I learned the hard way that I really don’t need Notion to be a life operating system or a second brain. I just need Notion to work for what I do, what I want to keep track of, and do it the way that I do things.
First of all, do not import files from other note-taking apps until I needed or wanted the data. It takes too much time and effort to import years of notes and then add them properly to the system you are now using or creating.
I started out with just two databases (templates) (Ali Abdaal’s Resonance Calendar and Red Gregory’s colorful calendar templates) both templates I was familiar with and relatively simple. I modified the Resonance Calendar to be my inbox, and the calendar app I left alone other than to create a daily note template. Then I created a folder-based system that primarily relied on either text pages or tables.
It took about a week, to focus on re-learning Notion’s features, and figuring out how I wanted to use Notion this time. It came down to using Notion for daily notes (where I manually track my todo’s), interests, projects, quick links, an archive area, and the ability to quickly find information on whatever device I was using. No, I haven’t created a wonderful acronym to describe my setup.
I wasn’t worried about what any productivity system or so-called guru claimed I needed. I went with what I needed.
Once all that was figured out, I added what I call a homepage, in Notion most call it a dashboard. I knew from the start that I wanted to set up a dashboard that allowed me to find stuff quickly. I have to admit that Notion’s ability to set this up easily, was a deciding factor in coming back to it versus other apps.
I have been tweaking the homepage as needed and I know that it is not a static page, but one that changes as my needs change. I also linked my Resonance Inbox database with multiple views via tags, so I could quickly find resources in my interest areas. I guess you could call my Resonance Inbox, my Resource database.
Recently, I added a basic content management system to help me restart writing on my blog, which has been languishing most of this year. I have a pretty good idea of how I want it set up and will take my time to make the changes to make it something I can use.
For me, the secret to using Notion is knowing that what you start with is probably not the same process or tools you will be doing or using in 3-6 months. You will become more sophisticated in how you use Notion over time and naturally incorporate what you learn into your process.
The problem is that most of us want something we can use now and not have to do a lot of setup. With Notion, you must learn how to use it and then build a system around how you do things, versus adapting to how others use Notion. Then as you need to or are ready for it, add in the more advanced features that Notion has. At least that is how I see it, others seem to use others’ pre-made templates successfully — or do they?
Notion’s flexibility, templates, and many feature sets are both its strength and for many its weakness.
I am not saying that Notion is the best or greatest note-taking app. However, of all the ones that I have used (more than 25), Notion is the one that I keep coming back to. The most interesting part is that each time I come back to using it, I use it quite differently than I did the last time.
It will be interesting to see what happens this time.
Now, let’s see how do I tweak…Harold – STOP!
…and so the story continues.
Disclaimer: I do not have any relationship with Notion, personally pay for their pro plan and no one has editorial or other claims to this post. This post is my honest thoughts on an app that I am presently using.