Notion: my new life management tool

Two weeks ago, I made the momentous decision to attempt to import my Evernote history into Notion (my referral link here, if you’re inclined). I thought I’d dip a toe into a different tool for information management.

I haven’t looked back.

Notion is similar to Evernote in that it’s tool for organizing textual information, although both go well beyond that. They both work great as a notes database. The big difference to me is that I’m finding Notion hits a much broader set of use cases.

You can very much use Notion like Evernote. Notion’s concept of a page maps to Evernote’s notes, and its concept of a database maps pretty closely to Evernote’s notebooks. When I imported everything from Evernote, this is exactly how the content is translated over.

But Notion goes way beyond this, and I want to touch on the biggest gamechangers for me.

Composition

I find Notion’s block-based editing to be incredibly intuitive and versatile, compared to Evernote’s rich text editing. Your entire page is an outline, kind of like a bulleted list. But at each level, you choose how to mark your position in the outline, if at all. In other words, the only difference between a bulleted list and a regular text block is whether a bullet is visible. This probably won’t make much sense until you try it, but the key takeaway is that it makes arranging and rearranging content really intuitive.

The other major selling point for me is collaboration. The same sort of multi-user editing and inline commenting that make Google Docs and Dropbox Paper essential tools for collaboration are built right into Notion. For me, this is huge, because my writing process usually starts with unstructured notes, which may or may not become proper documents. In the past, I’ve done my brainstorming in Evernote and my editing in Docs. Now it all just happens in Notion.

Organization

Another early finding when adopting Notion is that it’s much more intuitive to organize all my stuff. It’s possible to make pages that act as landing pages for entire areas of content. These landing pages can present all of the other content in a huge variety of ways, with the full power of Notion’s editing capabilities. Some sections of my workspace are organized like wikis, and others are organized like notebooks. I’ve found it easy to evolve these structures over time to find the most joyful and effective ways to organize some area of content.

Time

An important part of any information management system is how it deals with time, both from the standpoints of letting the user plan for the future and handling the evolution of information.

When it comes to planning, Notion supports a few different patterns of representing tasks. On the simplest level, you can turn a text block into a to-do, and you can add an inline reminder. Then there are more sophisticated approaches, Trello-like kanban boards. The latter has a bigger learning curve, but it’s now my go-to approach. This is because it let’s me model tasks and workflows in much more flexible ways, allowing me to add layers like tagging, due dates, prioritization, and progress.

I’m now using Notion in place of everything I used Wunderlist for in the past. The only downside is that I haven’t been able to import all of my existing Wunderlist content in the same way as Evernote, and so my transition is incomplete.

Downsides?

I’ve presented a pretty rosy picture of Notion here, and obviously, I’m really enjoying it. But it’s not perfect.

  • Complexity While Notion is extremely intuitive to use on a basic level, it’s definitely not the simplest tool as you get more advanced. Until I formed a mental model for how I think Notion is working under the hood, I’d run into things I thought I could do that just wouldn’t work. That trial and error is how my mental model has come together, along with watching tutorial videos. But even now that I think I’ve internalized the model, there are still surprises.
  • Lock-in I worry a lot that the more I invest in Notion’s unique approach to editing and organization, it may be very painful to migrate to something else in the future. Maybe another product emerges in the future. Maybe the company falters and goes out of business. You can export your text content, but I’m guessing most of the structure that links all of the content would be lost.
  • Immaturity Notion fits into the category of extremely general-purpose tools. For this kind of product, the amount of features you could add is limitless. Notion is based around a well chosen set of basic concepts, which leads to a great deal of flexibility, even without a whole lot of additional features. But there are a lot of capabilities that don’t yet exist, which one might find in more mature products. I’ve been maintaining a wishlist (Notion new user thoughts) as I encounter some of these pain points.

I’m betting that these issues get addressed over time. I hope I’m right, because I’m really blown away by what they’ve accomplished so far.

P.S. I authored this post in Notion. I copy-and-pasted it into WordPress’s block-based editor and it just worked.

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