A Beginner’s Guide to Getting Started with Notion
Demystifying the “complicated” notion around Notion
Productivity has become one of the go-to metrics for assessing one’s performance. Be it for work or anything that one needs to accomplish, it is a common sight to see people identifying their progress with ‘how productive they have been’ over the course of a period. As a result, we are seeing a rise in content that suggests helping people in becoming more productive, with a variety of apps and services topping the list of must-have utilities that make organizing and functioning through the day an efficient and hassle-free experience.
One such app that has gained a lot of traction online and is gaining new users swiftly all this time is Notion. Founded in 2016 by Notion Labs Inc, Notion is an app that provides you a one-stop solution to a wide range of utilities such as databases, kanban boards, wikis, reminders, and calendars. All of these utilities help you create your own system for note-taking, data, and project management, along with collaboration, among other things.
If you are looking for an app that helps you do any of those things, or if you are just getting started with Notion, here’s our detailed guide to help you work effectively with Notion and leverage its feature set to the fullest.
What is Notion?
Notion is an all-in-one workspace for all your note-taking, task management, and project/data/knowledge management needs. It offers a unified workspace to help you collaborate with other people and work on wikis, databases, kanban boards, and tasks. You can even integrate some of the popular tools online, such as Google Drive, Figma, GitHub, Slack, CodePen, etc., on Notion to further extend the use-case possibilities.
Besides its use in a professional setting, the app also finds application in a variety of scenarios for personal use as well journaling, habit tracking, or even investment tracking. What’s more, it offers bookmarking functionality, which can help you better organize your read-later items on the web. If you thought Notion’s scope of use ends here, you are in for a surprise. You see, in addition to doing all the things we’ve just mentioned, you can also use Notion to create websites (or web pages).
Notion is available on most of the popular platforms like Android, iOS, macOS, Windows, and the web.
Before you can get started with using Notion, there are a few things you need to understand to have a better idea of the different components and features offered on the app. The app’s interface can be divided into two elements: sidebar (left-hand menu) and editor.
1. Navigating the sidebar
Depending on which platform you are using Notion on, the way you access the sidebar can be different. But, generally speaking, you should be able to access it with a swipe or a couple of clicks. The sidebar is divided into different sections. Here’s a breakdown of the same.
2. Control panel
The first thing you see on Notion’s sidebar is the control panel section, which holds the key for a bunch of basic operations. Right on top, you see your workspace identifier. You can click on it to toggle between multiple workspaces. While all the content related to a workspace resides below (in the workspace section), at times when you need to find something in a workspace, you can simply click on the Quick Find feature to find the content you want in a quick and easy manner.
If you plan to use Notion for collaboration, the quickest way to access all the notifications (for amendments, task assignments, and similar changes) in your workspace is the All Updates section, which holds mentions as well as notifications for the pages you follow. Furthermore, to ensure you are all caught up, the app also gives you the option to enable push notifications.
Finally, we have the Settings that hold settings to all the different functionalities on Notion. From here, you can do things like integrate other apps, add members to workspaces, change billing information, and use advanced security settings (with the Enterprise plan). Moreover, you can also enable the dark mode if you prefer working with dark interfaces.
3. Notion Workspace
Workspace is where all your pages (and their related activities) reside. It is like a virtual desktop that constitutes all the essential components to help you achieve whatever it is that you want to with Notion. For instance, you can have two different workspaces (one for professional and one for personal use) with completely isolated pages and entries. If you have multiple people working on a project, a workspace can help you keep track of the progress and make it easier for other members of the team to collaborate in a much better way. All your workspaces are located on the sidebar (left-hand) menu in Notion, and depending on your requirements, you can add new or delete existing workspaces.
4. Page (and Block)
A block is an essential item in a Notion page, or you can call it the building block of a page. Page, on the other hand, is where all your entries live. You can have multiple pages — nested within one-another — or can even add hyperlinks to other pages. In the case of a personal workspace, the pages you create are always private unless you explicitly share them, whereas, with collaborative workspaces, you need to make pages private yourself every time you create one. Furthermore, if you are collaborating with an individual in a workspace, you can also share pages with them to give them access to the same. Similarly, there are nested pages, which are basically pages within pages. They appear when you expand a page (from the sidebar) or while viewing it in the editor. However, a thing to note here is that shared and private pages appear in the sidebar once you have marked pages in your workspaces as such.
All your entries on a page appear as blocks, and you can add them by typing in forward-slash and selecting a block entity from the list. Some of the basic blocks you can add include images, audio, video, code, table, calendar, and files. Furthermore, you also get the option to customize the blocks by changing the font color or the background, which makes it easier to differentiate different blocks on a page.
Pages in Notion reside in the sidebar (left-hand menu). You can organize these pages in a sequence that suits your preference. Moreover, you can also delete, duplicate, or move them by clicking on the three dots next to the page name. To add a more personalized touch, Notion also gives you the option to add custom icons to your pages.
5. Notion Templates
Although creating a page from scratch gives you more control over its contents and enables you to get the blocks working and laid-out just how you want them to be, if you are just getting started, you might be overwhelmed with the variety of options available on the app. So, to avoid confusion and make it easier for new users to use Notion effortlessly, the app includes a wide range of templates for a diverse set of use-case scenarios for both professional as well as personal use.
If you are new to Notion, it is very likely that you have a slew of different documents and other relevant data across the different apps (you have been using so far). And it is for this reason that Notion includes the import feature. So be it Word documents, Excel sheets, text, markdown, or any other documents/files, you can import them on to Notion to have a centralized location for all your data. So, depending on what platform you want to import data of/from, you can find specific instructions for them here.
Lastly, there is trash. It is located right at the bottom of the sidebar, and as its name suggests, trash holds all the pages you have deleted from your workspaces. From trash, you can permanently delete the pages you no longer require. Or, you can restore the pages you might have accidentally deleted, which get automatically sent to the workspace they are part of.
How to use the Notion editor?
As already mentioned, Notion is like a puzzle with a variety of blocks to choose from to help you create the puzzle you want. When you begin initially, the app greets you to a blank canvas that you can design and work on as you like.
Now that you have an understanding of how to navigate your way through the interface and access all the features and functionalities, it is time to get started with the editor. The editor is what gives rise to all your content on a page in a workspace. It is on the right side of the sidebar and is the first thing you are greeted to when you open Notion for the first time, with a how to get started page.
Since everything on Notion is a page, comprising all the different elements (called blocks), you spend most of your time on the editor, which is why it is rudimentary to understand its basics. If you are just beginning, you can use the templates (from the sidebar) to create the page you need, and at the same time, also learn about different blocks along the way.
1. Relying on default Notion templates
As already mentioned, Notion offers a wide collection of templates for different use cases, which you can use to get started right away, with limited knowledge of the know-how. The templates are categorized into nine categories, and you can access them from the sidebar. So, depending on your requirements, you can pick a template from any of these categories. Furthermore, if you want, you can also configure some of the blocks on these pages to suit your needs.
For instance, if you created a workspace for all your engineer colleagues to collaborate with, you can use the Engineering Wiki template under the Engineering templates category to create a wiki, which holds all the relevant information and data related to your project.
Or, to give you another example, you can head to the Personal templates category to build a second brain for yourself that can help you keep track of all the things that you find intriguing and need to take notes of, to remember in the longer run.
2. Creating custom Notion templates
Although Notion servers templates for a bunch of different use-cases, if you want to create pages as per your requirements, with a combination of different blocks to fulfill a specific purpose, you can add create a page comprising of different blocks yourself.
When you click on Add a page, you are presented with a default blank template with shortcuts to add items (or blocks). You can either add blocks using these shortcuts or can completely create a page from scratch. In case you opt for the latter approach, considering you already titled your page, click on an empty space and type forward-slash (/). The editor then presents you with a list of blocks you can add. Use the arrow keys to select a block and hit the enter (or return) key.
Blocks are broadly classified into five different categories:
i. Basic: headings, lists (bulleted, numbered, toggle), text, page, to-do list, quote, divider, link to page, and callout.
ii. Inline: inline equations, mention a person, mention a page, emoji, and date or reminder.
iii. Database: table, board, list, calendar, and timeline.
iv. Media: image, video, audio, code, file, and web bookmark.
v. Advanced: table of contents, block equation, breadcrumb, and template button.
Furthermore, to personalize the experience and make the blocks more discernible (in case you have a huge collection of blocks on a page), you can also change the text color or the background color of the blocks. In addition to that, Notion also has a secondary menu, accessible on the editor window, which gives you access to a few more features and styling options. To access it, click on the three (horizontal) dot menu on the top-right of the editor and choose an action from the list.
Tip: One of the best ways to keep your workspace organized is to create a dashboard that presents you with all the contents of the workspace. It is a neat little trick to stay up to date on what’s on your agenda and add entries to different pages quickly. To create a dashboard, create a page, and add links to all the other pages in the workspace. If you have nested pages, they continue to be linked to their main pages, and you can navigate your way through them with just a few clicks.
Notion has a multi-tiered subscription model that includes: personal (free), personal pro, team, and enterprise. So, depending on your use-case, you can pick any of these subscriptions. If you are a single user and wish to use Notion for personal use, the personal (or free) subscription has everything you can ask for with the app. And should, therefore, suffice to most of your requirements. For, while there were a few limitations on the free plan initially, the company recently got away with the same. And as a result, the personal subscription now brings feature parity for the marquee features across all plans, with the rest of the subscription plans offering access to a few extra features and functionalities like admin tools, API, advanced security, SAML SSO, among a few others.