Notion is a profoundly versatile app, capable of organizing, streamlining and supercharging your information and workflows. But with that versatility comes the need to approach Notion methodically and learn its fundamentals. Otherwise, you’ll underutilize the app and likely abandon it out of confusion and frustration.
Since Notion’s earliest days, I’ve developed countless workspaces, collaborated with the Notion team and top experts, and educated millions of users. Along the way, I developed a set of core principles for using Notion. They’re the foundation of my lessons and other resources in Notion A-to-Z and my Bulletproof Method.
Let’s walk through those principles with some helpful examples and actionable takeaways. I group them into three phases of engaging with Notion:
To get the most from Notion, it’s important to consider what it is.
It’s not a project management app or a wiki. Nor is it a notes app or a CRM.
Notion is a platform for building your own app.
By integrating docs, tables, kanban boards and other features of apps you’d typically use disparately, Notion allows you to build a cohesive system for managing any type of information.
With a methodical approach, that system can connect your information to form a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts.
That’s the crux of my Bulletproof methodology, which I’ll cite as an example in many of these principles. It tightly structures all information in master databases, then relates them to leverage Notion’s distinctive superpowers.
Notion’s extraordinary level of capability and versatility comes with a learning curve. Proficient Notion users acquire both technical and tactical skills.
The Bulletproof Tasks system integrates feature from Getting Things Done, The Eisenhower Matrix, PARA, Eat the Frog and other traditional methodologies to create the most powerful task management framework in Notion.
The best way to sharpen those technical and tactical skills en route to advanced Notion proficiency is problem-solving as you construct workspaces from scratch. Or as I like to say: tinkering.
Building from scratch is the only way to master Notion’s fundamentals to a point where you can apply them in original ways. Only then do you have autonomy in your workspace and the foundational skill set for fully leveraging Notion.
That’s why I adamantly discourage “installing” templates and instead encourage you to reference them to inspire your custom systems.
Templates are also closed systems, which undermines Notion’s essential benefit of creating a unified, cohesive system, where all information is connected to form a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts.
The Notion community is handicapped by its template infatuation. Try resist template dependence.
For your initial tinkering, put aside dull features like project management and goal tracking. Have fun with it.
Notion’s cult following is a product of the joy it inspires. Users fall in love with the app as they plan weddings, organize their favorite restaurants, and catalog content from the web.
No matter how you ultimately intend to use Notion, learn it through joyful exercises.
That goes for your collaborators as well. Even if they’ll never create a block on their own, they’ll use your system most effectively with an fundamental understanding of Notion and an appreciation for what makes it special.
You adopt Notion to serve a need. To implement the best solution, you need to articulate that need.
I like to ask, what types of information will you be managing in Notion? Specifically, what entities?
The resulting list is profoundly useful for architecting the workspace. It usually includes a selection of these information types:
When developing your workspace, you aim to balance simplicity and capability. That means only adding features that serve a clear role.
Users often implement features for their novelty rather than their function. Progress bars and timeline layouts look nice, but in most cases, I find them to complicate the system more than they streamline it.
After defining the types information you’ll manage in your workspace, you want to source inspiration from other apps, traditional productivity methodologies and other Notion workspaces.
Notion is a blank slate with immense versatility and many approaches to any need. That leaves many users overwhelmed and without direction. But remember, Notion combines the features and functions of other apps. Therefore, we can look to those apps to inspire our systems in Notion. Many powerful Notion workspaces directly recreate other apps.
No matter your needs for Notion, you’ll find use case-specific apps to inspire your system.
In the productivity space, most apps are built around a longstanding methodology. For architecting your Notion systems, and generally as a productive professional, you’ll find immense benefit in a fundamental understanding of the most common productivity frameworks, including those I mentioned for acquiring tactical skills.
Of course, the workspaces of acclaimed Notion experts offer the most useful inspiration. But I mention them last with an important caveat: Avoid copying them directly or duplicating them to your workspace. In that DIY spirit, only reference them for inspiration.
Here are the top Notion masters with inspiring workspaces:
Some Notion experts have developed Notion-specific methodologies that can be adapted to any need. Of course, that includes my Bulletproof method designed around interrelated master databases, which we’ll discuss further.
This is my favorite principle. It’s uniquely mine and particularly powerful.
Notion empowers you to build a custom app. You’re not writing code, but you still need to think like an app developer. You can do that in four ways:
Behind the scenes, every app you use organizes information in databases. The layouts you see and buttons you click are just visual interfaces for those databases.
That’s precisely how you should architect your workspaces. It’s my #1 rule for using Notion and the crux of my Bulletproof methodology:
Structure all information in related master databases, then create dashboards for accessing it contextually.
This database-centric approach offers countless benefits. To name just a few, it keeps your information:
And by relating master databases, you unleash Notion’s highest and most distinctive competencies.
I use these master databases in nearly every workspace:
I commonly use these as well:
Another illuminating way to view Notion like a developer is to realize that most elements are page “objects”:
Every page has a title, icon and content, among other common attributes. Notion simply renders them in various layouts.
Each page object has a unique ID. And regardless of of whether it’s a block, page or database, it also has a URL, which contains that unique ID:
And for any item, you can simplify its URL with just the workspace domain and page ID.
When you Copy link to block, it simply takes the outer page’s URL and adds a # + the block’s ID.
That means you can open any block as a page by eliminating that URL’s content between the workspace domain and block ID.
The more cohesive your Notion system, the more you’ll leverage the app’s distinctive capabilities. That’s achieved in part through centralization. Specifically, by centralizing within:
Building on the engineering mindset, you want to consolidate your backend master databases as much possible. Any information of the same type, with the same structural features, belongs in the same database.
Consolidated master databases are single sources of truth—one, official place to manage those items. You can reference them throughout your workspace and display them within contextual filters and groups.
We talked about defining the types of information you’ll manage in Notion. Those entities typically correspond with your master databases:
It’s also helpful to contain those master databases, and all other contents of your workspace, within a single container page. Among other benefits, this allows you to preserve backups of the full workspace simply by duplicating that page.
Within my Bulletproof framework, a single “HQ” page contains all contents of the workspace. The master databases are linked as full pages at the bottom. Linked views at the top of the page display immediately relevant items, such as tasks due this week.
You’ll also want to minimize the number of workspaces you create in Notion.
Workspaces are isolated; they’re unable to exchange information without third-party integrations. That undermines the power of Notion to become a cohesive system where the whole is greater than the sum if its parts.
You’ll likely need to be a full member of just two Notion workspaces: one for work and another for personal use. If you’re heavily involved with a nonprofit, school or club, you may join a third, but guest access will suffice for almost every other circumstance.
Remember that Notion’s payment plans correspond with workspaces.
Before building a website, you outline it in site map and compose its content. And for a Notion workspace, it’s important to create a blueprint before developing it.
Google Sheets allows you to stay nimble as you iteratively define the structure of your master databases.
You can create a sheet for each database, then add properties as column headings. And populate each one with a few sample items. Be sure to use real information rather than hypotheticals; it will be far more useful toward determining the properties you’ll need.
The companion post on Notion VIP links to a Google Sheet you can use as a template for blueprinting your workspaces.
In a frictionless Notion workspace, items are labeled intuitively. That’s especially true for databases, database properties and database items.
A database is a collection of items of the same entity type, like tasks or restaurants. Generally, the most intuitive name will be the plural form of that entity.
It might be unexciting or unnatural at times, but overall your consistent use of this syntax will require less thinking as you and your collaborators use your workspace.
Notion is just one piece of a much larger productivity puzzle. Just as you want your information to communicate within Notion, you want Notion to communicate with your broader ecosystem of apps. Integrating Notion with other apps and enabling automations multiply its contribution to your productivity and efficiency.
But many of the options within Notion’s integration gallery do little more than preview content from other apps. And the “automations” feature within Notion databases is prohibitively limited. Zapier is a far superior approach to Notion’s native options for integrating and automating.
If you’re unfamiliar with Zapier, it’s a service for connecting and automating apps. It unleashes a world of new opportunities in Notion and most other apps you use.
Zapier facilitates many of the processes behind Notion A-to-Z.
A Notion workspace is never “complete.” The more you use Notion, the more you’ll learn, and the more you learn, the more you want to tweak and expand your systems.
Meanwhile, Notion is evolving quickly. Features improve and new ones debut.
Embrace the dynamic nature of your Notion workspaces. When you centralize all information in master databases, it remains tightly structured on the backend so you can experiment with new features in linked views.
With these principles for calibrating your mindset, architecting your workspaces and extending Notion, you’ll create systems for managing your information and workflows that are far beyond the capabilities of other apps.