If you know me, even in the slightest, you’re probably aware of just how much I love the note-taking tool Notion, likely because I talk about it far too often. I’ve used it to track each and every day of my life for the past three years; positive events, negative events, exercise, daily goals, caffeine, alcohol, and more. It’s all there. At this point, Notion really is like my second brain.
But for as much as I love the tool and those talented folks behind it, admittedly, one of the trickiest things about it is how difficult it can be to, well, get started. When I first signed up, it seemed easy. “Oh, you can have pages within pages? That makes sense!”, but it wasn’t long before I began to see several setups from others online and realized just how different any one person’s Notion space can look and function. What seemed so open and free at first very quickly felt a little too open and free, and well, somewhat daunting.
My hope in writing and sharing this post is to show how I chose to set my workspace up, the thinking and tinkering behind it all, and to help anyone get started on creating a space that feels like a tiny, familiar digital garden or home. 🌻
Already using Notion? I’d love to see how you’ve chosen to create your space! 👋 Say hi!
Just like many areas within our physical lives, our digital lives can quickly become cluttered, too. About once a year, I like to take a few nights to evaluate what I use Notion for and tidy it all up. If you haven’t picked up on it already, I’m a bit of a nerd. I’ll usually start by creating an empty page, which I’ll set as my new “Home” page, and then will begin to think about the areas that are most important to me. Given what I know about Notion, I'll try to think about what sorts of things I'd like to use this tool for the most.
Whether just doing a bit of organizing or starting for the first time, it can be helpful to begin to think about and bucket the areas in your life that you’d like to include in Notion. Perhaps for you, Notion will be, or already is, a way to jot down todos, save bookmarks, or store journal entries. Maybe it’s a tool that allows you to create an organized space for all of those projects, floating freely inside of your head. Whatever the reason might be, having a rough idea of what you’d like to use Notion for most will make the process of getting started feel much easier!
Inside of my own Notion workspace, I’ve chosen to focus on these four main areas:
1. Daily logs and journaling
3. Learning and growth, dubbed "The Learning Library"
The ability to have pages within pages inside of Notion means that you can create your own structure, go as deep as you want, and create these vast digital hallways, bridges, and alleys. It’s really pretty fun to think about and plan out. Sometimes, I’m convinced that I enjoy the process of creating the scaffolding more than anything else, but hey, that’s ok! Anything to bring a little joy to us all right now.
Beyond being able to structure pages in a seemingly infinite way, one important feature that I often use within my own setup is the ability to link to pages that are inside of Notion, within Notion, which is referred to as a Linked Database. To create one means to essentially, link a table, list, gallery, calendar, or board from one page in Notion to another. That itself is powerful on its own, but its brilliance really begins to shine after realizing that a linked database provides the ability to input data and adjust the view that’s seen on each instance.
If this doesn’t quite make sense just yet, try not to worry! I’m going to dive deep into each one of the main sections that I listed above to show and share how I’m using databases and linked databases to easily add new notes and content.
For nearly all areas of focus, I chose to set up Notion in the form of creating a database, that is, a master table and then created linked databases to allow me to create new content and view what’s inside. If that seems confusing, it’s ok! I promise it will begin to make sense through the examples below.
For each section, I’ll begin with “the why”, explaining why I wanted to track or create a space for that area. Then, I’ll walk through the fields I wanted to add, the database which I built to store the information, and finally, the view(s) I created to actually see the stored information.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that Notion could be a tool, actually, the tool, for me to confidently and continuously store thoughts, worries, and the ups and downs of life. I wanted to create a space that would allow me to have areas of free text entry as well as the ability to use other types fields to indicate things such as whether or not I exercised, consumed alcohol, coffee (always a yes), and assign a daily score, all in a structured way.
After lots of thought and a bit of time spent adding new things and subtracting others, here are the inputs and field types that I decided on for my daily journal entries:
Because I knew that I wanted these to be created on a daily basis, eventually leading to lots of entries, I wanted to create a page structure that would allow me to browse by year, month, and day.
On the page that I dedicated as my Home Page, I created a new page (keyboard shortcut: /page) and titled it “Daily Logs”. I then created another page within, and titled that one “2020”, and finally, one last nested page, which I titled “April”. When that page, "April", was created, instead of making it another blank page, I chose the option to make it a full-page table to contain and store each day's entry.
With this new table created, it was time to think back to the fields I had listed above, which will now map to each column in the table. It’s important to note here that you can always change your database view later. I started with a table, but at any time, I could change this to a gallery, calendar, list, or board, still using the columns, or fields, that were created for the table. That’s yet another thing that makes Notion so great and versatile.
Next to the inputs above, I noted in parentheses the type of field I’d like for each to be. For any column, the Property Type can always be adjusted just by right-clicking on the column header and selecting the desired type. After typing in the column names and adjusting the Property Type for each, the table was ready to go.
With the database created, it was now time to create the first linked database from it. Again, I wanted to do this so that I could create new daily journal entries from another page, my Home Page actually, instead of needing to go into this large table view each time. Copying the link to a database is as simple as copying the URL when on the page. With the URL copied, it can now be pasted anywhere within Notion, and Notion will prompt you to ask if you’d like to create a Linked Database when pasting the URL. Easy!
As I had mentioned, I wanted to create a shortcut to add new entries from my Home Page, so that’s where I chose to paste the link. You’ll notice when you create a Linked Database that Notion will generate a default table for you. Any formatting that you’ve previously done will, unfortunately, have to be applied again, but for these views, that’s ok, as I actually don’t want to use a table at all to view my journal entries. To adjust the “view”, just select “Add View”, which appears next to the title within new Linked Database instance.
Whenever I create a Linked Database, I’ll often choose to add a few filters & sorts, too. In this case, I want to add a sort that allows me to see the entires, from newest to oldest, that way the most recent one would always be at the top. Notion allows you to apply as many sorts or filters as needed, which comes in really handy when dealing with larger groups of data. You’ll find these options within the “More” menu, which is indicated by three dots, next to the “New” button. I now had an instance of my journal for April on my homepage, and adding to it became really easy! To prevent the entries shown from growing too long, I applied a filter that only shows entries if they were within the last week.
When it comes to health, there are a few things I’ve discovered that tracking helps with: workouts, life “metrics”, data for my continuous glucose monitor device, and yearly planning logs. For now, I’ll share both how I track workouts as well as how I approach yearly planning in Notion.
Note: I’m also really beginning to really believe if you can visually include the goals you’re working towards in more areas of your life, you’re more likely to have success with them. My fiancée and I recently purchased a whiteboard to hang in our apartment for this exact reason!
To be honest, workouts look a bit different right now, given the global pandemic crisis that we’re in as I write this. With gyms closed and access to equipment really limited, exercise is no longer as structured or predictable as it once was. I’ve been introducing a lot more cardio (running) into my days, as I’m able to easily distance myself from others and don’t need a gym, but I haven’t begun to track that just yet. So, for now, I’ll share the page that I was using to track each powerlifting activity I had been doing, in case it’s helpful to you once gyms become available again, though I’m still a little uncertain of what that might look like in our new world.
Just as I had done with my Daily Logs, I created a page for both the year and month to keep my workout logs neat and organized. I started with a page named “2020” and then created a page within that had the current month as the title. Within that month’s page, I created a series of tables that held the workouts and goals for each week of the month. I could have split these out into separate pages, but I found that I just preferred to see everything within the same page, to easily compare week-over-week trends.
There are four different exercises that I do: bench, deadlift, military (overhead) press, and squats and I knew that I wanted each exercise to be its own clickable item within the page. With four separate tables created inside of the page, one for each week, I chose to create the following columns in each for data entry:
Tracking the date of the workout was obvious, but I also wanted to track both the location for where the workout occurred (either at our apartment’s gym or at 24 Hour Fitness) and my overall feeling for the workout. Was I feeling fatigued, tired, neutral, OK, or excellent?
For my sets, admittedly, this was the first time I had used functions within tables, but I’d love to learn how and where to use them more often if you have suggestions! The reason that I used a function here is that each set is always based off of a percentage either from your last or your estimated 1 rep maximum. The percentage changes on a weekly basis, so using a function made it easy for me to quickly change the values. The function looked like prop("1RM") * .85, where the result was 85% of the 1 rep max. Simple, but useful!
Using Notion’s ability to adjust the table view once again, I switched the view from its default Table View to a new Gallery View. This allowed me to really easily see and click on each “card” for the day’s workout.
It might sound odd, again I’m a nerd, but for whatever reason, I enjoy seeing day counts for different areas in my life. How many days have I been alive? How many days until our upcoming wedding? How long have we lived in California? How many days have I been a type 1 diabetic for? I just think it’s really interesting to see days instead of months or years sometimes. For example, through doing this, I learned that I’m coming up on my 10,000th day alive soon. That’s exciting!
Just as I did with the various tables for tracking workouts, I created a new table for these different areas. For this table, the columns were:
The Event Date column is where I set the date for when the event had or will occur. For example, our wedding is set for October 8, 2020, so for the row which contained our wedding, I entered that date. I needed to include the Now column to create a point of reference for Days Elapsed to compare to. For each row inside of the Now column, I set it to be the function, now(), which simply returns the current date. Finally, for the Days Elapsed column, I used Notion's dateBetween() function where the two values that I had it take were Event Date and Now.
Here’s what that function looked like: dateBetween(prop("Event Date"), prop("Now"), "days"). Entering in this function now displays the number of days between today's date and when the event took or will take place. Cool, right? Again, simple but helpful!
Admittedly, this is a really simple page, but I wanted to write and share this section just in case the areas that I’ve curated from others might be helpful to you, too. Each year, I’ll create a new page titled “[Year] Planning” and inside, I’ll include two pages to help guide me in thinking about the year ahead.
I’ll break the first page up into three sections, and honestly, I just use bullet points to keep it simple and easy to work with. Those three sections I’ll make are:
It’s within my second page where I do both a look back on the previous year and a look ahead to the next, upcoming year. In looking back, I like to focus on each one of these categories and jot down notes about what resonated most:
I wanted to create an area inside of Notion for me to easily save and then be able to later reference any helpful resources or articles that I come across that regard either learning, career, or general, well, growth. The Learning Library is in many ways, a bookmark library, but it’s also a place to add notes, too! For me, the idea here was to create a single Notion database, or a little library, where I could save an endless stream of articles. I’d then be able to tag them, and whenever I might need to look back on something or reference a particular topic, I’d be able to easily find any and all relevant articles.
To get this area of Notion started, I first created a page that I titled “Learning Library”, where I wanted to store both the database and all of the different views for finding saved links. After that top-level page was created, I then made a new page, set it to be a full-page table, and titled it “Learning Database”. It’s within this table where I planned to add every new resource I came across.
It might be easy to tell that I really enjoy creating single pages to make it really easy to quickly add new information, all able to be sorted and organized later. One of my goals with my 2020 reorganization plan really was to make it super easy to save new items, instead of having to hunt around and drill deep into different pages.
Within the table, I chose to create the following columns:
Okay, now for the fun part of this section! With the database created, I now wanted to use the Linked Database feature again to create multiple instances of that original table and use filters to only show links relevant to the category. Back in the “Learning Library” table, I created a new page for each one of those tags that I had created. For example, I made a page called “Design”, and within that page, I copied and pasted the URL from the original table, which made a Linked Database and then applied a filter to only show saved items which had the tag “Design” applied. If there was a point where I wanted to reference all resources that I had saved relevant to design, this method made it really easy to just click into a page and see everything at once!
I’m incredibly thankful that my job at Figma allows for me to meet and connect with so many wonderful, talented designers and individuals and I wanted to create a way that would allow me to keep in touch with them. Honestly, I owe so much to so many people. If it weren’t for the dozens and dozens of coffee meetings with those talented designers and humans, who really were and are so far out of my league agreeing to meet and share their wisdom, I’m entirely certain I wouldn’t be where I’m at today.
I wanted to create a space to record who I’ve had the ability to meet as a way to keep track of any advice or guidance they’ve given me and also as a way to always have their contact info to follow-up after with a thank you.
This area’s a little bit different, as I only use and reference the full-page table that I made here. I chose to call this page, or database, “People” and within it, I made six different columns:
So, that’s a quick tour of how I use Notion! I really hope you found a quick tour of how I set up my space to be useful for me helpful for you. If you’re just starting out with Notion, or maybe you’ve been into it for a while, reach out! I’d love to hear from you! I’m always wanting to meet more people who are as interested in this stuff as I am. 🤓
Stay safe, be kind to yourself, and even better to each other. 💛