Starting with Notion can often be quite difficult as it has a much steeper learning curve than a lot of other productivity apps. That’s why I’ve created a simple way to get started and create a workspace that is personal and easy to modify as you learn more about Notion’s capabilities.
If you haven’t heard of Notion, it’s a hot, relatively new productivity app that emphasizes personal customization above all else.
Notion’s sleek design, endless customization, and minimalist aesthetic make it one of the most capable, personalized productivity apps around.
However, starting with Notion can often be quite difficult as it has a much steeper learning curve than a lot of other productivity apps.
That’s why I’ve created a simple way to get started and create a workspace that is personal and easy to modify as you learn more about Notion’s capabilities.
*Note: Most of this article is about the structure of this system, however, if you want to simply duplicate my system into your Notion Workspace, I’ll link the template here.
Notion structure and philosophy
One of the hardest parts of creating a workspace in Notion is designing the initial structure of your personal system.
People often start by making multiple different pages and accessing them from the sidebar which might seem intuitive at first.
However, while this approach is the easiest initially, it really doesn’t leave you much room to expand your system in the future.
That’s why I recommend creating your entire system in one page—we’ll call it our “Home Dashboard.”
This approach emphasizes an inward approach to our pages rather than a lateral approach, giving us a way to categorize everything easily and in an organized way.
Now that we have decided to base the whole system from one central page (“Home Dashboard”) we can jump in and get started.
Creating the “Home Dashboard”
Below we can see the layout of the “home dashboard” page which will give you access to everything you need in an instant.
If you’re new to Notion, this might seem a bit overwhelming, however, it’s actually fairly simple in concept.
Essentially, the concept of this simple notion set up is to move inward with your pages by creating “Life Categories” for each aspect of your life. As you can see, I’ve created twelve, but you should decide which categories are right for you and create pages for those.
Next, within these “Life Categories” pages we will create projects associated with each category. And within those pages, we will create sub-projects related to those projects and so forth so that everything is organized and exactly where we would expect it to be.
Below is a diagram that explains the organizational concept in a clear way.
As you can see, the benefit of this structure is that everything is categorized and incredibly easy to find.
However, one problem you might notice is that, although everything is organized nicely, our projects and sub-projects are not very easy to access.
That’s why I’ve created a section called “Current Projects” on the “Home Dashboard” which allows us to link projects we’re currently working on for quick access.
This creates quick access to the projects that are most important to you while still keeping the original organized nicely within the “Life Categories” stack.
I find this philosophy to work well, because it forces us to focus on specific projects that are the most important to us at the moment while still allowing us access to other important projects that might not have a current priority.
Why So Simple?
One problem I find with Notion is actually one of it’s strengths: Notion’s endless potential.
Oftentimes people create systems full of databases, syncing together a web of projects, life categories, and tasks in a complex fashion so that everything is automated and categorized. For example, if you’ve looked at any of August Bradley’s PPV system you’ll know what I mean.
However, I find this method a little counterproductive because it takes away from the simplicity and power that Notion is capable of.
It’s tempting—with the limitless potential of the app—to build these complex systems that theoretically make so much sense, but fail to deliver on the original purpose of the app: improved productivity.
The problem with linking everything together via databases is that it creates a lot of friction towards future customization.
With everything laid out in this simple structure, it’s very easy to create new “Life Categories” pages and move projects from one page to another. It’s also very easy to archive old projects without needing a complicated formula that works tentatively at best.
This might not seem crucial at first, however, it really comes in handy when you start to use your system and realize that an aspect of it seems off.
For instance, say you create a page called “Work” and a separate page called “Finances” as I’ve done within the “Life Categories” section. At first it might seem smart to separate them out, but what if you realize that more of your projects overlap than you’d like? Well, it’s really simple, just create one page, maybe call it “Work” and move your “Finances” projects into that one.
Of course, this is just an example, but you get the point.
The simpler things are, the simpler they are. Keep it simple.
“Home Dashboard” Features
Now, you might have noticed some other things going on with our “Home Dashboard” besides the “Life Categories” and “Current Projects” sections.
The first one is a “Quick Links” section at the top of the page that contains three side by side pages, all nested in “Home Dashboard.”
The first is a simple page called “Brain Dump” which is a blank page used to dump any loose thoughts or ideas into. Because it’s situated as the very first page it makes it incredibly easy to access whether on desktop or mobile.
The purpose of this page is basically to jot down ideas quickly to implement later and then delete the text from the “Brain Dump” page.
The next page is a “Weekly Planner” which is basically just a simple page with all of the days of the week listed out in order to manually visualize the coming week’s most important tasks.
We won’t use this as our main task manager, but rather a simple way to make sure we get the most important things done each week. Ideally, we’d use another task manager like Todoist, Teuxdeux, Microsoft To do, or any other of the hardy task managers out there.
Although some people do manage their tasks in Notion, I find that it’s still not entirely reliable and it also takes a lot more effort to enter tasks.
The final page in the “Quick Links” section is the “Calendar” page. While I think it’s still best (at this point, at least) to use something like Google Calendar for events, having a central calendar in Notion can be useful for managing projects and subprojects.
Oftentimes you might create databases within your individual projects to track more specific outcomes and having a central database to create a relation to can be very useful. It allows you to see all of your project dates in one place and can be very helpful when planning your workload and time.
Aside from that, all of the other “Home Dashboard” features should be pretty self-evident.
The “Important Tasks” section gives us a place to put the most important things we need to get done as a quick reminder.
The “Daily Wisdom” section gives us a place to showcase our favorite quotes in order to kick our brain out of a funk on the daily.
And of course, the sidebar widgets are obvious and should be customized according to your preferences. (I used indify.co to create these)
An alternate version of the sidebar can even be to replace the widgets with an embedded todo list app of your choice, making it incredibly easy to manage your tasks from your “Home Dashboard.”
Ultimately, what Notion is best suited for is organization and conceptual project management and this is why a simple system is ideal for most people.
Leave the complicated databases for individual projects or sub-projects rather than bogging down your whole system by linking everything together.
Don’t try to force Notion to be everything, even though it almost seems like it could be. Let it breathe and do what it does best.
Use Notion as a way to organize your most important data and information, things that you need to access at a quick glance and let other apps bear the burden of work for their specific use cases.
I think you’ll find that using Notion this way will really open up a lot of possibilities and freedom to focus on what really matters. Getting more done with less stress.