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Exploring Notion

I’m always looking for a better tool to use. I’ve used darn near every notebook, to-do list, calendar, memo, sticky-note, reminder, task management app there is. Many of these apps are useful, but seldom are they exactly what I want. One of the areas of frustration has been in the “notebook” category. I have gobs of files and notes that I’d love to have in a customizable notebook that I can access from anywhere. I’ve tried a lot of tools for this purpose, and I’ve never been 100% happy. Lately, I’ve been playing with Notion.

Notion has a pretty impressive feature set and can do a lot. It is not a simple notebook. You have to invest some time understanding how it works and how you can customize things to your liking. It’s flexibility is both it’s power and it’s weakness, since many people will find it too much. That said, Notion rewards those who build out their custom workspace to meet their needs. And to help in the process, numerous templates are provided and user-created ones can be imported.

Notion is really a web app. There are native-ish apps for Mac and iOS, but they are really just wrappers for the web app. Notion works best in the browser, and being a web app you can access it on Linux machines too, which is handy. Given it’s breadth, Notion has the potential to replace a number of apps:

  • A calendar/project manager
  • A Kanban board app
  • A free-form database
  • A journal app
  • A to-do/task app
  • A notebook

But for now, I want to focus on another function that Notion is surprisingly adept at: a bookmark manager. I have used apps like Pinboard in the past to store bookmarks I want to keep handy or read later. I have also used apps like Instapaper to store reference material or articles I want to get to some day.

Notion provides a web clipper for Chrome (I’d like broader browser support…it’s coming!) and a share plugin for iOS and Android. The share plugin on iOS is the one I tend to use. From Safari, you can click the universal iOS share button and select Notion. The url is then saved to the Database or Page of your choice in your Notion account. In addition, Notion places the text of the page in the text of the note it creates for your link. Consequently, you have an archive of the content as well as a link to it, right in the spot you designate. I created a “Read Later” database, based on a provided template, and now my saved links go there.

It’s fast too. Faster than Instapaper in my limited experience. I also like the fact that I can file the link where I want to – in theory I could toss work-related links in one database and personal links in another. Or I could structure my links any way I wanted to using Notion’s flexible organizational tools.

Notion has promise. I don’t think it can solve all my productivity challenges, but I do think it offers a lot of possibilities for those willing to invest in it.