One of the hardest things to do these days if you are a student, researcher, scientist, etc, is to keep track of your notes in an effective way where they don't just get lost never to be read again. And the main reason is because there are so many different apps that you can use for this. You will start to use one, but then at some point you encounter someone using something else, and your mind can only reel at the amazing things that you can do with that other technology, and inevitably you will switch over.
A few popular options are:
- Google Sheets
- Microsoft Word
- Digital writing pads
- Pen and paper
More recently, I was informed about Notion, an all-in one platform for pretty much keeping track of any kind of data that you are likely to encounter in your day to day life. And if you've never heard of them, that's probably because they are relatively new to the note-taking scene, so keep reading to see why they rank so high in my book.
Notion Labs Inc is a startup based in San Francisco and was founded in 2016. Two of the main investors are Josh Kopelman, an American entrepreneur and venture capitalist, and Ram Shriram, a founding board member and one of the first investors in Google.
In June 2018, an official app for Android was released and in July 2019, the company raised a $10M Series A.
That puts Notion in the relatively young category for a startup. From a feature perspective, however, Notion can definitely put the pressure on some of the larger players in the game. And much of that has to do with its overall simplicity in design as well as its impressive number of features. You can even tell from looking at their branding. Black and white caricatures taking notes. Sounds about right.
So let's dive in further to see what Notion has to offer in terms of features.
The editor itself is very clean and straightfoward. There's very little in the way of distractions, which is where most note-taking apps lack in as they pile on tools and menus throughout the page. Most menu items in Notion are hidden from view until you hover over them, giving you this more 'focus' feel to the whole thing. Plus, dark mode.
You pretty much never have to leave your keyboard, which is so subtle a feature, but noticeable once you begin using another note-taking app such as OneNote or Google Sheets.
Shortcuts - This is by far, my favorite feature so far, and I'm a programmer who isn't easily impressed, so that says alot. By typing the '/' key, Notion will present you with a list of options to choose from for the type of content that you can add to your note page. Everything from straightforward plain text to headers, to do lists, bulleted lists and even other pages.
You can navigate most contextual menus with the arrow keys on your keyboard, type enter, and then keep on typing. Again, the subtle art of not having to jump to your mouse ability is noticeable once you shift to a different application.
CRM - So far, there hasn't been a 'type' of content that Notion has missed out on. For you data savvy programmers out there, Notion also offers a lightweight CRM build right into any page that can be created with the click of a button.
Adding a database is as simple as selecting the right shortcut menu item and hitting the enter key again. You are then presented with a default table and view that you can customize to your own needs. There are plenty of property fields to choose from, the kind that you would find in any database system, such as text, numbers, dates, etc.
The table itself is ready to be sorted and searched out of the box.
Once your database is up and running, you are able to change its view from a table-style perspective to a calendar-view in which CRM items are shown on a calendar based layout. For me personally, this has been a fantastic feature as I can get a birds eye view of my scheduled posts for the month.
Something that you see less often these days is web applications converted to native apps on Windows or iOS. So it was a pleasant surprise to see that Notion can run offline on either Windows or iOS and then sync your data once you get back online. Notion is also available on Android as of 2018 giving it essentially a reach on every major platform.
It isn't without a few hiccups however.
There were a few instances in which my offline notes seemed to vanish, only to come back once a full sync was completed. This lead me to essentially duplicate my notes more than a few times, until I realized the issue. This is something that is to expected from pretty much all software, and so it isn't a huge deal for me. In time as Notion.so grows its brand, so will the bug fixes.
It does take a bit of time to get familiar with how everything works in the application. There are so many templates and features that initially you question whether a table would be better than a list would be better than a database. Everything has a use in its own time, and the more I use the application the more that I find that it sort of molds to my own needs. That I am the one creating the best organization method for my own work, and that Notion is simply the medium.
The pricing model
Notion has various tiers for pricing, including a free tier, similar to other applications in this category. It takes a different approach with the free tier however, in that you are allotted 1000 blocks of data without charge. What are blocks? Essentially, any type of content that you type, whether it be a list item, a paragraph, or an image is considered a block.
Notion estimates that 1000 blocks is roughly the equivalent to writing a third of Moby Dick, which I'll assume is a fair amount. So far I am about 20% in to my block-usage after the first week, but I'll assume much of that was me just setting up my work environment. At this rate, I'm looking to hit my quota in the next month or two, which is perfectly fine. That should be more than enough time to determine whether Notion is a worthy investment or not to jump on the personal tier.
And with their 4$ a month unlimited block model, it is still an overall great price point for what you are getting. And that's odd for me to say, because I am a programmer. The first thing that I normally think when I see a new application with a price is "I can build this". And many a time, I make an attempt to do so. This time around however, I folded. Notion has features that I'm still scratching my head at and wondering at the logic that can make this magic happen. Kudos Notion. Kudos. Aside from building out robust software in my day to day, I am also a fan of using robust software as well.
Don't just take my word for it
The best way to know if it's for you, is to just try it out. If you use that link, you will get $10 credit towards the upgraded plan, just in case you do in fact end up enjoying the platform and signing up. Note that I am not affiliated in any way with Notion. I just really really like the software. I am still using it day to day and getting more comfortable with the lay of the land and finding new ways to categorize things, which frankly, I never knew how to categorize before.
If anything changes, I will definitely write about it in the near future. In the meantime, happy note taking and feel free to comment down below about the best note taking apps that you currently use yourself.
Walter Guevara is a software engineer, startup founder and currently teaches programming for a coding bootcamp. He is currently building things that don't yet exist.
New articles published each week. Sign up for my newsletter and stay up to date.