This post is sorta kinda super late because I promised it would be up a couple days after my Notion space tour video went up and…nothing. I could go on about how busy and overwhelmed and overworked I have been and that is why the post is so late but I don’t think you’re here to hear about any of that. So instead, I’m going to dive right into the actual post: Telling you the step by step thought process behind my Notion space, how I set it up and providing you with templates for some (most) of my pages as well as answering some of the most asked questions I had when I posted my video.
How…do I explain Notion.so to you? It’s the greatest creation in humanity. As the creator put it simply, it’s a “All-in-one workspace”. But to put it in my own messy words: “It’s your brain in one visual space”. Because that’s literally what I have made mine to be. Every single aspect of my life in one dashboard. You don’t have to do the same though, it’s a highly customizable space that you can make whatever you want out of, you can use it for one aspect of your life or multiple, personal or professional. It’s whatever you want it to be, as you quite literally start with a blank canvas.
(this isn’t sponsored, I promise. I wish.)
Why did I make the switch to Notion?
If you’ve been following me the past couple years, you probably already saw the post or two that I made about my organization methods, how much praise I held for them and how they maximized my time management. But here’s the thing: Scratch all of that, burn it, delete it from your memory, because I have migrated every single other app I was using to Notion, and it’s literally the only thing that I use to keep track of every single aspect of my life (aside from two google spreadsheets I’ll talk about later).
I’ve known about Notion for about a year now, I think, but only made the switch about a month ago for one simple reason: whereas before, I felt on top of everything and in control with my previous organization methods, they didn’t cut it anymore. As I made the transition to full time work at the hospital, night German classes four times a week, my freelance work, as well as reading and managing all my social media platforms, I started feeling stressed and anxious (more than usual, that is), my brain felt scattered and all over the place, so much so that I was struggling to stay on top of anything. And having all these different areas of my life scattered across different apps as well exacerbated that feeling of my brain being a jumbled mess that I couldn’t reign in.
Now I’m not going to say that Notion has suddenly taken away my stress and anxiety, it’s not a miracle worker. Well, not in that way, at least. It is a miracle worker though in the sense in which it makes me feel a lot more centered because I now have this ONE interface I go to to have an overview of my life, what needs to be done, what needs tracking, updating, etc.., it helped with my focus and reigning in my brain and thus give my productivity the jumpstart it needed to get me on track again. If you’re confused as to what I’m talking about and think I’m exaggerating, you can watch the video below. It’s a walk through my notion space. You should especially watch it as I won’t be walking you through my pages here or detailing them. This post is meant to be a complementary “how to” to the video, so enjoy!
Okay so. I was debating how I was gonna organize this and then I thought, what best way to show you how I set up my Notion than to literally take you through my thought process.
What’s the vibe?
I think this is a primordial step that you need to take a minute to think about, because this is an individual set up and this step will guide everything else that you’re going to be doing with your Notion.
This is basically what I want my space to look like, what feelings do I want it to invoke when I look at it? And since I am already extremely anxious and am creating this to help ease that to begin with, then I want to feel calm and appeased when looking at this page. I also want it to be clear, clean, straight forward and easy to navigate. So to achieve that there are multiple elements to take into consideration:
No harsh colors, no colors that are too bright. So I decided to go with pastels. Now, what’s my favorite color as well as a color that’s associated with calm? Blue! So that one was easy to figure out. Then I just wanted a color that went well with it, so I ended up deciding on pink/coral and blue.
I wanted it to look breathy and minimalistic. I didn’t want to have TOO many things in the homepage as that would just make it look a mess and defeat the purpose. Instead, I resorted to making my homepage sort of a gateway to all the parts of my life. I used this method they teach us in medschool where they tell us to look at everything in “drawers” (re: categories). So my homepage = my brain and it’s the big picture. And then everything is tucked into drawers that I pull out on demand, that way I ONLY visualize what I *need* to visualize and can narrow my focus. So I went with a three columns system broken up by a couple pictures. And A PLANT! Because plants and nature are calming.
What needs to be tracked?
And for me, the answer was simple: EVERYTHING. I genuinely need every single aspect of my life laid out in front of me so I can break every single area into smaller manageable pieces that are less overwhelming to tackle. So here are the sections I knew I needed to have on my dashboard:
- My day at a glance – it was necessary for me to have this in front of me the moment I open Notion, as it sets the tone for my day.
- A way to track my week and month overall.
- A personal space – for all my personal life things.
- A study space
- A content creation space – where I can have all my content related things in ONE single place.
- A reading space – even though this intersects with my content a lot of the time, I wanted to isolate it so reading didn’t wholly feel like an obligation, and also because *some* of my reading isn’t content related.
- A writing space – because I’m planning on seriously getting back to it on my break between 6th and 7th year.
So following my three column system and after some tweaking and changing until I was happy with the way things looked, this is what I ended up with:
I ended up adding a couple things once everything was set up:
- two quotes – some of my favorites from one of my favorite books.
- a currently section – because I had an empty space and also because it’s cute.
This was just the first step though, because each one of those is a page of its own, that I painstakingly worked on until I got it exactly the way I wanted it to look. They were pretty easy to set up once I figured out what I wanted, but the figuring out took a little while haha. Again, if you want to see what each and every page looks like…*points at the video above*. I can hear you say though “but Fadwa, you said you’re gonna walk us through the set up, but where is it?” Fret not, it’s coming. That being said, I am not going to take you through how I set up every single one of them for two reasons:
- Once you get the hang of the basics, setting up the pages is similar and doesn’t change much from one to the other. And I suspect, I might have some pages that are useless to you and vice versa, since this is a pretty personal and personalized endeavor.
- I made templates available for all the pages I made that I feel are pretty universal and were requested, which I’ll be linking in the section below
Here is the part that I suspect you’re all here for. And I thought it would be fun to take you through the tips using the questions that I got asked the most when I showed my pages/made my video.
Where do I even get started?
So when you first open Notion it’s VERY intimidating because it’s a blank canvas that you can do whatever you want with but you also don’t exactly know how to us the tools offered to you. The page you get looks a bit similar to this*:
*this is my archive, so not the actual starting page but a blank page nonetheless
The first thing I did is hide the left sidebar because I personally think it’s ugly and literally NEVER use it. If you want to do the same, just go to the upper right corner of the sidebar and click on the arrows that appear there. You can still see it whenever you want, by clicking on the upper left corner of the page
Then to get the little menu on the right, you just click the three dots in the upper right corner and that’s where you start. The options are pretty limited (still sufficient for our purpose in my opinion) but here you get to choose your “starter pack” so: font, text size and page width. These boil down to your personal preferences. I personally went with:
- Mono for font because like I said I like the typewriter style and I felt like it went best with the minimalistic aesthetic I was going for.
- As for “small text” as in text size and page width, this one varies from page to page but I went with both full width and small text for my homepage to maximize space, and most of my pages are also full width. The only exception being those that only have tables in them.
So on this first page you essentially create your homepage, which brings you back to the above section. Get a pen and paper, and follow the same steps I did (if you so choose). Now, have you done that? Good. But that’s all still in theory, right? Now we actually need to set up the page and create our sections, also called blocks.
How do I create a new block?
Much as on the new WordPress block editor, you just click somewhere on the blank page and type / , after which you get a list of options like so:
I was genuinely impressed with all the customization options that are offered. Not only can you insert paragraphs, headings quotes, to-do lists, etc…but you can also toggle your lists (which is a huge plus for my need to keep things clean and minimalistic) but not only that, you can also embed links, insert tweets, audios and playlists, images, PDF files, add calendars, tables, link to your google drive and SO MUCH MORE. I am genuinely set for everything that I need and I haven’t even explored half the options available on the website.
This is the order in which I personally set up my page
You type /heading, or generally /he and select the heading of the size you want. I made the headings for all the categories that I wanted, which I mentioned above and then figured out what went under them. This is a bit of a rough draft, we aren’t looking to make it pretty. Just functional.
Under every single heading I have my pages listed. /page and select “page” NOT “link to page”, as that would require you linking to an existing page whereas we need to create a new one. Leave the pages empty for now, you’ll work on those once you have the homepage set and the basics acquired.
If you’re like me, and want your to-do lists and other things accessible on your homepage:
~ For my currently: I just typed, literally didn’t do anything special there.
~ For to-do lists: /to and select “to do”.
~ If you want to toggle your to-do list: /toggle which will create the thing with the little arrow for which you can either hide or expand the content. You open the toggle and underneath it, you select to-do and there you have your toggled to do lists! That’s what I did with my day at a glance to keep it small and contained.
You should have the bare bone of your Notion dashboard at this point. Now we move on to formatting it.
How do I make columns?
This is something that I struggled with at first too, but it’s actually quite simple. Notion has this thing where when you select something to move, a blue line appears when you put it somewhere you can drop it. So let’s say I want to put Heading 2 on top of Heading 1, here’s what it would look like:
So with that same logic, if you want to put heading 2 to the right of heading 1, you select heading 2 from the six dots you get on the left of it, then carry it to the far right of the page until a tiny vertical line appears and you drop it. And to carry both the heading and what’s underneath it, you select everything you want to move and do the exact same thing, like so:
You can do the same thing to the left of the page as well, and with as many columns as you need. Although I wouldn’t recommend more than four, as things start looking crammed with anything about that. So you can end up with something looking like this:
You can also change the size of each block by dragging that vertical gray line you see between heading 1 and 3. Rinse and repeat the same process with as many block and columns as you need.
How do I make it pretty?
This step is entirely optional. As long as your Notion is functional, that it makes sense to you and you can navigate it easily, you’re good to go. But since this is also a question I get A LOT and it was a step in my process, I thought I’d include it. “My Notion is functional, but how do I make it pretty and visually appealing?” and this boils down to your personal tastes and what is appealing to you. But there are four essential elements (to me) that allowed me to achieve the aesthetic I wanted: Colors, images, quotes, and icons.
I already touched on how to figure out your color scheme so this is on the technical aspect of things, because I discovered that a lot of people don’t know how to both color AND highlight text, most think it’s one or the other, but if you want to do both here’s how:
~ To highlight (left image), click on six dots > color > scroll to “background” > choose whatever color you’d like.
~ To color (right image), select the text > on the small horizontal bar that appears go to color > choose your color in “color”.
These also depend on what you want your notion to look like. You can go with as little or as many as you want, go as minimalist or maximalist as you want, they just have to 1/ fit the overall aesthetic of the page and 2/ be set in a cohesive and a visually pleasing way. This is honestly by feel. I knew I only wanted a couple images to break the blocks of text so I went with one on the left, the other one on the right and since I like the asymmetrical look, I put them at different levels and in different shapes. To add them, click where you want to put your image > /image
Choose quotes that speak to you, motivate you and/or want as a reminder, so whenever you open your notion and look at them, they make you feel some kind of positive emotion, because we want your notion, at least the dashboard, to be a space that HELPS, and invoking negative emotions does the exact opposite of that. Again here, you can put as many as you want, depending on the visual you’re going for. I wouldn’t recommend more than two or three though. If you want to use more, scatter them through your other pages like I did.
These are Page specific. But do you see that little paper like icon on the left of your page title? If you click on it you get the option to replace it with an icon and for this, you have three options:
~ Emoji: This is the option readily available to you. You get your standard emojis to choose from and use as your page icons. These can be really cute and playful.
~ Custom icons: if you have a knack for art and simple drawings, you can make your own icons as PNG files and upload them to notion.
~ Using vector websites: there are a multitude out there but the one I used is Flaticon, which has a huge amount of vector icons in multiple styles so you’re bound to find your happiness.
I started out with emojis but as I was going for a minimalist look, I found the colors to be overwhelming so I went on Flaticon and looked for simple line drawings to use.
Besides the templates that I made and will be linking to later on in the post, Notion itself actually has templates for SO MANY THINGS to get you started, and to get them, it’s simple. In the ugly gray sidebar we hid earlier, you just click on templates and get this.
The one open here is a grade calculator but on the right you can browse all of Notion’s premade templates which are put in different categories for optimal searching.
Now if you want the same exact pages I made, I have set up a Notion page where you can access all the pages I have page available for free use, as well as the instructions on how to obtain and use them. Once you add them to your own Notion you can modify them, add and remove things such as tags and categories to suit your needs. Here’s what you can find in it:
A few resources
Here are a few additional resources that I found helpful in setting up my own Notion dashboard:
- #Notiontwt on twitter. If you go through the hashtag you’ll find hundreds of people sharing their own spaces as well as templates. So you can use that for both aesthetic inspiration and finding templates for things that maybe I didn’t have use for so didn’t cover (e.g: academia)
- @Notiontwt on twitter. Same principle but this is a twitter account that makes threads of resources, templates, etc, so everything is organized and easy to access.
- My friend Skye who’s a co-blogger at The Quiet Pond also made a thread on twitter and a Notion page for resources.
The exception to the rule
The only area where I found Notion somewhat lacking is the spreadsheet department. Notion isn’t made for very detailed databases, spreadsheets and data collection, it doesn’t have the flexibility that Excel and Google Sheets, two softwares MADE for spreadsheets, have. And for that reason, I left my reading spreadsheet (which you can get here or preferably wait for the 2021 version) as well as my platform stats on their respective spreadsheets on google sheets. That being said I migrated my series, ARCs and Ribbies spreadsheets to Notion because those three are pretty simple and easier to track there.
And I think I’ve made the rounds, I have shared everything that I could possibly think of and my brain feels numb because of how much time I spent on this post, so I hope it was helpful!
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That’s it until next time.
If you have any questions, let me know!
Hope you enjoyed, write to you soon.