Notion is intimidating. Users share videos on TikTok that feature gorgeous, intricate workspaces organizing their entire lives. The videos contain everything from color-coded study notes to movie watchlists with animated GIFs. How do people condense their goals, tasks and dreams into one note-taking app? And how do they make it look so damn good?
David Tibbitts, product marketing manager and one of Notion’s earliest employees, calls this feeling “blank canvas syndrome.” “Especially when you’re creating a brand new Notion account, you might have this feeling of, there’s so many things I can do, where do I even start?” he said. Tibbitts gets it — he’s never been a “productivity-hacker-type-person,” he says. But he joined Notion’s support team when it was a 10-person company. After hundreds of customer calls, he can talk Notion to you in his sleep.
“To this day, I absolutely love blowing people’s minds with what’s possible with Notion,” Tibbitts said. In turn, Notion’s expansive influencer community blows him away with the innovations and tips they share on social media.
Tibbitts sat down with Protocol to share some of his favorite Notion hacks and underrated uses.
“Marie Kondo” your sidebar
It’s easy for your Notion sidebar, where all your folders and documents live, to become bloated. Tibbitts recommends regularly clearing out your sidebar to remove things that are no longer relevant. Borrowing from the wise words of organizing consultant Marie Kondo, delete items that no longer “spark joy.”
Tibbitts has experimented a lot during his time at Notion. At first, he tried to create an advanced database with specific rules and systems. “What I found is when I made this really complicated setup, it kind of disincentivized me from using it,” Tibbitts said. “I started to spend more time tinkering with the system than being productive. Sometimes simple is better when it comes to your setup.
Make use of the “Favorites” category. Starring a Notion doc or folder will pin it to the top of your sidebar. This is something Tibbitts “uses and abuses” all the time, he said, for both work and personal organization.
Another way to organize your Notion workspace is to put its widgets on your phone screen. You can pin a few pages from “Favorites,” or just one you use frequently. Tibbitts suggested pinning a Notion page with your vaccine card photo (though you can also just use a photo widget for that).
Use emojis and synced blocks in your notes
Emojis are integral in Notion, as users can differentiate each note or folder with a different emoji. Tibbitts wants Notion users to take advantage of this feature and easily identify different categories. But emojis can be even more powerful while using them in notes, he says.
“One example I’ve started to use a lot more internally is traffic lights,” Tibbitts said. “So asking people to share a status update via red circle, yellow circle, green circle.”
That way, Tibbitts knows the status of certain tasks just by glancing at his team’s meeting notes. He also uses synced blocks to keep people updated across Notion. Synced blocks allow you to copy blocks of content into different notes. If you edit one of the blocks, all of them will update. For example, if Tibbitts copied, pasted and synced a block of tasks elsewhere and then changed the original tasks from red to green circles, that change would be reflected in both blocks.
“This is a great way to make sure that if you're going to include the same content in multiple places, you never have to deal with that situation of like, which one is the real source of truth? Is this one up to date, or is this one up to date?” Tibbitts said.
Notion also allows you to paste and sync Asana tasks, Google Docs, Slack messages and more with link previews.
Build websites or presentations on Notion
Tibbitts says more people should be using Notion to create simple websites. “It really gets me excited when I see folks starting to build their own websites just with public Notion pages,” he said. Examples include portfolios, job postings or wedding websites. To create a website from a Notion page, just click “share” and “share to web.”
The same goes for presentations. It’s very rare, Tibbitts says, for Notion employees to create and share the classic slide deck. Instead, they just screenshare a Notion page and use toggle lists that hide information until they’re ready to share it. “Internally, it saves us quite a lot of time, not feeling like you need to turn everything into a slide deck,” Tibbitts said.
Peruse Notion templates for inspiration
The best antidote to “blank canvas syndrome” is taking a look at the extensive Notion template gallery. “This is an excellent way not only to get a head start on creating a pre-designed format to your pages, but also to get inspired for what is even possible with Notion in the first place,” Tibbitts said.
There are design templates, student templates, meeting notes templates, meal planner templates. Basically, templates for “literally everything,” Tibbitts says. Notion’s Reddit page is another great place to go for tips and inspiration.
Even if a template seems out of the box, someone will find use for it. We all have niche interests or passions we want to organize, whether that be listing out potential outfits or organizing a Dungeons and Dragons campaign. “I can’t tell you the number of Dungeons and Dragons campaigns I’ve seen built in Notion,” Tibbitts said. By all means, keep them coming.