Protocol | Workplace

Meet the productivity app influencers

Within the realm of productivity influencing, there is a somewhat surprising sect: Creators who center their content around a specific productivity app.

Headshots of the productivity app influencers

People are making content and building courses based off of their favorite productivity apps.

Photos: Courtesy

This is the creators' internet. The rest of us are just living in it. We're accustomed to the scores of comedy TikTokers, beauty YouTubers and lifestyle Instagram influencers gracing our feeds. A significant portion of these creators are productivity gurus, advising their followers on how they organize their lives.

Within the realm of productivity influencing, there's a surprising sect: Creators who center their content around a specific productivity app. They're a powerful part of these apps' ecosystems, drawing users to the platform and offering helpful tips and tricks. Notion in particular has a huge influencer family, with #notion gaining millions of views on TikTok.

The productivity app influencers Protocol spoke to are not getting paid on an ongoing basis by the apps they promote. They're independently building careers and followings off of them.

Frances Odera Matthews (Notion)

Frances Odera Matthews, based in York in the U.K., previously worked across a wide array of industries and roles: ecommerce, hospitality, project management, communications. The Notion consultant found her way to her current job during the boredom of early pandemic. "I've definitely been the person that's always organized, but at the same time, I'm very creative," Matthews said. "Notion allows me to use both parts of myself."

She started using Notion through her operations job at a user experience agency, tasked with building a workspace for her team. As she dove deeper into the world of Notion, she started to wonder, "What if people paid me for this Notion thing?" She signed up for Fiverr, a marketplace platform for freelancers, and found that "apparently, a lot of people wanted to pay me for this Notion thing."

In June 2021, she quit her previous job and devoted herself to her business, The Notion Bar, full-time. She makes money from her templates, consultations, workshops and talks. Her templates don't focus solely on work. Matthews also dabbles in templates for pop culture and personal life. Her travel bucket-list template is hugely popular, for example. Matthews said she's "struck a nerve with the nontraditional tech crowd." Her clientele is full of women, nonbinary people, people of color and young people — demographics Matthews didn't see as much when she was starting out on Notion.

"There weren't a lot of people that I could properly relate to," Matthews said. "I'm a 25-year-old Black woman, I love pop culture, I'm not super productivity-obsessed."

Matthews mainly reaches her audience on Twitter, where she offers thoughts on Notion and gathers inspiration for new templates. She also helps publish The Notionette, a digital zine with contributions from "cool Notion babes from around the world."

Matthews likes to think of Notion as a "possibility tool" rather than a "productivity tool" because of the many forms Notion can take. She's constantly looking for other cool and weird ways to use the platform, and to help others embrace it too. Her favorite Notion tip: Take advantage of Notion's "Favorites" button so you can easily find the pages you use the most.

Kat Norton (Microsoft Excel)

Kat Norton, also known as Miss Excel, is one of a (most likely) very small number of people who can have a dance party to Microsoft Excel tips. The 28-year-old posts Excel hacks while dancing, using popular TikTok sounds to boot. Her almost 991,000 combined TikTok and Instagram followers eat it up. A recent video highlighting Excel's autofit feature to "The Assignment" by Tay Money garnered 5 million views.

"I've just been having fun with it," Norton said. "I get these intuitive hits of what videos will go viral, and I run to my computer and make it, and then next thing you know, there's another 50,000 or 100,000 people watching. So many more people I've been able to help."

Norton previously worked at a management consulting firm, Protiviti, for four and a half years. She taught Excel within the company, though that wasn't her primary job. It was just something she'd always loved to do. A professor in her MBA program validated her love of Excel, announcing that those who played The Sims as a kid tend to like Excel. Both involve simulations and building models. Norton, a Sims and Excel fanatic, appreciates the analytic power of Excel.

"I love looking at data," Norton said. "When you put in a ton of data, and are like, 'I don't understand what it means,' you can punch a few buttons and it just tells a story."

Norton, like Matthews, took her passion for Excel to the next level during the early era of the pandemic. A vision of the Excel screen with the left-right function paired with Drake's "Toosie Slide" popped into her head. By her fourth video, she was getting 100,000 views. Companies and individuals started reaching out expressing interest in a course, so she built one and started selling it in November 2020. She became Miss Excel full-time in February 2021 and now lives as a "digital nomad," running her business from different places around the country.

Her income mainly comes from passive course sales, but she also does corporate training and spreadsheet creation. The TikTok and Instagram videos help with marketing, but mostly she wants the short videos to help people. Norton's go-to tip is to choose an Excel look-up function and "make it your best friend." The three look-up functions — VLOOKUP, XLOOKUP and INDEX MATCH — are formulas that help you look up certain values and return corresponding values in a different row or array. The look-up functions are a massive time-saver when you're working with large tables of data.

Lindsey Holmes (Evernote)

Lindsey Holmes discovered Evernote shortly after launching her social media marketing firm, Usable Tech Co, back in 2007. The Newark, New Jersey resident didn't have the money to pay for fancy CRM or task management tools, so she turned to Evernote and found that the platform's flexibility fit her every need.

That started her love affair with Evernote. "My girlfriends used to say, 'We've got to get you out. Evernote is your boo,'" Holmes joked. "I'm always prefacing to people, 'I promise you, I don't even know if they're public, I don't have any stock.' People just don't know what Evernote, but also what productivity, can do for a person."

In 2014, she created an Evernote consulting business under her agency, helping businesses develop workflows. She's also written six books on Evernote, and occasionally offers courses for individuals. She wants to help people tailor Evernote to their pain points and become their hub. Holmes believes productivity is for all kinds of people, not just those who are techy or productivity-obsessed. One of her major accomplishments: Getting her mom to use Evernote. "It should be tailored for your use case, and meet you wherever you are," she said.

"[Customers] say things like, 'This is changing my life,'" Holmes said. "It sounds dorky, but I really know it and I hear it. A single mother needs 10 more minutes, period."

Holmes' go-to Evernote tip is to master the features within Evernote before diving into its integrations with other apps. She said sometimes even seasoned people don't understand "tags," which are keywords you can add to notes.

August Bradley (Notion)

August Bradley, based in Los Angeles, worked in business consulting before dedicating himself to his Notion YouTube channel. In his work helping businesses become more efficient, he came across Notion and was amazed by its capabilities. In the months leading up to March 2020, he shifted his focus from companies to working with business owners and individuals. "What really made those companies succeed was improving the performance systems of the founders," Bradley said.

He launched the Notion part of his YouTube channel in March 2020, sharing his Notion tricks and philosophies. The channel took off — he now has over 42,000 subscribers. He quickly realized the desire for more formalized, structured Notion courses. He continues to put free content on YouTube, but also offers a course called "Notion Life Design" with the help of a small team.

"It's all about how to build a high-performance life around Notion," Bradley said. "It's about identifying what matters most to you in life, choosing the things you're actually going to spend time on."

The feedback from his subscribers and viewers has been overwhelmingly positive, Bradley said. He frequently receives emails from people telling them his designs have improved their lives. "YouTube is famous for being a pretty rough place in terms of the comments," Bradley said. "The community that has grown up around this is so positive. It's incredibly touching to me."

His favorite aspect of Notion is that every data point in a database is a page in itself, with the full functionality of Notion.

Louise Henry (Asana)

Louise Henry, based near Panama City, Panama, runs a general productivity and tech tips YouTube channel, but has a special place in her heart for Asana, a work management platform. Before Asana, she used a physical planner. When she transferred to the platform, she became obsessed. She's an Asana Certified Pro and runs an online Asana course, which is the most popular of her courses.

Henry often pulls the curtain back and shows followers how she uses Asana on her YouTube channel. In her "Everything I Organize in Asana" video, she explains how Asana can be used for personal organization as well as work. She keeps track of the tasks she needs to complete for her dog Charlie, as well as grocery lists and laundry schedules.

Henry's YouTube channel is a part of her larger business, which works with other online business owners to help them succeed. Her biggest focus is helping people streamline their work, and she feels this is simplest on Asana. She strives to have the kind of impact "where it's totally changing people's life and their output and helping them get closer to the life and business they want to build," Henry said.

Like others in this article, Henry's clients have reached out to her about how her course has had life-changing results. It's why she keeps doing what she does. Her favorite tip: Utilize the "my task" calendar view, making sure to assign tasks to yourself and add due dates.

Photos: Frances Odera Matthews courtesy of herself; Louise Henry by Nathan Johnson; August Bradley courtesy of himself; Kat Norton by Karina Zamora; Lindsey Holmes courtesy of herself.

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