In this post, I’ll show you how to use our favorite Notion app for effective note-taking.
Note-taking is a service for your future self.
You take notes in order to stumble over them again at the right time in the future.
If you are like most people you might believe that you will remember everything that you have read. In reality, the majority of humans forget almost every piece of knowledge again after a short time.
This is the reason why we are often surprised when reading our old notes. They look like something written by a different person, and in some way, this is also true: Your past self is as different from your present self, as your future self will be different from your present self.
Notes also help to clarify your thoughts. As Sönke Ahrens put it: “We tend to think we understand what we read — until we try to rewrite it in our own words.”
Writing is thinking. When you write about a subject, you will immediately notice your logical loopholes. You can only be sure that you have understood a topic if you can explain it in your own words.
How to take notes best?
Today, besides pen & paper, you can choose between a myriad of digital apps for note-taking: Onenote, Obsidian, Roam Research, Evernote or Notion
In this post, I will look at Notion’s capabilities as a note-taking app.
Why is Notion good for note-taking?
Notion is great for note-taking because of its versatility: The app offers an easy-to-use editor, is highly customizable, and allows effortless sharing with other users.
Writing in Notion works similarly to writing in Google Docs or MS Word. You can make your text more readable with headings (h1,h2,h3) and bullet points or numbered lists. Plus, you can also display parts of text in bold or italics. Moreover, Notion supports three different fonts.
Blocks are the smallest part of Notion. Blocks can be plain text, but also images or files. They give users the opportunity to build pages according to their needs.
How to use Notion for note taking
The easiest way is to just create a new Notion page and start writing down or copying the information you want to capture in a block. However, this is probably not the best approach to keeping your notes organized.
If you need to take plenty of notes and want to organize them for the future, I recommend using a database for the collection of notes.
How to use databases for note-taking in Notion
Combining databases with pages is the main invention of Notion. Databases in Notion are collections of pages. Every database item is its own editable page.
Therefore, it goes without saying that you should use a database for keeping your notes organized. This can easily be done by assigning labels to your notes. Simply use a “Select” property and create different names for each category you need. This way you can later easily filter and sort your notes according to topics.
A more advanced option for tagging is the use of a related database. Create a second database where each item serves as a category and relate each note with one of those entries.
How to Share Notes in Notion
Select Share in the top right menu. Now add the name or email address of a person you want to share the page with.
Alternatively, you can also toggle on the option Share with web. When you are doing this, every person with a link to this page can access it.
How to keep your notes organized in Notion
There are several rules for note-taking you should follow to keep your notes organized in Notion or any other app.
- Keep your notes atomic. This means that every page should just cover one specific topic. If you need to take note of a second topic, create a second page. If two topics are related I would also recommend creating a hyperlink between them (Read more about the benefits of links in the section about Zettelkasten).
- Rephrase the notes in your own words. Merely copying words into Notion will not build long-lasting knowledge. Instead, as said in the introduction it always pays off to paraphrase your notes in your own word. This also makes sure that you really understand the subject. Why? Because when you are writing about a topic, you are forcing yourself to think deeply about it. Of course, you can capture quotes and copy them into Notion first. But make sure to review your notes regularly and add your own summary.
- Don’t use folders, but tags. Folders act as artificial barriers to your notes. If you put something into a folder, it will be shielded from every other connection in the future. Tags, on the other hand, are much more flexible. For example, you can use several tags per note, which makes sense since most notes are relevant to different categories. You can even add more tags to your note later without destroying the old tagging structure.
Building a simple Notion note taking template
- Create a database and call it Notes.
- Create a last edited time property.
- Create a status property and create 3 options: Active, Archived & Unprocessed. The second one includes notes you don’t need anymore, and the third notes you have taken but which require more editing and formatting.
- Create a new database called Categories
- Relate the two databases and link each note with an entry of the Categories database.
- Voila, you have created a simple note-taking dashboard!
Building a Zettelkasten in Notion
Normally, note-taking happens in a linear way. This is problematic because we tend to never look back at our older notes. Thus, the knowledge we have stored in the past is locked in folders instead of being connected with new and fresh knowledge.
The slip box (also known as a Zettelkasten) addresses this issue by building a web of knowledge.
It is a decentralized approach to organizing notes: Besides writing down notes on analog or digital flashcards, this method emphasizes creating hyperlinks between related flashcards
This way, you are slowly building a knowledge web. With time the information compounds, which will help you to get new insights and ideas.
This method works so well because creativity is about finding unexpected connections.
Connecting old and new knowledge also helps you repeat your old notes. This way the Zettelkasten acts as a spaced-repetition tool.
If you are interested in using a Zettelkasten inside of Notion, check out my Zettelkasten Template (-25% with this link).