In this article, I present to you Notion’s latest game-changer:
A few months ago, I spoke with a startup founder friend of mine who planned to use Notion as a project management tool for his team. I tried to convince him of Notion, but in the end, he opted for an alternative since, at that time, Notion had limited automation capabilities within databases.
Although there were already possibilities to automate almost all relevant processes using tools like Zapier or Make, for the founder, this detour was too complex and time-consuming.
Fortunately, Notion was well aware of this problem.
After all, it’s the corporate clients who form the foundation of Notion’s revenue. So it was no surprise to me when I learned some months later on Twitter (now X) about a spectacular new update.
An update that makes my favorite tool even more efficient and competitive, and might just persuade my founder friend to choose Notion after all.
Database Automation in Notion
Notion’s database automation feature works on the “if-this-then-that” principle. This means actions are triggered based on specific events or changes in the workspace. Triggers can be additions to pages or changes to properties.
Before you get too excited about this feature, a little caveat:
Automations are only fully available in the paid plans.
However, you can use them if they are part of a template.
If you duplicate a template that includes database automation, you can use them, but you are not able to edit automation. You can only turn them off or on,
When are automations useful?
For instance, to:
- Create default tasks.
- Set automatic start and end dates for tasks.
- Edit pages automatically when certain conditions in a database are met.
I will show you several practical examples in this article, but before we begin, I need to explain how you can access this feature.
How can you access the automation in Notion?
In every Notion database, you now see a lightning bolt icon.
When you click on the lightning bolt, the following message appears:
“Automatically set status, assignees, property values, and more with automations.”
Next, you click on
- +New Automation
With the help of this new feature, you can now add new pages or edit existing ones in databases. Other actions include sending Slack notifications and editing additional properties of the same page that triggered the automation.
In the following I am going to show you some interesting use-cases for automation:
1, Automatically Creating Default Tasks
Until now, it wasn’t possible to automatically create default tasks in Notion, which made efficient task management cumbersome.
But why would you need default tasks in the first place?
For instance, when I write a new blog post, I would need to add the same tasks to my to-do list over and over again: I have to find a topic, research keywords, write the content, proofread the content, etc.
Instead of manually entering these tasks every time, it would be easier if they were automatically created in a database as soon as a corresponding project was started.
I find this automation very exciting because it demonstrates how to use this function in one database and manipulate another database as an action.
But let’s go step by step:
We click on the lightning bolt icon again.
For the trigger, this time we choose: “+ Page added.”
You might not want the default tasks to appear for all projects.
To prevent this, we can further refine the trigger by selecting the category and, for example, choosing a certain status like “Content” in the Category property. This way, the automation is only triggered when you create a content project.
So, we clicked on “Add page”, but instead of the “Project” database, this time we choose the “Task” database.
We name the new page for our first task, for instance, “Find Topic”. We can also edit other properties. I would, for instance, set the status to “Active”. Ideally, I could now also specify a dynamic due date. Unfortunately, as of 01.11.2023, Notion only allows dynamic dates of “Now” and “Today”.
After creating the first default task, we proceed in the same way with all the other tasks, such as researching keywords, writing content, or proofreading content.
From now on, when you create a new content project, you should have the tasks in your task database within a few seconds.
2. Automatic Start and End Dates Creation
In my Freelancer template, I allow users to track their working hours. This allows them to break down how many hours they have worked for a client or on a specific project.
This feature was a bit clunky before, but thanks to the new automation function, manual time entry is no longer necessary.
By the way, you can also use this feature to track how much the actual completion time of a task differs from the planned completion time.
So, to create a automated time tracker in Notion, proceed as follows:
- Click on the lightning bolt symbol.
- Choose +New Automation.
- Name the automation, for example, “Time Tracking”.
- Now add a trigger.
In my case, the trigger is a change in status. When you start working on a task, change the status to “Working”.
So, we select the “Status” property and click on a blue checkmark next to “Working”
Now we’ve completed our trigger.
We still need an action, which we create by clicking on “Add Action.”
We click on “Edit Properties,” choose the “Start Time” property, and set it to “Now”. This way, the time is specified to the minute.
After saving, we should test the automation.
To do this, we create a new task and set its status to “Working.”
Within a few seconds, the “Start Time” property should be filled with the current time.
Conclusion: Database Automations are a Game-Changer
Automations simplify many things and make Notion even more attractive as a project management tool for businesses. The two examples shown here are, of course, just a small glimpse of possible use cases. I will expand this list in the future.
Unfortunately, this feature is mostly limited to users who pay for Notion. As an alternative, you could automate a lot of things in Notion without Database automation by using Notion Buttons.
Users of a free account can, however, duplicate templates with automations and use them in part. Additionally, there are alternative methods for automation using the Notion API and no-code tools like make.com or pipedream.com.
Do you want to learn more about Notion? Check out the Notion Tutorial Page. This is a growing directory of my Notion-related blog posts.