April 12, 2019

Our Notions Of The Future

Our Notions Of The Future

Baeond's team is totally remote, so we rely heavily on productivity tools to keep in touch and on the same page. This week, we're showcasing our tool of choice for maintaining a central source of truth: Notion. We only discovered Notion in early 2018 and it has come a long way even in that short span of time. We use it for just about everything that isn't a to-the-minute communication, which we use Discord for.

Notion is one of those tools that's so hard to imagine life without once you get to know it. It has supercharged our workflows, and completely changed how I organize my productivity. Notion is open-ended and highly flexible; that can sometimes be overwhelming, so Notion just launched a handy Template gallery where they'll be showing some of the coolest Notion setups. You can even duplicate the ones you like directly to your workspace!

I'm going to share with you my favorite ways to use Notion to make your remote teams sing in harmony and how Notion can make you more agile in the never ending quest to build & ship!

We use Notion to effectively replace so many tools: Asana/Trello, Evernote/Keep, and Google Docs. Writing in Notion is a dream. Keyboard shortcuts for days, full screen, no distractions, and markdown* all come together to make a for a light enough experience for it to feel comfortable dumping a SFD into and polishing that same draft all the way up to publication. If the content is for the Blog, once the draft is ready in Notion, I move it over to Ghost, which we're using a fully hosted instance of. You can see what this post looked like in Notion here!

*  = markdown style

One of the great things about Notion is that it really lends itself to the elasticity of the creative process. It does an interesting disappearing dance from time to time; when you're writing, it's a great distraction-free environment. The other side of the coin is that from an organizational perspective, infinite Page nesting can be a double-edged sword. Notion's hyper flexibility can create some controlled chaos, but thankfully, that same flexibility means this is easily mitigated.

For example, no matter where I start an idea, it can always graduate to a more appropriate place where it can live in a central source of truth. We use the Dumps database as a more signal-oriented channel for feedback. When someone just needs feedback for themselves, Discord is ok, but when mission critical feedback needs to be collected from all relevant parties, we dump it in the Dumps database! Whether it's art, video, branding, or written word, we collaborate against it here, then it graduates to the appropriate area where it lives. As quickly as things might get messy, it's just as fast to clean them up.

Notion doesn't skimp on the power features either. Notion treats databases as first-class citizens, so no matter how you need to use your data, there's usually a way to do it. For example, say you're coming from Trello and you're used to the structure of a kanban board. No problem! Just make a new database and select Cards as the view. You can pick any of the database's properties to sort by, and you can add and remove properties to your heart's content.

Granted, Notion's databases aren't nearly as feature rich as Excel's, Gsuite's, Airtable or Coda's, but they do have relational features and Notion has been rolling out updates like rollups making them even more robust over time. We designed a set of cards with a set of decks that were subsets of those cards, so we used tags and linked databases in Notion to make the decklists from a central source of truth for the card database. We use our Baeond Task Track with a relational field to our Baeond Roadmap so that we can keep a close eye on all tasks while also keeping them connected to the greater Milestone (Initiative or Epic if you're thinking Agile) the task is working toward.

Notion is great at personal or professional homepages, too. Our Notion 'intranet' is the springboard for all the different use cases we apply Notion to internally. The best part is that each user can make a view for themselves that fits their needs first and foremost. As a Founder, I really want to track what's done and what's stuck, so I can keep a view of that database on my personal Notion homepage, separate from what the entire team sees.

Notion can even help you extend your website. We only had enough budget & scope for a 1-pager site for now, so we used Notion's public pages to link out to! The links on the site all lead to the same interconnected Wiki that we were even able to brand with Baeond's art, logo, and signature sockets.

Protips

There are also a few other small things worth mentioning that I love about Notion:

  • You can @ mention almost anything you want. Dates, People, Pages, you name it! I wish the semantic stuff were a bit better, though. You can't do things like last week and 2 Thursdays from now.
  • Every single piece of content in Notion is a block, so each and every one has a comment area hanging off it! Bonus: Highlight an area of text and click comment to leave a comment on to respond to specific text like in gdocs.
  • Guess what. Pages have comment sections, too. Right up top! I find it's best to use it as a discussion thread you frequently resolve. It takes getting used to not having a dedicated updates area and statuses from Asana, but once you get used to resolving discussions because you can find them again in the updates if you need them, it really frees up a lot of cognitive load.
  • Don't sleep on Favorites. I use Favorites as a quick access for the things I'm working on at any given moment. If I'm not working on it right now, it shouldn't be in there.

Notion really does feel like just that: a collection of my Notions. As I mentioned, because it is definitely a flexible tool that leans creative, it can get a little hectic and cluttered. (Fine for me, my desk is a mess.) If that's not for you, you might prefer more rigidity in platforms like Asana, Airtable, et al. I will admit, I miss things like the stop light toggles for project status in Asana. In fact, there are a few other things...

Bummers

  • I wish there were more data visualization options. I really want to make the Playproof dashboard richer, but I need a data chip type of a block that just pulls whatever data from whatever DB I want to show it in whatever way I want. For example, I want the dash to show how many tasks had their Status changed to Completed in X Database over the last 30 days. I want to make burndown charts from this data.
  • In the same vein, I wish we had more visual options through which to interact with our data. I want a slider field for database properties so I can visually set a progress indicator without having to type a number that represents a percentage of completion into a text field.
  • No table of contents yet, but there are hacks around it by linking to the blocks manually, but what a nightmare that is. We did it for our docs.
  • Organization also gets weird. Nesting some items like dual columns can be tough and also requires some hackiness.
  • There doesn't seem to be a way to make a default state for a new item in a database, but I think it's coming.
  • Gets pricey for a startup quickly at $8/mo/seat.

We've done all this with only one paid seat. Everyone on the team but me is a free user; they're all guests on my paid account. That means they don't get private pages, but individual users can still use their free workspace in Notion for privacy when needed. You can help us afford a full set of Notion seats for the whole team by heading to our website and buying a deck for $20 of BTC each. Tell all your friends! (and don't forget to subscribe below to get all the latest updates delivered directly to your inbox!) 💃

The future of work is remote, and tools like Notion are helping pave the way. We love using Notion and we're very excited to see where the team takes the product in 2019 and Baeond!