How to Get Started with Notion

How and why to use one of 2020's most popular new tools

This is the Wonder Tools newsletter—useful tools and creative resources for pandemic life. I’m Jeremy Caplan, a journalist & director of teaching & learning at the Newmark J-School.
This week I wrote a special post for Poynter if you’d like some bonus tools.

Last week I wrote about why Notion is such a great everything tool.

But it can seem complex at first. One reader emailed to say he was intrigued but intimidated and unsure where to start. I felt that too when I first tried it. 

So here’s the approach I suggest for exploring tools like this for the first time. 

Dive in and make a chaos page. Make a mess.

Just throw everything you possibly can at Notion—or whatever tool it is— to try out all the features. Worry not about the disarray. Don’t create anything useful this time. Just make a scratch page purely for experimentation and exploration.  

Think of yourself as a baby👶 with finger paint🎨 attacking a blank canvas.

To begin this way with Notion, just go to Notion.so, create a free account, and open a blank page. Type a bit as you would in any document. Then press the / key and you’ll see all sorts of cool things you can add: checklists, images, videos, tables, etc. Start tossing things onto the page and you’ll quickly see how the basics work. 

Here’s a public mess page I made if you want to try it out. You can experiment with adding text or other elements. 

For a quick demo, watch a 2-minute intro to Notion video I just made while building a quick page from scratch. Nothing fancy. You’ll see me just add a page title, a cover image and icon, some text, a video embed, and some demo lists.

Join me Friday, July 17 at 11am ET to see Notion live and to try it out in real time with others. 

Update: Here’s a recording of the live Webinar:


Four ideas for using Notion  

1. Make some notes, a list, a handout or a plan

Notion’s handy for putting together lists, plans, ideas & notes. Maybe a post-pandemic travel plan. Or a note about a project. Or a list of documents, to-dos, or research ideas. I’ve been using Notion lately to create digital handouts with info, lists, embedded videos, images, checklists, tables and links. Email me if you’d like to see an example.

2. Make something with a colleague

Notion is great for collaborative document creation. As with Google Docs, Notion pages can have discussion threads. Anyone can annotate by adding a contextual comment. @mention someone and they'll know you're asking them something. Or mention a date to set a reminder. 📆 You can keep docs private or make them public.

3. Organize a collection or project

Put your info or projects into a table. Notion’s database structure allows you to create multiple views of whatever you put into it. That lets you filter out completed tasks. Or you can view just the projects that involve a particular colleague. There’s a calendar view if your table includes dates. And a gallery view if you have images 🌁.

4. Make a little wiki

Collect pages or notes of interest onto a single page. Whether a private one for your easy access or a public one to share with colleagues or friends, this is a nice way to put a bunch of useful info together on one elegant page. 

Templates for a head start

Notion has an extensive catalog of free templates you can start with if you prefer not to begin with a blank page. Here are some examples:

If you use a particular set-up often, you can create your own templates. That’s useful if you often re-make similar pages, like meeting notes, lesson plans, or travel checklists.

Want more on Notion?

If you couldn’t join the live Webinar on July 17, watch the recording for an exploration of Notion basics and a look at some of its coolest features.