Using Notion to Manage Your Life - Part 2 of 12 - The Notes Database

Introduction

What are Notes?

Notes are pieces of information that are not actionable.  They can be informal or formal, short or long, or tied to a separate actionable item.

Examples of notes are a shopping list, an idea, a reminder, the user guide for your new TV, the specification sheet for the latest iPhone, an email, a book, meeting minutes or class notes.

Anything that is not actionable falls under this category.  Watching a movie is an actionable task.  The movie synopsis or movie tickets are not actionable.  Going shopping is an actionable task.  A shopping list is not actionable.

Reminders can be confusing when you try to categorize it as actionable or not actionable.  One way to think of this is that the reminder itself is just a non-actionable note that an actionable task needs to take place.

For example, you may be talking with a friend and they mention an upcoming birthday.  You make a note to remind yourself to buy a birthday card.  At this point, buying a birthday card is only a thought or an idea.  Based on this idea, an actionable task to go to the store and buy a birthday card (on a given date or time) can be created.

The reminder is a thought that you should do something.  If you decide to follow through on that thought, an actionable task is created.

The Significance of Writing Down Notes

For all the wonderful things our brains do, remembering specific pieces of information seems to be its downfall.  You have an idea flash through your head and make a mental note that you should remember that thought.  You tell yourself you will write it down later.  By the time you are near a pen and paper (or a computer) you don't even remember that you wanted to write something down.  Or, if you do remember that you had a thought, you can't for the life of you remember what the thought was!

This is an all too common occurrence.  We think of something we want to do or have an idea we want to remember and we fool ourselves into thinking we will be able to extract that information from our minds at a later time or date.  This is rarely how this scenario works in practice.

David Allen's Getting Things Done was the first book that introduced me to the importance of getting that thought out of your head and onto a more permanent medium as soon as possible.  Once written down somewhere, you can completely let your mind free of the thought as you have a reliable record of it elsewhere.

Not only does this reduce stress as you are not worried about forgetting something, it starts the framework of processing if the thought to determine if it is actionable or a piece of reference material.  If it is actionable, it gets assigned a task and a due (DO) date.  If it is not actionable, it gets the proper tags and filed away.

Notion Tutorials

  1. Getting Started with Notion
  2. Creating and Using the Notes Database
  3. Creating Templates for the Notes Database
  4. Creating and Using the Tasks Database
  5. Project Management Using Notion
  6. Goal Setting and Tracking
  7. Daily Tracking and Habits
  8. Weekly and Monthly Reviews
  9. Creating a Contacts Database or CRM
  10. Creating Book/Recipe/etc. Databases
  11. Using the Notion Web Clipper
  12. Bringing it Together with Global Tags

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Lesson 2: Creating the Notes Database

Step 1: Create a "toggle" so we can view and hide the Notes database.  For now we keep this toggle open as it is the only item on the screen.  However, as we progress, we will have many items and views on this dashboard.  Toggles will allow us to see the content most important to us without the need of scrolling long pages.

Under your "Notes" section from last week, you should see a blank block.  Click the + icon to the left of it and select "Toggle"

Step 2: Let's name this toggle Notes by clicking the grey word Toggle and typing "Notes"

Step 3: Open the toggle by clicking the grey arrow icon to the left of where we just typed.  To close the toggle, click the same icon.

Step 4: We can add some personalization to the look of our dashboard by selecting a background color and font color.  To have two colors on a block, one color needs to be assigned to the entire block and the second to the text itself.  Here is how we do this.

Select the six dots to the left of the toggle block.  From there select color and then select a background color.

Now, double click on the word "Notes" to select it.  In the hover box, select the "A" icon to the right and you can select a font color for the highlighted text.  Let's also use this hover box to make the text bold.

Step 5: After adding the background color, we can see that this toggle is not taking the full width of the page (if yours is, you can skip this step).  It is in the first column along with the "Notes" section we added last week.  To move this to take the entire width of the page, select the six dots to the left of the toggle.  Then, drag the block down until you see a blue line that spans the page and release.

Step 6: Creating the Notes Database.  Within this toggle, we will be adding our Notes Database.  This is a lot simpler than you may think.

Open the toggle by selecting the arrow icon to the left and then click where it reads "Empty toggle.  Click or drop blocks inside.".  You now have a blank block within the toggle.

Click the familiar "+" icon to the left of this blank block and select "Table - Inline".

If the table is created under the toggle instead of within it, you can move it by selecting the six dots and dragging it into the toggle.

Step 7: Let's give the table a name.  Click where it reads "Untitled" and type "Notes Database".

By default, every new table (Notion calls these tables.  I refer to them as databases.  Note that for these purposes, the two terms are interchangeable.) comes with three fields or properties.

The "Name" is the key field/property for the table.  It is a required field and the property type cannot be changed.  The "Tags" field is multi-select.  And the "Files" field is a file attachment.

Step 8: Clean up the database.  We want to start fresh.  Right click on the Tags field and select delete.  Confirm that you want to delete the field/property.  Now delete the Files field.

Left click on the Name field and a new box will appear where you can rename the field.  Let's name this "Note".

Step 9: We can now add the rest of the fields/properties we want to add to this table.  You can, and should, customize this for your needs.  This customization may not come until you start using it to track your notes and ideas.  However, you can follow these same steps to manipulate the table to your liking.

To keep this simple, we will be adding the following fields:

  • Type
  • Category
  • Done
  • Contact
  • URL
  • File
  • Create Date
  • Last Edited Date

In future lessons we will add the ability to link a note to a task and we will update the contact field to link to our Contact database.

First we will create our fields, then we will add data to the selections where required.

Click on the "+" icon next to the "Notes" filed.  This will bring up the same box we saw when we renamed the Notes field.  Enter "Type" and the field name and as the Property Type, choose "Select".

Step 10: Repeat these steps for the remaining fields and associated Property Types.

  • Category - Multi-Select
  • Done - Checkbox
  • Contact - Text
  • URL - URL
  • File - Files & Media
  • Create Date - Create time
  • Last Edited Date - Last edited time

Step 11: Now let's assign the option we want to present when we use a selection field or a multi-select field.  These can and should be customized to your specific needs.

Right click on the "Type" field and select "Configure options".  We will add two options to this selection for now, Personal and Work.  Type "Personal" and hit enter.  It will assign that selection to the first row.  Don't worry about that right now.  Repeat these steps to add "Work".

Repeat these steps for any additional item that applies to your needs.  If you own a business, maybe you will have a "Business" selection rather than "Work" or in addition to "Work".

You can also rename and change the color of each item.  Click on a cell within the Type field and it will show you the available selections.  Click the three dots to the right of an available selection to rename it and/or change the color.

Step 12: Repeat these steps to assign various categories.  A category may be "Meeting Minutes" or "Class Notes".  You can track reference material and link to a URL or load a file and group them under "Reference Material".  Again, this is an optional field for you to use to tag your notes and we can then filter our views based on those tags.

For the purpose of this demo, I will add "Meeting Minutes", "Class Notes" and "Reference Materials".

Change the colors if you'd like and now your table should look similar to the screen shot below.  The difference between a Select property and a Multi-Select property is that when using a Select, you can only choose one value.  Multi-Select allows you to select multiple values.

Step 13: Congratulations!  You just created the Notes Database!  We can clean up the blank entries by selecting them and hitting delete on our keyboard.  Or, select the six dots next to each entry and click Delete.

You can also resize the columns by selecting the line between two columns and dragging it to the left or right to shorten or lengthen the column.  Columns can be rearranged by dragging them where you'd like to see them.

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Lesson 2: How to Use the Notes Database

Now that we have the database set up, it is time to start adding data.  As you add data to the table, you will likely find ways to tweak the database for your needs.  This can be adding additional categories or adding new fields.

Step 1: To add a record to the database, move the mouse over the database.  A blue "New" button will appear to the right.  Click "New" and a new page will open.

Step 2: Give the note a title.  This will go where you read "Untitled" in grey at the top of the page.  Select the type of note and assign a category if applicable.  Complete as much or as little data as needed.

Step 3: At the bottom of the page, click where it reads "Press Enter to continue with an empty page, or create a template".  We will review templates next week, but here you can type any details you want to capture.

The Create Date and Last Entered Date will automatically populate and update as you touch the record.

Step 4: Click anywhere outside the page to go back to the dashboard.

Step 5: If you entered any notes in the Notes section we created last week, add them here now.  I'll enter some additional data and then we can go over how to filter and sort the table.

Tip: For now, you can enter task items in the Notes Database.  I would suggest adding a "Task" category so we can create a view of any outstanding tasks and add them to the Tasks Database when we create it.

Sorting Data

Now that we have some data, let's review how to change how it is displayed.  We can sort the data by a specific field or a group of fields.

Sort by Name

Step 1: Click on the three dots to the immediate left of the blue New button and click Sort.

Step 2: In the new window, click "+ Add a Sort"

Step 3: The Note field comes up by default.  All we need to do is click outside of this window to apply the sort.  Now the table is sorted based on the Note name.

Filtering Data

We can also create views based on specific criteria.  Let's create a view to only show items with the "Personal" Type.

Step 1: Click on the three dots to the immediate left of the blue New button and click Filter.

Step 2: In the new window, click "+ Add a filter"  and "Add a filter" again

Step 3: Again, the Notes field is selected by default.  Change that to the "Type" field

Step 4: Now, click the last drop down that reads, "Select an option" and select "Personal".

Step 5: Click outside of the window and the filter has been applied

Create a View

To easily switch between different displays, views can be created.  Let's create a view for Personal notes that are not checked off as "Done".

Step 1: Next to the "Notes Database" heading, click "+ Add a view"

Step 2: Give the report a name "Personal not Done".  We will keep the report type as Table.  Click "Create"

Step 3: Now apply the sort and the filter the same way we did above.  While setting up the filter, we can add a second filter to only show records where Done is unchecked.

Step 4: To show this working, mark one of the notes as Done and it will be removed from the report.

Step 5: Add another View "All Records".  This will show all entries without any sort or filter.

Step 6: You can now switch between the different views and/or create new views.

Lesson 2: Quick Entry

As a bonus, let's set up a quick entry button for us to use when we have a new note to add.  This works great on a mobile device and allows us to get that thought out of our heads and into our system.

Bonus Step 1: Under the original Notes section, we are going to add a link to the Notes database.  Your Notes list should now be blank (not the database but the original section we created last week).

We will use a shortcut to link to the database.  Where the blank list item is located (or in an empty block under the Notes section) type "/link" and then select "Create linked database".  In the box that appears, search and select the Notes database.

Bonus Step 2: Create a new view.  We will call it "Quick Entry" and we will select the "Gallery" report type.

Bonus Step 3: We actually don't want to see any data in this view, we just want the big "New" button.  To accomplish this, we'll create a filter where the Create Date = Tomorrow.

Bonus Step 4: Delete the bulleted list entry if you still have it above or below the linked database.  Now, you have a quick entry button at the top of your screen.

End of Lesson 2: Creating and Using the Notes Database

Dashboard on 1440p Resolution
Dashboard Using iPhone

You now have the main table created and an easy way to capture thoughts and ideas.  Next week we will review how you can add templates to these notes to capture structured information such as Meeting Minutes or Class Notes.  If there are any specific note templates you would like discussed, contact me and I will try to include them.

Notion Tutorials

  1. Getting Started with Notion
  2. Creating and Using the Notes Database
  3. Creating Templates for the Notes Database
  4. Creating and Using the Tasks Database
  5. Project Management Using Notion
  6. Goal Setting and Tracking
  7. Daily Tracking and Habits
  8. Weekly and Monthly Reviews
  9. Creating a Contacts Database or CRM
  10. Creating Book/Recipe/etc. Databases
  11. Using the Notion Web Clipper
  12. Bringing it Together with Global Tags

If you haven't already, sign up for our newsletter where you can be notified as additional lessons are published. The goal is to publish a new lesson each week. Feel free to contact me via Twitter, Facebook or email if you have any questions. I'll do my best to answer everyone in a timely manner.

Lesson 2 - Free Notion Template

Here is the link to the template we just created. To add this template to your workspace, click the "Duplicate" link in the upper right of the screen.