578: Getting to Know Notion, with August Bradley

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I think one of the biggest things here is that comparing Notion to other notes apps isn’t quite right — it’s more akin to something like AirTable if you really push it.

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I love the database capabilities of AirTable, however most people who need the information stored within AirTable are confounded by the shared views, etc. The report blocks of AirTable are limited to one page, making it useless when I have thousands of entries. Am I hearing right? Notion can output all this to an easy to use wiki like page (perhaps organized as an outline or something else people can understand)? I’ll be digging deeper into these YouTube videos. Thanks for this show.

I still have no idea what to use Notion for. :slight_smile: I know just about every productivity YouTuber seems to love it (and wants to tell you about it, repeatedly), but I can’t find a use for it in my personal life. I am going to check out August’s videos though. Maybe that will give me some new insight?

As for the after show:

I think we know what happened to MacBooks a few years back. Jony Ive. His focus seemed to be his own unique style over functionality. Ever since he left, products seem to be getting better.

Everyone always talks about the bezels and the chin on iMacs. The only time I even notice it is when I hear/read someone mention it. I don’t see them when I use my iMac. (Not that they shouldn’t update the design, I just don’t see it as a big deal in use.)

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This was really helpful in a way I wasn’t expecting. I fully expected to be going all in on Notion after this. But, now that I have a full picture of the benefits and downsides of Notion from a pro, I feel great knowing that what it’s providing is not what I need and the tools I’m currently using are working out.

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Interesting, I walked away from the podcast thinking that it’s capable of anything, I just have to figure out what I need it for. It’s not a DEVONthink, but maybe a life tracker/project manager/GTG? The whole Life Operating System sounded especially intriguing so I just watched that video. It looks neat, but I am not sure I am that ambitious or that my life is that involved that I need that.

Still, I keep going back to web based, and that is huge turn off to me. I use web apps at work, I don’t like them and don’t really want them in my personal life.

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Exactly this.

I feel like I ought to love Notion and have come back to it two or three times, but I feel like I still haven’t quite nailed what has got everyone else so excited.

I think part of the issue is that while I understand that Notion potentially takes the place of two or three other tools (so that you have everything in one place), I’m not actually convinced it does thing as well as any of the tools it’s trying to replace.

  • Data can be inserted into a table, but it then can’t be mathmatically manipulated or outputted into a chart/graph. So why not just put the data into Excel in the first place?
  • I can build a To-Do list, but it’s not as easy as to just get tasks into an inbox as it is with something like ToDoist or Things (where I can use voice commands when needed suddenly or integrations with email platforms etc). Repetitive tasks are also an issue
  • The big one for me is databases. I was so excited at the idea of relational databases interacting. And, while that’s the case of being able to pull static data from multiple places into new fields, I can’t actually mathematically manipulate values pulled from different tables into a new field.

I feel like I want to be much more of a dynamic tool, that I can login to and rely on what I’m seeing in some kind of central dashboard. Whereas instead, it seems to be much more static - and, as such, I need to update everything myself across a number of different tables, before I can rely on any kind of summary data.

As I say, though, it may well just be that I’m expecting the tool to be something that it obviously isn’t!

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I tried to use notion for several times but i always come back to Evernote. I structure my note according to the P.A.R.A method. In notion i build a database Called Para and created different views for Project, Areas, Resources and Archive. My main issue was how slow the app was. It took seconds to scroll thru notes and… it felt like it wasn’t a enough to “just be a note taking”-app . It have all the bells and visible but i just need it for note taking.

Like having a truck instead of a sports car. You get what i mean.

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I bounced off of Notion a couple of months ago, so I was excited to hear this one. Sorry to say I don’t think this episode is going to motivate me to give it another chance. It seemed like we spent a lot more time on how often the service is down than we did on what it actually does. I really didn’t get a sense of why Notion is worth checking out, let alone any cool MPU-like ‘I gotta try that for myself’ tricks or applications. I appreciated both hosts taking an extra shot at asking for a specific use for Notion in the second hour.

I have to be honest here. I appreciate the depth of knowledge and passion that Austin brought to the topic, but he seemed more like a fan seeking to defend what he loves than someone willing to look at the strengths and weaknesses objectively. Every time some sort of fault was raised, he responded with a dismissal. For example, promises of future features do not constitute an advantage over other products. I’ve seen way too many popular and fully funded software projects promise features for years and never follow through or result in half-baked results.

Two things hold me back from Notion and this whole category of open-ended life/work management systems: First, that I can’t afford to start from a blank slate. I don’t have time to build up templates and structures and all the rest. I need to do my work now. That’s why off-the-shelf products are so popular (and partly why OpenDoc failed).

Second and related: The systems I have now work well enough. Sure AirTable has its flaws, but it works with Zapier today and looks like a database that I can use today. Sure, Google Sheets and Docs aren’t perfect collaboration tools, but they work well enough. The opportunity cost of starting with a new tool and getting buy in from everyone and getting it set up and working at least as good as what I have today, never mind better is just too high.

By the end of this episode, I didn’t have a better sense of why I should switch to Notion other than that it has a whole lot of capabilities that get some people very excited.

Again, I appreciate hearing about new tools and Austin obviously has a lot of knowledge that his clients benefit from, but I came away saying this isn’t for me.

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I’m looking to replace Evernote with Notion when I can upload documents via an API. Bring on the API. Maybe then I’ll dabble further.

Interesting guest–I also wish he’d let his guard down a bit more. His videos have a lot of specific steps to take to set up a “life operating system” in Notion and he seems to do better explaining the power of notion through that lens than advocating for it as a general organization tool or as a database.

Liked his story early on about organizing founders’ lives in order to be able to organize the startups they run, and it ties directly into that LOS work in Notion.

The Fifth Discipline is my favorite book about systems thinking–if was mentioned, I overlooked it.

I went all in on the LOS a while back. Ultimately it was too much work for my needs.

I’m starting to do some lightweight task management in Obsidian now. Mostly marking notes that I need to work on #next or soon-ish #todo. I then have a template for my Daily Notes that has queries to collect and show me all the #next items. It’s kind of like the Agenda in org mode, but simpler.

I realize I’m probably atypical (I’m used to it :slight_smile: )

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I really enjoyed the episode and learned a lot even though I have no intention of using notion (I once went deep enough to realize it wasn’t for me). But I do intend to use some of the big picture ideas in rethinking some of my own processes.

Also, I’ve recently discovered Coda.io and absolutely love it. For some reason it works way more for what I want/need than Notion and I find a kind of simple joy in using it. At the very least, it’s a great replacement for Google docs (but is so much more than that as well).

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I’ve been using Notion for the last two months because I was invited to collaborate with someone who has been using it for some time (there are three of us on the project in total – two newcomers to Notion). The project is complex, but mostly text driven. I’ve really enjoyed getting a feel for the software, and the collaborative aspect has mostly felt powerful (and, well, fun). Two things though that have been incredibly frustrating:

  1. It’s slooowwww. There have been so many times waiting for it to load, waiting for it to sync. This has driven me bananas.

  2. The commenting and @ system is really difficult to make sense of. Comments get lost easily and notifications seem to work better on iOS compared with MacOS. My other ‘newcomer’ colleague keeps missing @ mentions and I think this is a UI thing (she’s not particularly tech nerdy, but is also no slouch).

I’m pretty agnostic when it comes to various systems for PKM, notetaking etc. Still finding it hard to get past the DevonThink/Obsidian combo I’ve been using for some time (including collaborating on an Obsidian vault through a shared dropbox folder).

Cheers all, Simon.

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Thanks for this. I’d made a notion account at the start of the year, attempted to replicate what I had in Airtable but couldn’t find a feature I wanted (it may have been there and I didn’t know what it was called in notion).

After this episode I thought I’d try it again…and I think it’s going to stick. I’ve rebuilt my Airtable system (found the function I was looking for) and I’m loving having the database linked to my writing, rather than a number of different apps. I’m also finding it helpful to have all my information in one place. I often found that some things I’d not notice things which I’d stored in Airtable, since I was only looking at the columns that were most relevant.

Only downside - it’s slow…in lots of ways! Like click the disclosure triangles in toggles takes a long time because the information is being fetched from the cloud. Bring on offline mode!

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Great episode. I went into it hoping I’d be convinced to give Notion a try. However, it convinced me that Notion is definitely not for me. An interesting application but not one I’ll ever experiment with as I don’t have the time, and I have a system that I’m happy with (and which I think is better than what Notion offers), that covers all the functionality that I’d need.

Worth noting that Notion have acknowledged their slowness, and have publicly put a plan out there to solve it:

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Shockingly, making native apps which sync local data was not the answer. :stuck_out_tongue:

Notion is not looking good - subpar performance, blog posts making promises, no API.

This is business.

  1. Customer pays for a subscription.
  2. Customer gets the “it just works” thing.

AND clause applies to [1] - [2].

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