Working in Notion | Part 2
A great deal of my work is about writing, which falls into two sorts:
- Writing posts (like this) and newsletter issues, and
- Writing technology reports (like the recent Workboards report, in concert with Gigaom).
The workflow involved with these two sorts of writing are quite distinct. The former is an outgrowth of the Notion journaling I do on a nearly daily basis, a process I described at some length in Working in Notion | Part 1. The longer-format and more deeply researched reports are part of a quite different process.
In this post, I will outline how I am using Notion to create and manage posts like this one integrated with my daily journaling. I recommend that readers might want to revisit the Part 1 post, especially if they aren’t familiar with Notion.
Summary of Journaling in Notion
The summary is this:
- I manage my journal in Notion as a directory of date-stamped pages, like 2021–01–08 journal. (I also journal calls, meetings, and longer notes in a similar way in the same journal, like 2021–01–08 call with Carlos.)
- Each day, I cut and paste snippets from the web in the day’s journal page. I extensively rely on linking to tag pages (what I had called topics pages), taking advantage of Notion’s backlinks capability. In that way, I can tag a section of my daily journal entry as being related to economics, for example, like so:
The economics link in this entry points to an economics tag page in my journal. As I add more references to that page, backlinks to the various entries across my journal entries are created. At any time I can visit the tag page and see all the backlinks:
In the earlier post, Working in Notion | Part 1, I outlined a complex mechanism for keeping track of journal entries intended to be used as material for blog posts. What I will describe in the rest of this post is a replacement for that approach — the earlier one relied on manually copying the links to Notion blocks — which I have now dispensed with, thanks to other features of Notion that I have learned about.
Keeping Track Of Entries To Write About
Notion, like other spreadbases, is basically a collection of tables of pages. Page have various properties, some which are built in — like a name, a creation date, and so one — while others are user defined.
For my purposes I created a table called post index, that I use as a place to retain items I would like to include in posts:
I added various properties to the table suitable for my purpose, such as a date property to indicate the date I would like to post the item, optional notes, and a checkbox to indicate if in fact the item had been used as intended.
I found it annoying to have to visit that table in the work page where I had created it. So, I took advantage of several powerful features of Notion to streamline the use of the post index.
Notion supports linked tables, so I created a linked post index table in a journal page. Note that this is not a copy of the page, but an inline link to it. Then I was able to see the post index list right in the journal page, in context.
After seeing that the linked table approach worked in a single journal entry, I altered the template for my journal pages to include the post index. This means the post index is replicated in all new journal pages when they are created:
I created various views over the post index table, such as today, tomorrow, and all.
Note that the linked table is fully functional: new entries can be created, not just viewed. And recall that all table elements are themselves pages, that can be referred to just like tag or journal pages. This means that new entries in the post index table can be created through reference. When I create a new journal item that I want to subsequently write about, I create a new post index item as a reference:
Above you see a journal entry about Hopin acquiring StreamYard. At the bottom I am creating a reference called hoping buys streamyard. Notion shows no results for that reference, but I did not expect one. I intend to create a new page in the post index:
I type ‘post’ and Notion shows matches, the first of which is post index, which I select. Note that this creates the desired entry in the post index as well as a link to it at the bottom of the journal entry.
Notion has a limitation at this step: I can create the new entry in this way (as well as the reference to it), but there is no option to assign a value to properties on the page. Specifically, I can’t assign the date property to indicate the day I would like to post the item. As a result, I created an open view to show post index items with no date assigned.
(Advanced Notion users might point out that I could have created the post index item directly in the table, and assigned the date there. However, that would not have created the reference link at the bottom of the journal entry, so I have multiple steps, either way.)
This may sound like a lot of moving parts but in use, it all flows pretty well. Most of the time I am researching, adding journal items, and every third or fourth one might be something I want to write about. In some cases, I don’t add a date because I haven’t read the item close enough, or want to correlate with something else. But a lot of the time I do want to assign a prospective date for writing. At that later date, I simply look to the bottom of my current journal page, and I can see through the lens of a today view the journal items I have queued up.
Let’s say I want to jump back to the hopin buys steamyard journal entry to grab the text. I open the post index item as a page, and then I can click on the backlink to get to the journal entry:
There is only one backlink here, which is normal in this use case as opposed to tag pages.
Before adopting this approach, such as my former use of Typora markdown files for journaling, I use to have to manually search across recent journal files looking for the stories I had marked as postworthy. This led to me missing various stories I had saved, and a lot of time spent backtracking.
In this Notion approach, I fetch the various items for posting quickly, and check them off as done. Done items are filtered from most of the views I have defined.
I’ve encountered a few impediments to this approach that Notion might want to think about:
- It would be great to be able to add property values for pages at the time of their creation through reference, such as the example of adding a date value in the post index table.
- It would save a step if I could dereference to the backlinked journal entry without having to open the post index page. Maybe this could be a shortcut that would work with pages with single backlinks, or a way to get to the backlinks list quickly.
Next in the Series
In the next installments in this series, I will spell out how I am using Notion for general project-style work management. That has similarities to the singly focused example of the post index table, but is built on a structure with three related tables: tasks, projects, and organizations.