If you're anything like me, you read a lot of information online, but hoard lots more.
This has left my bookmarks closer and closer to infinity, and I now have a loosely organized collection of stuff (random articles, YouTube videos, Reddit threads, Reddit comments saved into Apple Notes because people like to delete their comments, Twitter conversations, random iPhone screenshots, etc).
See for yourself - this is a somewhat condensed version of some of my bookmarks, and it's the foundation for which I needed to create a new and better knowledge repository.
yuck. shame on past me.
Recently I've been using Notion to blast through this knowledge overload.
If you're unfamiliar (which people on Reddit yelled at me about), Notion is a web application that creates workspaces with project management tools (note-taking, tasks, wikis, etc.). Notion uses customizable "blocks" to create/arrange content, and the typical use case is for teams collaborating together. I've specifically used it to create blocks for my bookmarks and annotate them.
Notion has been a game-changer for me. Now, I've documented every new bookmark I've saved inside a new block and the dynamic filtering + multiple views that Notion has enables me to create a custom-tailored machine for sifting through content.
You might also be wondering why I went with Notion specifically - I address this in further detail later on in the article if you're interested in learning more. However, for now, let's get started with how we can create this bookmark machine.
Best of all, the content-creation features of Notion sport a robust Medium-style editing and note-taking system for all my bookmarks. Instead of just listing everything I want to read with a cryptic title in a tucked away folder, I can write down everything I got out of an article without having to re-read it through my own notes.
Organize Your Bookmarks Through a Custom Workspace
If you're unfamiliar, Notion arranges content through blocks and custom, modular views, which you can see below.
The main view above lists all of the bookmarks I have in the "Board" style. For now, I categorize my content by Web Articles, Books, Videos, and Audio. It may seem pretty broad - almost too broad if you have hundreds or thousands of bookmarks, but for me this is just the base view and actually perfect for categorization, despite how many blocks you have.
Initially, I thought that I should have split up my "Articles" column into it's own workspace and assigned a column for each type of article (Personal Health, Career, or even a separate column for Reddit/Quora/Twitter Threads), but there's no need, which brings me to my next point on how Notion's tagging system can handle this for you.
Create Custom Tags to Categorize Your Content
Across my main board, which lists all of the bookmarks I have, I categorized them by what broad type they fall under, and every card/piece of knowledge has the following labelling/tagging scheme.
I categorize each property by the following, with the following options below:
At first glance, this can get messy. The main board is polluted with a lot of tags, a lot of blocks, and a lot of colors. You can also see that I use the "Properties" bar to organize all my content by Subject, as that's most relevant for me when I'm scanning at a high level.
Look at this as just the main repository for all of your content/bookmarks, and the base from which you work from. The most important part comes next.
Custom Views + Filtering Create the Ultimate Knowledge Repository
Currently, I have a series of 6-8 different views, all under the same workspace "Bookmarks".
Depending on your need, you can either have more or less - I just wanted to have different views based on what's on my list to read/watch/listen to next, along with views for articles or books by subject matter, and current progress in consuming different pieces of content. These are intentionally broad - while these may seem to introduce more complexity, it's nothing compared to the dozens of folders in a deeply nested folder hierarchy in the browser.
Some of the views (sans videos and audio, since I don't have a ton there yet) are shown below.
Each view uses a custom filter + a custom sort to make it easy to parse the entire collection of blocks I have in my view "All".
It might seem a little complex, but it's relatively straightforward once you get the hang of it - which is barely that long as I'm about to show you right now.
As I mentioned above, my views came from the need to:
- See all the types of subject matter I have for particular media (book, article, etc)
- See how much progress I've made so far reading those pieces of content
- Organize by what I want to read next
Here are two examples that exemplify these needs in action:
- Books By Progress
By default, any new view shows everything from your main board. The above lists all my books based on how far I've gotten so far in reading them, but I specifically did this by leveraging my pre-existing tags:
- Filter by Books
- Sort by Progress
- Display as a Table
And that's it! I now have an easily identifiable list of all the books that I want to read sorted based on how far I've gotten so far, and each book contains all of the notes/summaries I've written so far, all of which are incredibly easy to acess. I've done something similar for Articles, but this time I wanted to show how I categorized them via a Board.
- Articles By Type
This time, instead of a table I created a Board from my main Board. Like I mentioned before, there's no need to create a new column for every new type of article/book/video/whatever content it is that you consume - Notion lets you handle this intelligently.
As you can see above, I:
- Filtered to only include articles in this particular view
- Grouped each of my columns by subject-matter
As a result, every "Subject" tag automatically becomes a new column inside of this custom board, which makes searching and access extremely easy.
If you have a bunch of different articles that cover a wide-ranging array of topics, Notion makes it stupidly simple to look through and categorize all of them.
Custom Notes + Views Creates a Documentation Machine
In short, the benefits that Notion gives you for creating a bookmark machine are:
- A robust editing system for detailed comments, notes, and thoughts on pieces of content you want to engage with.
- A tagging system to appropriately categorize each and every piece of content, at the moment you add it into Notion.
- Unlimited, flexible views to create as many fine-tuned representations of your content as you want.
- Custom filtering to arrange your content by whatever parameter you want, be it how far you've read so far, the subject matter of the content, who the author is, when you want to read it, or almost anything else you can think of.
- The ability to share with anyone through custom links. This has been great for me if I want to share an article and have commentary about it asynchronously.
This is why I love Notion - it's helped me break down a huge chunk of vaguely categorized information, sitting somewhere in a folder in my browser, into digestible portions with more specific context, and making it easier to access. I've taken this approach for everything else I document, where I now publish my book notes by default.
Is the above system for sorting bookmarks easy? Absolutely. The kanban model lends itself perfectly to this, and is a staple of other platforms like Asana, Trello, and AirTable. You could also search and filter using Microsoft OneNote, Evernote, or Coda as well.
You may be wondering why I chose Notion to handle this, specifically, so I went with it for the following reasons:
Amazing Content Editing
Notion's card system (when you click on a task/card/issue/piece of content) is so intuitive and easy to create/manipulate.
With Trello or Asana, or (to my knowledge) most of the other project management tools, none of them are suitable for writing substantial, longer form content with a dedicated space for them. However, these capabilities aren't really the focus of these platforms either.
With Notion, the Medium style writing + editing + collaboration is utterly brilliant, mainly because they're all in the same space, and it's perfect for not only extensive note-taking, but great arrangement on a board.
Evernote doesn't have a Kanban style board/dynamic board that can be sorted into multiple views, and OneNote isn't as flexible either.
Notion also has native Mac and Windows support. Coda is another powerful documentation tool with much better database use cases than Notion, but also has no native support for Mac or Windows, which is a dealbreaker for me. Other platforms like Evernote and OneNote do as well, but they still don't have the other aforementioned features.
Notion is very cost-effective:
- Notion's personal plan is $4 a month.
- Evernote Premium is $8 a month and doesn't include the multiple views/Kanban style sorting.
- Asana ($10/user), AirTable($10/user), and Trello (10$/user) are more team-based solutions, don't have Notion's Medium style editing,
Personally, I don't pay anything for Notion - I invited a bunch of people to sign up and create an account.
From that, I have a ton of credits that gave me 2+ years for free. Of course, nobody can say this will last, as growth is probably a priority and Notion just raised a total of $10 million over 2 rounds, most recently on July 19th, 2019.
Coda.io is also a great tool that has many of the features that Notion has and is currently free, but again, there's no native Mac/Windows support. I don't edit from the browser, and sometimes I like to work offline to not get distracted.
Notion's layout defines everything I love about modern web products - simplicity and customization.
While applications like OneNote take a more (and appropriately so) notebook/section approach to creating/storing content, Notion focuses more on modular blocks with a sidebar for categorization - making it easy to switch back and forth, while on OneNote you have to choose a notebook and select a section. (Also for me...I'm just not a fan of the "Microsoft" look of their applications, but that's more of a personal proclivity than a criticism of it's utility).
Finally, Notion's variety of views to display blocks has me hooked, and like I mentioned above, I've stacked multiple boards/calendars/lists under a single workspace many, many times along with custom filters that makes reaching whatever content I have tagged super simple.
I will say that search can be a little confusing - it is a little hard to reach, but I've been using Notion's keyboard shortcuts to maneuver around the app.
This is a simple one, but super important for me. I have really sensitive eyes; any time I get a chance to use a dark-themed version of an application I have installed, it's a no-brainer for me.
Evernote has a dark-theme as well, but then again, it doesn't offer the customization that Notion has.
Notion ultimately positions itself as a cross between a note-taking app like OneNote and a productivity/project management tool that lets you create and a manage a custom workspace like Trello, Asana, or AirTable.
For me, it's nice to have all the features wrapped into one ecosystem, as I hate having to switch around and manage tasks I need to get done in AirTable, and have separate notes in Apple Notes, Evernote, Google Sheets, or somewhere else.
Notion has become my default to-do and writing tool, and it's customization has improved my knowledge and information consolidation/commenting beautifully.
If you're interested in learning more, I've been working on free modules to help you take full advantage of Notion. I'd love to help out more people, so if you or anyone else might benefit I'd love to share some tips with you!