THE NOTION OF NOTION
Feature photo by Filip Baotić
Evernote? Never heard of her.
As we’re approaching over a year into the pandemic, I have lost most, if not all, motivation. With that, I have lost touch with the passage of time; my days are bookended with sinks full of dishes, and my months are measured in rent payments.
In truth, I feel like the longer the pandemic has gone on, the more all the small things I used to motivate myself with have lost their magic. It’s an exhausted phrase for an exhausted circumstance, but let me utter it once more: this is the new normal. While I could (and trust me, I do) sulk about the lost time, I don’t want this to be a period of my life defined by loss, or the acceptance of these losses. So much has been taken away from each of us; I refuse to let the pandemic, or anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers, ruin my spirit, too. Even if, especially if, it means adapting.
I wanted to compartmentalize everything happening in my life. With all the days blurring into each other, pending deadlines and prior engagements never felt closer or further away. I dreaded checking my e-mails in the morning, rummaging through, trying to figure out what’s next and what’s new. Even though the days stayed the same, there was always something new to do and figure out. It was becoming a scene straight out of Groundhog Day (or its successor, Palm Springs), I was knees deep in tangled wires.
While Notion has existed since 2018, it didn’t blow up the way it did until 2021. It even crashed one day, 4 days into the new year. If you look at Notion’s stock prices, it has gone through significant spikes since the pandemic started.
All thanks to the TikTokers who were studying and working from home. They hopped on Notion to shake up their routines, they migrated from Evernote and Google Calendar, to where the grass is greener and the pages are prettier. People were dropping tours of their digital workspace and tutorials on how to make your Notion “aesthetic” — and by that, they mean how many shades of sage green you can incorporate into your set up. Though in its roots, Notion is designed to be minimalistic for maximal efficiency, it’s also been adopted as a clear canvas for users to flex exceptional creativity. Besides the tongue-in-cheek emojis that bookmarks your pages, people are able to drag and drop gifs and photos to reflect on their personality and personal taste.
I have to admit that seeing how detailed and organized everyone’s workspace was made me feel a little bit insecure about my own, but it is about making it work for you and fit your needs. In just a few weeks, people were devoting their time to enhance their study and work experience, and it was worth it — it was motivating people to work harder, to go back and check off things from their perfectly curated and spaced to-do lists. In need of a Notionspo? People are also sharing their curation and creation on Pinterest, Reddit and YouTube.
As embarrassing it may be to admit, Notion pulled me out of my creative rut. It may have been me blindly jumping on the bandwagon at first, but seeing how much I can do, with seemingly so little (minimalist design, minimal restrictions), I stuck around. It was perfect for those “no thoughts head empty” moments. I was always a non-believer when it came to note-taking apps, I felt like Stickies sufficed my needs: Did I really need anything more than a word or two to jog my memory?
I did, while Stickies did jog my memory from time to time, Notion helps me keep track of everything else, going beyond just when and where.
I could compile all the related documents and shortcuts in one place, not only am I reminded of my school assignment due dates, but I could also reference the source material and check the grading scheme. Plus, for someone who is often distracted by the small things (read: I spend a lot of time on deciding a font), Notion’s uniformity takes a lot off my plate, while giving me a nudge towards the right direction. Plus, Notion is fun. You can tailor it to your liking, and have it reflect your personal needs — I have a page to keep track of all my online shopping orders, and I like to go in every night and update where the orders are (it is less crazy than it sounds).
Gone were the days of me scratching my head over what’s next on my to-do list, now I could see what I needed to do now or figure out how long I could procrastinate until I needed to do them now, in all one glance.
While some of it can be attributed to trials and errors, I owed most of my “aesthetic” to TikTok. The devil works hard but the TikTok algorithm works harder. I look at one NotionTok for too long, and my feed is just an endless stream of Notion tours and tutorials. In my ‘research’, I also discovered people are even selling their Notion templates.
We like seeing how others take notes the way we like watching others clean out their closet, in the words of Marie Kondo, “does it spark joy?”. It helps us to “rethink our habits and reevaluate what is important”, we look at what others are doing for guidance, and readapt accordingly to what works for us.
To see how others are using Notion, I talked to Hannah Kang, a Seoul-based illustrator who uses Notion to organize her work. She noted that she took a liking to Notion due to its “portability across platforms”, she could access client lists, commission requests from her iPad or her iPhone on the go.
For Kang, she feels that her planner should be a reflection of what she does, and who she is. “I like how it’s customizable, you could make it your own, even adding emojis, gifs and hyperlinks, creating a whole new layer of creativity,” However, as she was accustomed to more traditional note-taking and organization methods, she felt like the new and nuanced aspects of Notion were robbing users from the personal experience than no personalization could replace, “but at the same time, I do think you lose the aspect of handwriting stuff down. Its versatility can get a little overwhelming in the beginning.”
A little goes a long way. With Notion, it helps me build a habit of staying on top of everything. I hate the feeling of an impending deadline, but when I lay everything out, it helps me visualize how much work goes into each task and relieves me from a lot of unwanted overthinking and stress. While I do have to admit, I often find myself lost in the overwhelming choices, but once I figured out a system that worked for me, the process was a no-brainer.