If you do a quick google search for “how to get started with Notion,” you’ll be greeted by a plethora of how-to articles detailing the platform’s features.
They’ll tell you about the different block types and how to create pages and format everything.
And nearly all of them will compare the platform to building with LEGO. (I don’t fault them for this at all…it’s apt.)
But they are all lacking one critical component: how to actually use the platform.
So while these articles seem helpful, they’re just adding to the overwhelm that probably sent you scrambling for a new platform to begin with.
Sure, now you know what it can do, but how do you make it work for you?
Today I’m sharing the tips, tricks, and secrets that I wish someone had told me when I first encountered this marvelous platform.
Start with an Inbox
At its most basic level, Notion’s job is to house information that you collect throughout the day: ideas, thoughts, tasks, resources, research…anything. And the biggest way we overcomplicate that is by having a million places we could put it.
Most of us started experiencing this issue when we had a million different apps. Now we have Notion, with a million different pages and templates.
It’s still too complicated.
I’m repeatedly asked, “will I be able to stick to this system?” The answer is that it all depends on you. If you overcomplicate it, no, you won’t stick to it. And I think we sometimes do that just to sabotage ourselves.
So, I encourage you to create an Inbox page, whether you have three pages or thirty in your Notion account.
A blank page, titled Inbox, nothing in it. And be sure to mark it as a favorite and keep it at the top of your navigation pane.
All of the information you collect goes straight here. You’re not wasting time trying to decide where to put it or getting distracted by anything else in your account. You’re recording it in the Inbox and getting back to what you were doing.
Make Notion Part of Your Routine
The inbox works exceedingly well when we make two things a habit:
Gathering every piece of information in that one place.
Making time to review the information we’ve gathered.
Make adding things to your Notion inbox as easy as possible.
Make sure you have the app downloaded and in an easily accessible spot on your home screen on your phone. Also, check that it’s enabled in your share settings so that you can easily send information to it from other apps.
On your computer, download the app and again, make it easily accessible. I also highly recommend adding the web clipper to your browser extensions.
The key to building a habit of using it consistently is to make it as easy as possible. And then to make alternatives more difficult.
Go ahead and remove or hide other competing apps so you aren’t tempted to use them instead. Evernote and Google Keep were banished to a folder on my phone, and I removed the Evernote and Keep web clippers from my browser.
Your brain shouldn’t need to think about where information goes. Let that thumb reach for the Notion app become muscle memory.
Make time to review and process what you’ve gathered in your Notion inbox.
Information gathered is excellent. Information processed is better. Information used is the goal.
Once you’ve built the habit of gathering the information, you have to develop the habit of reviewing and processing it.
For me, this is the time every day where I sit down and look at what was added to my Inbox and process it.
Tasks I already completed get deleted. Events/dates get added to my calendar. Everything else gets moved to it’s home within Notion or stays on the page.
It’s truly okay if some things don’t have a home and just stay there for now. It’s actually better to leave oddball pieces of information to linger there rather than create a home for them just because.
Don’t try to build out a complicated Notion eco-system all at once.
Speaking of creating homes for your information, please don’t try to do it all at once.
I actually think this is why most people give up on Notion (or any system, really). They see all of the things it CAN do, and jump right into the deep end with a million templates and pages.
None of it works quite right, and it’s confusing and complicated. And then you’re off to hunt for something better.
So, I implore you to start small. Once you have your inbox, start looking at the type of information you’re collecting and see where themes pop up. Or pick your biggest daily pain point and start there.
If you find your inbox is full of recipe links and things to add to the grocery list, then it sounds like a meal planning setup might be useful for you.
If your biggest daily pain point is staying on top of client project statuses, how about starting with a client project database to visualize your workload?
By starting with two or three areas where you’re collecting various data and learning how to use Notion to make them work together to make your life easier, you’ll be able to get in a groove with the platform and then add things as they make sense.
Use databases to organize information and then pages to display and use related information together.
One of the downfalls of creating a ton of layouts all at once is that you don’t have a chance to see how different collections of information might work together.
Using meal planning as an example: You might build out a grocery list, recipe gallery, pantry inventory, and meal planner and then display specific views of them together to make meal planning a breeze. But you might also display the meal planner on your family hub page, too.
As you review the information you collect in your inbox, you will discover themes and trends, enabling you to build databases that strategically organize related information.
But the real magic happens when you connect the dots between the different types of information you’ve gathered and create an ecosystem that combines them into truly usable tools.
When you link together your thoughts/ideas/quotes database with your content creation database and can actually search for and use that idea you had six months ago, you realize everything clicks.
Instead of gathering information and leaving it to wither and collect dust, you’re building a system that empowers you to use that information, bringing everything full circle.
It’s all fun and games to play with a new platform and discover the millions of things it can do.
But when that initial burst of excitement wears off, you’re left with a complicated, unusable platform, and you’re right back where you started.
Start small, create a routine, and take the time to build out your own personalized system. I promise it’s more satisfying and productive.
Want to get the most out of notion? Check out my Reliable External Brain Blueprint. It’s a full training on creating your own Reliable External Brain using Notion and includes a plethora of templates and tech tutorials to help you get started without getting overwhelmed.
I believe that the question isn’t which to use, but what files should go where.
In online business communities, the debate has raged for years. Which cloud storage is better for documents and digital files?
I used to be quite firmly planted in Camp Google Drive. Its flexibility for collaboration is virtually unmatched, in my opinion. And these days, almost everyone is familiar with its Docs and Spreadsheets.
But in the past year, I became a convert to the middle ground—I use both, and I couldn’t be happier.
“But Dani,” I hear you saying, “you’re always telling us to simplify and making a case for fewer apps!”
I know, I know. But hear me out.
Google Drive and Dropbox serve two different functions if you organize them correctly.
Google Drive for Collaboration
As I mentioned earlier, Google Drive shines when we look at collaborative processes. It works across all platforms, and unlike ten years ago, not everyone has Microsoft Word.
Being able to live-edit documents together, track changes, and always know that this document is the most up to date—well, those things are pretty amazing.
A bonus is that each user can store the shared document in their folder system, meaning that how I organize my Drive doesn’t have to match how you organize yours. I’m all for effective collaboration without forced organization!
Dropbox for Archiving
On the other hand, sometimes shared organization is essential. But that’s usually once a document is no longer “in progress” and has moved on to an archiving stage.
Dropbox is fantastic for long-term storage and being able to share files without wondering where a file was moved to or having to navigate complicated share settings.
Another brief note on this: I strongly feel that Dropbox is the safer storage space for media items like photos, videos, and audio files. While there’s no official documentation of this, there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence that Drive compresses some of these files. If your business is heavily reliant on these file types, it’s not worth the risk.
Tips for Success for using Google Drive and Dropbox Together
If you’re going to use both platforms as I do, here are a couple of tips to make the experience run seamlessly:
Use the same folder structure and naming conventions on both platforms.
If you look inside mine, the folders are identical for the most part. The top-level is precisely the same, and as you go deeper, the only thing you’ll notice is that there are more folders in Dropbox. I also use a standard naming convention so that my search habits work across all file storage platforms (hard drive, Drive, iCloud, and Dropbox).
Know what goes where.
And keep it simple. In my case, in progress files go in Drive (docs, spreadsheets, presentations) or stay on my hard drive (Illustrator, InDesign, etc.). Once completed, they are saved appropriately and filed in Dropbox. It’s obvious what types of files go where and at what point they make the transition.
Connect both platforms to your computer.
I’m a Mac user, but I know this is also doable on a PC. Having both platforms accessible from Finder on my laptop means that a quick search will bring up the file no matter where it’s stored. It also makes it easier to move files around between them. I also have the apps for each downloaded to my phone and tablet, as well as using iCloud sync for my hard drive folders, enabling me to access files on the go when needed (an essential part of nomad life).
Different platforms serve different purposes, and as always, what works best for me may not work best for you. When I work with clients on streamlining their processes, inevitably, file storage is a hiccup we need to smooth out. The method I describe here works to do that in nearly all cases, whether it’s a solopreneurship or a growing small business.
If you’re interested in going deeper on this topic and learning how to easily maintain your digital files, join my live training, the Organized File Management Blueprint, on August 5th at 6 pm Central. Click here for more information.
Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
If any part of your business involves matching up your availability with someone else’s a scheduling tool is a critical piece of the automation puzzle. And no tool does the task better than Acuity Scheduling.
I tried many different scheduling tools before falling in love with this one. None of them were as flexible or user-friendly as Acuity Scheduling.
If you’re tired of all the back and forth headaches caused by scheduling, there’s a lot about Acuity Scheduling you’ll love.
Here are my top five things to love about Acuity:
It’s like having a full-time assistant.
Don’t get me wrong, I love having a real assistant, but Acuity brings another active layer to the table because it works 24/7 for me on a very slim budget (and I’d never treat a human-like that). Acuity is always there to help people book an appointment with me, and it’s always done right. My clients book themselves right into my calendar without any ongoing effort on my part—even while I’m on a wifi-free hike with my kids.
It helps me avoid email.
This goes hand in hand with that last part. I absolutely hated the back and forth emails trying to schedule calls with people. It was the bane of my existence when it came to onboarding clients. Figuring out who’s available when juggling time zones and missing emails are all a thing of the past.
Everyone gets the information they need when they need it.
I use questionnaires during booking to make sure I have all of the information I need before we get on the phone which keeps calls short and fluid. And my clients get all of the details they need to prepare (including meeting links and reminders). Best of all, I never have to lift a finger or risk forgetting to send that reminder.
Acuity plays nice with other tools, too.
I love integrating right with Zoom, ConvertKit, and Trello. I don’t have to waste time creating meeting links for each appointment, getting clients on my list, or setting up workflows for them in Trello. It all just hums along in the background making my life simpler so I have more energy to help transform my clients’ businesses.
It makes me look good!
But more importantly, it helps my clients feel well taken care of. They don’t have to wait on me to send them available times, forms, or invoices. They get all of the information they need to work with me quickly and organized. Detailed, timely reminders, and me being prepared upfront for our calls because I used a well-thought-out intake form mean that our meetings aren’t fraught with issues from the start. The more professional my process feels the more taken care of my client feels.
As a bonus, here are a few more things I love about Acuity Scheduling:
Acuity Scheduling is FLEXIBLE.
I love that the founder created Acuity Scheduling to solve an issue for his mother’s massage practice. But as it grew, he saw that other industries needed this same sort of tool. Whether you’re a massage therapist, a life coach, own a yoga studio, or run a photography business, Acuity can be customized to fit your needs. Acuity works if you have multiple locations, multiple employees, or you’re doing this whole entrepreneur thing on your own.
Acuity Scheduling is budget-friendly.
Other similar tools can cost over $100 per month, and they seem to just keep raising their prices. Acuity Scheduling starts at free and goes up to $50 per month if you need really advanced features. Most businesses fall in their $15 or $25 per month plan.
Not only have they structured their pricing so that you only pay for the features you need, and then they took it one step further: you also only pay for the support you need. With any plan level, you get access to their extensive self-help knowledge base, frequent live webinars, amazing customer support team via email, and their well-managed user community on Facebook. To keep their pricing so budget-friendly, they’ve outsourced more personal, advanced help to their Acuity Certified Experts.
You can read more about the program here, but in a nutshell, they partner with business systems experts like me to bring a variety of 1-on-1 support options tailored to your business and needs that you can pay for separately. Whether you’re looking for a done-for-you set up or just need 30 minutes of on-screen help, there’s an A.C.E. out there that fits your budget, needs, and schedule so that you can make the most out of Acuity Scheduling for your business.
Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
I recently made the case for having and using fewer apps (phone apps, computer apps, web apps—all of the tools, resources, and platforms we are bombarded with as business owners).So today I want to talk about which apps I’ve chosen to invest in and why.
Every business should have a few core apps that are used to run the majority of their systems.The fewer there are, the leaner and simpler your business will run.Fewer overhead costs, fewer passwords to remember, and less brainpower needed for your day-to-day tasks.
So without further ado, let’s dive into the core apps I use:
Without a doubt, this is my absolute core app for my business.If you are any sort of coach, designer, or other service provider, this may be a great fit for you!If you’re a Maker, it might not be. Dubsado houses my forms, questionnaires, proposals, contracts, invoices, client portal, process checklists, and even my bookkeeping. Once upon a time, I had separate tools for most of these tasks, and I don’t miss that one bit.
If you’re in business online, you need an email list—it’s non-negotiable.I won’t wax poetic about the importance of email marketing in this post, but suffice it to say it’s so important that your email marketing platform is automatically a core app.For my business, I chose ConvertKit.It provides a lot of flexibility for the type of business I have, and it’s automation and segmentation features are top-notch.If you are a product-based business, super budget-conscious, or for some other reasons feel the need for “pretty” emails, then I would recommend MailChimp.If you are a blogger or content creator, ConvertKit is absolutely worth the investment.
This is another wonderful multi-tasking tool and if you’re a content creator, add this one to your toolbox.CoSchedule serves as both an editorial calendar (for all types of media, not just WordPress) and a social media scheduler. I love that it does the heavy lifting of deciding when to post to my channels–it’s like having a social media manager, without having to hire a social media manager.
G Suite (formerly Google Apps for Work)
I waffled on including this in my core, but it really does belong here.Your business email is important.If you’re still using firstname.lastname@example.org or your email is part of your hosting account, I urge you to invest in the $5/month for this email solution.The former is simply unprofessional (and yes, your potential clients notice) and the latter puts you at unnecessary risk of being unreachable if your site goes down (and that’s particularly important if you’re on shared hosting). This is an inexpensive fix that will save you a lot of headache down the road.Not to mention, the features of G Suite allow for amazing automation that will make managing your inbox a breeze. P.S. You can use these coupon codes for 20% your first year – MA4WAVA4L9QX9GT (for the G Suite Basic Plan) or W7XPREGEFUAKG7L (for the G Suite Business Plan).
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Okay, so those are my absolute core apps.If I was weathering a financial storm that sent me to bare bones, these are the ones I would absolutely find a way to keep paying for.The next set of apps are my “nice to have”.
Okay, so this one is almost a bridge to my core apps.I would fight to keep it, but ultimately, there is a free option that I could move down to if needed.If you offer appointments of any kind, Acuity Scheduling is like a personal assistant that doesn’t need to take sick days.If you book any sort of session with me, you’ll see it in action.It helps you find a time, collects the information I need to make your session a breeze, and if necessary, takes your payment.And it even sends reminders to both of us (and that’s drastically reduced the number of no-shows I was dealing with).
Again, there’s a free version of this that may work for some people. Zoom integrates beautifully with Acuity Scheduling so each appointment is booked with a meeting link.Audio-only, video, or screen-sharing calls are all supported and you can record the session with a click.It even offers webinars as an add-on so you can hold workshops without setting up yet another tool.
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And now for the free apps that simply make my life easier:
This is included in G Suite, or with your free Gmail account if I didn’t sell you on upgrading.If anything you do involves sharing any sort of file with your clients, this is a simple solution.Not to mention, storing client files in the cloud protects you from inevitable computer crashes and allows you to work on the fly.Of course, there are options like DropBox, OneDrive, and many others—but for simplicity’s sake, you probably already have this, so use it.I consider it part of my G Suite core but thought it deserved it’s own mention, same goes for the next app.
I’ve talked before about the importance of using a digital calendar.Again, it’s free and already included with accounts you surely have.I have mine synced with Dubsado and Acuity and I’d be lost without it.The reminder feature has been a great addition and I use it frequently.
Trello or Asana
Confession, I have both of these still, but there’s really no reason for you to have both.If you are a list person, go with Asana, if you’re more visual, Trello is probably the right tool for you.Or maybe you don’t need either one, and that’s cool, too.Right now, I primarily use Asana with my main retainer client because it was the best for their business model and their team was familiar with it.Personally, Trello eventually grew on me and it seems to be easier for my husband to use since it’s more visual.It’s my catch-all for ideas, login info, and bookmarks.It is one of the few areas that contains both business and personal, but it handles it beautifully and replaced a handful of apps.Note: if you are only using it for business, you’ll find similar features in Dubsado.I’ve been using Trello since before Dubsado added task boards and just haven’t made time to transfer my data over.
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There are a handful of other apps and tools I use, but these are what’s in my basic toolbox and what I would recommend any new business owner invest time, money and energy into.If you’re missing any of these basic functions, I urge you to consider your options and cover these bases. At the very least you need:
A CRM (customer relationship manager)
A bookkeeping/invoicing system
An email marketing platform
An email service provider
A calendar and a project manager (but can be analog if you’re a solopreneur)
Anything beyond these is completely dependent on the type of business you’re running.A photographer will need something different than an apparel designer or other product maker.A content creator’s toolbox will look different than a graphic designer’s.
What core apps do you find invaluable in your business? I’d love to hear!
If you’re like me, your social media feeds are filled with tutorials and sponsored ads for various apps, tools, and platforms that say they’ll help you streamline your business and double your revenue.Seriously, google “project management” or “Asana” once and those lovely algorithms will have you seeing tools like this everywhere you go.Dive into any entrepreneur community and you’ll see discussions galore about which ones are better, and people shoving affiliate links each other.Don’t get me wrong, they do it with the best of intentions, but for an overwhelmed entrepreneur, this simply isn’t helpful.
And worse, some of us are prone to going to the shiny object syndrome of new tools.We want to try them all and spend so much time setting new ones up, learning their features, and transferring our data—that’s time we really ought to be working in or on our business. “Free Trials” have made this even worse because the only thing we have to give up is time and brain power (and for some reason, we subconsciously value those less than money).
So let me make the case for fewer apps.
Note: In this case, I’m going to use “app” to refer to everything from apps on your mobile phone, to apps on your laptop or desktop, to web apps.It’s a broad paintbrush for all of those tools and platforms we might be using in our business.
The more apps you have, the more time you spend looking at apps.And unless you’re an app developer, that’s probably not the most productive thing for your business.
“There’s an app for that”
Just because there is an app for that, doesn’t mean you should download it.Do you really need an app for that?Do you already have an app that can do that?I found myself looking at task/reminder apps the other day, but I already have Trello, Evernote, and Gmail which can effectively do just that thing.I also at one point had an app for dutch oven cook times.Seriously, a printed version tossed in the camping cookbook worked just as well (and was still available when my phone died).
Also, just because it’s a free app doesn’t mean you need to use it.Just sayin’.
Having too many apps is counterproductive to using them to streamline.
Having more apps than necessary complicates your business systems.More moving pieces means more things likely to break.It also means more for you to remember.I’m sure you’ve been there.Did I write that down in Evernote or make a card in Trello?Maybe it’s in the client notes on Dubsado.Or maybe the pad of sticky notes I spilled coffee on yesterday. Ugh.
It costs money.
Ah, I could go on for ages about why having fewer overhead costs is good for your business, and maybe someday soon I’ll write a post dedicated to running a lean business.Most of the good apps, to get the features we want, cost money.Most of them aren’t that expensive, but those little monthly subscriptions add up fast.And those annual ones are easy to forget about when you’re factoring your costs. Really evaluate an app before you shell out money for it.Is the free version good enough?Is there a cheaper alternative?Is there a direct revenue benefit with this purchase?
Good areas to drop money on a good app are where your money is managed, or you can avoid hiring someone.That means paying for a good CRM to manage your invoices, a good bookkeeping app, and a reliable social media scheduler.These may vary depending on your particular business and skills, but I find these three + an email marketing platform are the core apps that every online business needs.
Take a look at what apps you’re paying for.Be sure to look for those forgotten annual payments.And then look at all of the apps on your phone.How many do you use on a daily basis?How many on weekly basis?Anything not in those two groups could probably be discarded.Freeing up valuable resources in your business starts with reducing the amount of tools you rely on and make sure you’re squeezing every drop out of the ones you keep.
What apps can you not live without? Are there any that you feel you should be using better? Which apps were quick deletes? I’d love to know.