Hilary Baribeau is a Scholarly Communications Librarian at Colby College whose academic interests are digital scholarship, open practices, bibliometrics, and scholarly publishing.
As the divide between our work spaces and our personal spaces becomes more and more blurry, the main difference between work and play is often defined by our online environments. Even then, bouncing from work email to personal email, from one Google doc to another, keeping everything organized, and creating separate spaces for work and for our personal lives has become increasingly difficult.
Much like stepping into an office, logging into a project management platform can signal a transition from personal time to work time.
Online project management tools can help us to recreate professional work spaces no matter where we are. Much like stepping into an office, logging into a project management platform can signal a transition from personal time to work time. However, many project management platforms vacillate between overwhelming (Airtable) and underwhelming (Smartsheet).
If we are going to spend a lot of time in one place, even virtually, shouldn’t it be an enjoyable space? Like picking out furniture, plants, or pictures to hang on the wall, our virtual spaces should be just as customizable to help us feel relaxed, organized, and productive.
Notion has been the online project management tool that I have found best straddles the tricky balance between offering lots of customizations while still being user-friendly.
Notion has been the online project management tool that I have found best straddles the tricky balance between offering lots of customizations while still being user-friendly. It’s available as a downloadable application, web-only, and as a smartphone app, so it can be used on whichever device best suits your work style.
For individual and collaborative projects, Notion allows me to organize my to-do lists, schedule reminders, and have all of the necessary Google docs or any other files or links I may need in one place. While I use the free, personal option, there is an option to pay for a team version of Notion which expands its functionality for collaboration.
When utilizing a project management tool, it’s crucial to stay purpose-forward rather than platform-forward. Make sure that the choices you make when setting up and utilizing your project management tool all support and enhance your project goals. It can be fun to try out different platform functionalities, but don’t let those distract from your project aims or put off collaborators who may be wary of engaging with a project management tool.
As a librarian, the feature I most appreciate is the Indexing feature. Just like in Microsoft Word, Notion utilizes heading styles to automatically create an index so that you can quickly jump to the relevant sections of your project page. There are multiple types of content blocks that allow you to customize your project pages for whatever you need. These blocks include text, to-do lists, links, calendars, and more.
Notion gives you template options to get started. I started with the “User Research Database” template, customized the fields, also called property features, and added all of my projects for the year which link out into their own project pages. Each project page then has an index with at least four main sections: Tasks, Notes, Timeline, and Documents. Some documents are embedded in the project page and some are linked. Notion offers a few timeline options, including a calendar, Gantt chart, and list view. To-do lists are extremely easy to make with the ability to assign tasks to collaborators added in Notion and to add due dates and reminders as well.
Tip: Utilize the property features. The customizable property features are one of the most useful tools to manage your projects in Notion. This allows you to create project due dates, create a project status, see your collaborators, and monitor updates to the project. For my projects, I have organized them into academic terms, given them due dates that correspond with the academic term (and my annual and mid-year reviews), and also given them a project status: Not Started, In Progress, Completed. The thrill of labeling a project with the green “Completed” status is, trust me, spectacular.
Beware: It is possible to create a never-ending maze for yourself by embedding pages within pages within pages. Keeping your index up to date and manageable will be the key to keeping yourself out of trouble. I also utilize the divider feature. Rather than creating pages embedded in pages, I prefer to keep a longer project page divided into sections and organized by heading styles that are then indexed and hyperlinked at the top of my project page.
I have to add that one of my favorite features of Notion is the ability to add icons and wallpaper backgrounds to my project pages. There are images to choose from, or you can upload your own. If you’re a minimalist, you can stick with a clean black and white theme, or you can add color and whimsy to your page. Whichever you choose, your project page will remain organized and uncluttered. I find that this option allows me to feel like my project pages are an online space where I don’t mind spending a lot of time. As a consequence, I get more work done.
When logging in for the workday and opening up the myriad of applications I need to do my job, Notion is one app that I don’t mind logging on to.
Resources for getting started with Notion:
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