Today I’m giving a peek inside my world with a showcase of my foundational Notion system, “Sidekick”, the methodology behind it, and how I use it on a daily basis. The Sidekick system is the result of all that I’ve learned over the years about what makes a functional and efficient Notion system. Blocks can be shifted and colors can be tweaked, but what truly matters is how the system functions at its core. That is why I designed this system to be workflow-based, built around universal actions for intake, processing, planning, and review.
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For the most part, just about anything in life can fit into one of three core categories. I call these “Domains”:
The “Personal” domain relates to all aspects of one’s personal life, for example, home, health, and hobbies. The “Professional” domain relates to one’s work or career, in other words, what you do for money. The “Academic” domain relates to learning. Not all of us are in school, but learning is lifelong and we all have continued education in some shape or form. Sometimes these three domains are distinct. Sometimes they overlap.
In the past, I’ve built several standalone systems for each of these domains and used them independently of each other. However, despite sometimes needing their own separate space for management, they operate using (for the most part) the same workflows and database structures at their core. Sidekick brings management of all three domains together using global databases and unified workflows. This is the “one system to rule them all” that you may have heard me mention at some point. =D
- Goals (OKRs)
This is the core suite of databases that all the domains use. All new records created into a global database are tagged with the parent domain – Personal, Professional, Academic (or any combination of the three). This allows me to view information either holistically (big picture) or contextually (focused), depending on my need.
It became clear to me very soon after starting to use Notion (way back in 2019) how important it is to have a centralized input area for entering information quickly, regardless of what type of information it is. The intake area allows me to dump ideas, tasks, and notes without any frills or fluff. It’s just a simple database serving as a holding tank. Intake can be done in a few different ways:
- Using the Notion web clipper to snag resources from the web
- Manually entering the information
- Using speech-to-text from my phone *
* I do a lot of creative thinking while I am driving; over the hum of the tires on the asphalt, a flood of ideas, inspiration, and tasks surface in my brain, and of course, they are the greatest thoughts that I’ve ever had (just like those I have when I am 80% asleep). I need to capture them quickly, or they will be gone. This is why I began to explore speech-to-text on my phone as an option, and it’s really quite easy for getting that task or idea out of the head and into Notion. Figuring out what to do with it will come later during processing.
I have a special suite of views that are optimized for mobile, including one for “Intake”, and this view is favorited so that I can access it quickly from my phone wherever I am. That moment that I realize that I am out of Chickpea Snacks from Trader Joe’s… I can quickly capture a task before it is forgotten (which is usually immediately).
Processing is a super fun part of my day. I really enjoy organizing and putting things in order. Even more than that I like having a clear plan for what my tasks and actions are. I’m weird like that. Processing helps me to take the information that I may have haphazardly dumped into the holding tank and expand on it, organize it, beautify it, and make some sense of what happens next.
Once I determine the type of information (task, note, or resource), processing involves dragging and dropping the item into the appropriate destination database. I can also grab groups of records and drop them together for bulk processing. Then, depending on the type, I add additional information like due date and priority, and if it relates to a collection or a project. This is also the stage where I will add a page cover or icon if it is relevant to do so. Finally, tagging with the domain will release the item from the intake area.
The “Resources” database could also be called a “Library”, “Vault”, “Knowledge Base”, or whatnot, but it is all the same thing. It’s a place to hold information like research sources, documents, recipes, files… even snips from the web. Storing this information in Notion allows me to not have to store it in my brain. I need the real estate up there for other more important things.
As you can imagine, this database can fill up and start to bloat pretty quickly. Especially if you are new to Notion, you may feel “inspired” to put everything indiscriminately into it. Hey, I get it. Using Notion brings feelings of pure and absolute joy. But it can quickly get out of hand and reduce the ability to easily surface what you need, even cause slowness/sluggishness issues with your database.
To combat this, I have a review system in place to ensure that my resources stay relevant and valuable to me. By default, all information moved into the Resources database requires an initial review. This might mean fully reading the article that I clipped in from the web because I didn’t have time to read it in the moment, summarizing the useful bits of information into notes, or creating some action that I’ll need to do related to the information later. At this point, I may be done with it forever and not need to keep it hanging around causing bloat in my database. If that is the case, I’ll delete it. If I will want to reference it again later, I set up a document review cycle:
- Never (default)
- 7 days
- 30 days
- 3 months
- 6 months
- 1 year
… and mark today’s date as the date last reviewed. A formula calculates when the next review date will be based on the frequency I selected. On the date that the information is up again for review, it will be resurfaced on my dashboard. This forces me to make a decision if the information is still providing value or just taking up space. Inevitably, one of three things happens:
- I re-learn something valuable that I had forgotten. I can change the review frequency, or simply mark the date last reviewed. The information will resurface again on the next review date.
- I realize that the information is no longer relevant to me and I wonder why I stored it in the first place, in which case <commence delete>.
- The information is no longer needed at my fingertips, but I may still need to reference it at some point in the future. If this is the case, I archive it and move on. Archiving documents just keeps them safe, but out of the way.
Goals follow a similar review structure, and when key result metrics are due for review they will surface to the dashboard to be reviewed and updated.
An important part of maintaining my health and well-being includes tracking certain metrics. In addition to habit tracking, I use a Bio Logging system for tracking notable elements about my health and physical self. This includes things like stress and energy levels, mood, sleep length and quality, symptoms, weight and measurements, and notes. Having this data has given me the ability to review trends and make insightful course corrections to improve my overall health and well-being. Note that I do not rigidly bio-log every day, only when it is relevant to make note of something.
My daily tracker preps and auto-generates a new card for me every day using the new repeating templates feature. This saves a ton of time to not have to import days in advance or create them manually!
Who wants one dashboard when you can have five? I’m kidding, but really not kidding. With multiple focused dashboards, I can view the one that either presents to me the actions that I need to take right now or what is contextually relevant to me at the moment.
The Intake dashboard is an action-based workspace that gives me a view of the intake holding tank and destination databases for easy processing. I visit the Intake dashboard daily to process anything that might be waiting in there.
The Today dashboard is also action-based. This is the first dashboard that I visit every day to get a snapshot of everything relevant to the current date across all domains. This includes today’s schedule of events and tasks, today’s meal plan and trackers, and items that are due for review. In addition, I can create a journal entry or view any notes created today on the Today board. A simple checklist provides some overall structure for the day’s objectives. I clear out the checklist and start fresh every day since I don’t need to keep a historical record of it.
The Personal dashboard gives an overview of key projects, tasks, notes, and resources related to personal topics, such as home, health, finances, and hobbies.