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How to Work Clean in Notion (When Your Workspace Feels Like a Disaster Zone)

Mise en Place your Notion workspace

Hi friend!

This week I want to talk about how to work clean in Notion (especially if you feel like your Notion workspace is a bit like a disaster zone).

Today’s issues is action packed and a long one, so sit down with a coffee or tea in hand before diving in! ☕

💡 Today at a glance

  • Common Reasons Notion Workspaces Can Feel Messy

  • What’s a Notion Page and What’s a Database?

  • 4 Simple but Powerful Steps to Mise en Place Your Notion Workspace and Work Clean

  • Two Practices I Recommend to Work Clean in Notion

I’m a bit of a foodie.

When I first heard of the French phrase mise en place, I was intrigued.

It translates loosely to “everything in its place”. Digging deeper, I found that it’s something that professional kitchens practice religiously and it’s one of the first things taught at culinary school.

Mise en place is all about being organised in the kitchen before you start cooking (and during).

  1. Read the recipe

  2. Prepare the ingredients and collect the tools you need

  3. Clean as you go

I’ve seen this in person at fine dining and Michelin star restaurants… and I love the vibe it gives off. The kitchen feels calm, organised and low stress. This translates to customers also having a similar experience.

Open kitchen of Birdsong, San Francisco

This approach to working in and running a professional kitchen can be applied to your working life and digital workspaces.

In my previous 9-5 as pharmacy manager in the biggest hospital in my state, there were plenty of moments during the working day that felt busy with patients out the door waiting to be served, ward nurses hassling us for medications to discharge their patients, or two team members having a disagreement about how to solve a problem.

Applying the idea of mise en place to running a busy pharmacy helped keep things calm and organised, and keeping people’s stress levels in check.

How?

It made sure everything we did had a tried and tested process or system, staff are trained to the same standards and procedures, and everything the staff needed to do their work well (i.e. help patients) had a place in the pharmacy.

Your digital spaces are no different.

In an all-in-one workspace like Notion, where it’s up to you to figure out how to work within it, it can start to feel like a disaster zone if you don’t tend to the workspace (like a garden).

If there isn’t any structure, organisation or sense of “everything having a place” within Notion, it can start to feel messy.

We also need to clean up and maintain the space as we use it, to avoid clutter building up over time.

Now, it sounds like a lot of work, but I promise you it doesn’t have to be (if you structure it right from the beginning).

Before we dive into the how, lets briefly chat about some common reasons why Notion can feel messy.

Common Reasons Notion Workspaces Can Feel Messy

For the last 18 months, I’ve been talking to Notion beginners and Notion users who love using Notion but are struggling to use it productively.

Here are some of the common reasons I hear over and over:

  • Their Notion workspaces feels like a dumping ground.

  • Their downloaded templates are mixed in with their own pages and databases.

  • They feel like their workspace lacks structure, so they don’t know where to store new things or how to organise information in Notion.

  • They’re not quite sure where to begin when they open up Notion and see an endless list of pages in their Notion sidebar (They sometimes close the app all together because of this!)

  • They can’t find what they’re looking for, which feels frustrating, overwhelming and a bit of a waste of time, trying to dig through their workspace for something they worked on 3 days ago.

  • They don’t quite know the difference between pages vs. databases, and might have even accidentally deleted a page or databases (loosing important information they now have to re-create).

You might resonate with one or two of the reasons above.

And you’re definitely not alone there. I want to share 4 steps I’ve shared with everyone who I’ve helped to work clean and mise en place their Notion workspace.

What’s a Page and What’s a Database?

If you know this, feel free to skip this.

But if you don’t, understanding this difference between a page and database is super important.

Page:

  • Think of a Notion Page like a blank page of a Microsoft Word Document.

  • You can place different types of information on a page (e.g. paragraphs of text, bulleted list, callout boxes, quotes etc.)

Database:

  • A Notion database is similar to a Microsoft Excel Spreadsheet.

  • Except way more powerful! It actually stores a collection of Notion pages so that you can easily organise these pages.

  • These pages within the database can then be presented in different ways throughout your Notion workspace (i.e. Table, List, Kanban board, Calendar, Gallery or Timeline view) by using the simple but mighty feature of being able to filter and sort the pages within your databases.

If you’re interested to dive deeper, the Notion Help centre is a great place to learn more about pages and databases.

4 Simple but Powerful Steps to Mise en Place Your Notion Workspace and Work Clean

Before Notion can become the productivity powerhouse you wish it is (from watching all those Youtube videos and Notion nerds out there), I think cleaning up your Notion workspace is the first step.

Specifically, I recommend doing this by:

  1. Applying the principles of mise en place to your Notion workspace.

  2. Putting in place some simple practices to work clean in Notion to prevent it returning to being a disaster zone.

Step 1: Collate All Your Notion Template in One Place

A great way to learn and get started in Notion is to download templates from your favourite creators. But before you know it, your workspace can feel like a dumping ground of templates!

There is a hyper simple solution to this problem… create a new Notion page called “Downloaded Templates” and drag all your templates that you’re not actively using into this page.

This way you still have access to the templates if you want to refer to or use it.

Pro Tip 1:

If like me you don’t want these templates to show up when you use the search function to search your workspace, then create a new workspace under your account to store downloaded templates.

I have a separate workspace call “sandpit” that acts as my Notion playground and place to store downloaded templates.

Pro Tip 2:

It can be easy to forget who created the template after a while or why you even downloaded it in the first place.

A simple solution is to simply rename the template and add the name of the creator to it (e.g. Easlo’s Finance Tracker).

And if you had a specific reason for downloading the template, jot that down as a text block within the template.

Step 2: Archive Pages and Databases You No Longer Use

This step loosely follows Tiago Forte’s PARA system. Archive anything you’re no longer actively using, but still want access to in the future (instead of deleting it).

Create a new Notion page called “Archive” and drag all the pages and databases you no longer need onto this page.

But feel free to delete it if it’s something you don’t need. This avoids your Notion workspace slowing down if you have too many pages or databases.

Step 1 and step 2 has likely instantly cleaned up 80% of your workspace.

Step 3: Keep All Your Original Databases on One Page

A common problem beginners face is not exactly understanding the difference between an original databases vs. a linked view of a database.

4 few critical points to understand as a beginner:

  • A linked view is simply a particular view of a database that you have created, by using a combination of views, filters or sorts. (For example, you only want to see a list of all your incomplete tasks or projects instead of all task and project in your system)

  • Deleting an original database removes it from your workspace entirely, but deleting a linked view does not delete the original database or information in the database.

  • Editing the database properties or the pages (information) stored within the database when using a linked view does change the original database.

  • Linked views are a great for organising your workspace and creating workflows based on what you’re trying to do in the moment.

I recommend keeping all your original database on one page in Notion, and resurface information in your databases in the form of linked views throughout the rest of your Notion Workspace.

This means you’re less likely to accidentally delete the original database as you’re almost always interacting with a linked view of the database (not the original).

So to do this, create a new Notion page call “Databases”. Then find the original databases that you’re still using, and move it to this page.

How can you tell if it’s a linked view or an original database?

If a database is a linked view you’ll see a diagonal arrow. An original database does not have a diagonal arrow.

Step 4: Create Dashboards That Focus on Only One Workflow or Purpose

Last but not least, create action-focused dashboards that serve one purpose or workflow.

I’ve left the most “complex” step for last.

I think of dashboards as powerful customised Notion pages that you create to help you take action and carry out specific workflows. It should be hyper-focused on the task at hand and help you be effective with your time.

Dashboards often bring in multiple databases (in the form of Linked Views) relevant to the main purpose of the dashboard, all on one central page.

Here’s an example of a dashboard:

My Rituals Dashboard in Notion

The purpose of this dashboard is simple: starting up my day (morning ritual) and ending my day (shut down ritual).

So I use this dashboard first thing in the morning and at the end of the day.

So What Does Your Notion Side Bar Look like at the End of This Process?

It’ll look something like this:

Notion Sidebar, Example

Now you have mise en place your Notion workspace… everything has a safe place live.

And hopefully you feel your Notion workspace is a little but calmer and more pleasant place to work in.

BONUS: Two Practices I Recommend to Work Clean in Notion

Practice # 1 Store Information in Databases Where Possible

The power of Notion lies in its databases.

Storing information within databases means you can easily find and filter information, and create different views of the same database using the powerful “linked view of databases” feature in Notion.

Databases are also super flexible. You can configure it to different types of views — Calendar, Kanban board, List, Table, Gallery, Timeline.

You can even cross link different databases to each other (Another superpower of Notion).

Bottom line is, use databases where possible to centralise your information.

Practice # 2 Keep It simple

Notion workspaces can get out of hand when we’re not mindful and intentional about what we’re doing in Notion.

It’s so easy to get carried away with all the shiny features in Notion (and there are a lot of them).

You have almost endless possibilities of what you can build in Notion. You can accidentally (and quickly) build something far too complex and requires too much time to update or maintain.

Before you build in more properties into your Notion database or build more “features” into your Notion Dashboard, think about:

  • What’s the purpose?

  • How long will it take you to actually use it?

  • Will it take too long to update or maintain on a regular basis?

The more tedious or complex the system, the more frustrating it will be use and the more time you will waste.

Being productive isn’t about doing more, it’s about doing less but the right things.

Keep your Notion workspace clean and simple by adopting these two work clean practices.

🛠️ Building in Public

I’m thinking of creating a 5-day email course or roadmap to Working Clean in Notion.

Specifically, covering the biggest mistakes beginners make when they first start using Notion. That can lead to wasted hours in search mode, accidentally deleting critical information and closing the app because you don’t know where to begin

Basically covering what I talked about in today’s newsletter but in more depth.

If I get at least 10 people who say they’re interested, then I’ll go ahead and build it for you!

That’s it! Thanks for reading.

If you’re interested in the Roadmap to Working Clean In Notion, join the wait list to let me know!

See you next week,

Janice CK

Whenever you're ready, here are 3 ways I can help you:

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