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My 5 Biggest Problems With Notion

Oct 11, 2020
951 words

I migrated over to Notion within a few hours of opening an account, my discovery of it coincided with my attempt to re-implement my Getting Things Done workflow with P.A.R.A. style document storage. I had previously been a very heavy user of Evernote, but with the purchase of an Office365 tenant to handle my emails I converted over to OneNote, and then after a while I realized nothing was working for me and I had to thing about re-implementing my reference storage.

Notion sells itself as the “all-in-one workspace tool”, while primarily built for business and small teams it has found a home with individuals trying to manage their piles of information. The idea is simple, you have two types of data; pages and databases, and with them you can build complex structures much like a wiki.

I’ve now been using Notion for a few weeks, and I’ve hit on a few issues which I’d like to see resolved. I understand that these issues could be trivial to other users, but these are the issues that are affecting me personally.

Global Search for Properties

Global free text and content search works well. From anywhere in Notion you can hit the shortcut of Ctrl+P to bring up a panel, much like Visual Studio Code, and search for freeform text in your pages and databases. My P.A.R.A. resources are stored in a database with a multi-select indicating the topic, when you attempt to search for a topic you don’t get any hits, unless that text is in the contents of a page. If Notion allows the text search to also look at Select and Multi-Select I feel that’ll open up the usage of these fields. The workaround for this is to use the search on the database view, which does mean a few extra steps of discovering the database you need, then searching the values in there.

Page Locking

Locking is Notion’s way to stop editing on your pages and database, once the lock is enabled you can’t modify the page layout and properties, but sub pages can be created without issue. This works wonderfully for my Areas and Projects which the fields will very rarely change, but for Resources I’ve hit a problem that reduces its efficiency.

Again, Multi-selects, I use them for tagging topics and when I create a new Resource I throw a few topics on the page to allow for easier searching, but when the database is locked you cannot add new items to the Multi-Select. A suggestion would be to have a mechanism where the lock is granular, say only allow additions to selects on selected fields, rather than locking every element in the database.

Offline Mode

Offline mode has been one of the biggest issues for the Notion community, and I am by no means the only one with an issue on this subject. Honestly, this is one of my biggest Notion regrets. I moved from Evernote which has a fully-featured Offline mode, the access this gave me was amazing and I was able to reference documents and notes on the go in any location from my phone. Its a feature I grew to depend on over time and now I don’t have access to similar it is causing issues for my workflow.

Notion are currently working on an offline mode, which I am extremely pleased about, but I think my requirements differ from the majority of Notion users. Rarely do I need to create anything on the go, and I work around this gap by using Drafts on my phone and watch. So in reality I’m looking for an “offline read-only” mode, which I feel would be a lot simpler for Notion to implement.

Opening Multiple Items

If you wish to look at another page while writing one, you have two options;

  • Click the link and take it full page, then switching back.
  • Ctrl+Click to open a new tab/instance of Notion and flick between the two running instances.

The second option doesn’t sound to bad, but it starts a full instance of the Notion UI again on your desktop. Ideally what I’d be looking for is how Evernote works, when you Ctrl+Click a note in Evernote it opens a new window showing just the note.

Data Portability

Notion can export your data as a collection of Markdown and CSV files, but once you have that data you’ll quickly realize that the Markdown files are not formatted the way you expect. When using a database to store paged you can assign properties that you can use for key information, for example in my “To Read” database I have properties for the URL on Good Reads, the Author, and dates when I discovered, read, and finished the book. When you export this data out of notion it is pasted into the Markdown as just text.

A very common format for Markdown documents, used by a lot of static website generators, is the YAML Front-matter, this allows you to assign metadata in YAML format to your document, and I think this should be the way that Notion exports its Markdown pages. By using the YAML front-matter it would be painless to take a Notion export and copy it into a Hugo setup to publish the pages outside of the Notion offered public hosting.

Conclusion

These may feel like minor issues for Notion, and most of them could be easily resolved, but they can present some real annoyances to someone’s workflow. Notion is a product designed for one usage but is being used for another, and I can understand that their primary goal is not to service the PKM crowed, but with a few modifications the product could be outstanding.

🙾

Banner by Nik Shuliahin