Digital Organization With Notion For Authors
Ever found yourself sitting down to complete a task and found yourself feeling overwhelmed and scatterbrained?
The plan for the day? Uhh..
That file you were looking for? Missing.
The idea you had earlier for the amazing plot twist? Gone from memory.
Your perfectly color-coded character chart and background story? Where did I put that again?
I've been there. And I don't recommend it. So today I'd like to talk to you about digital organization and the life-changing (that sounds dramatic but it really is true) tool that has allowed me to get organized, stay organized, plan goals, track my progress, streamline my processes, and more.
Why do you need a digital organization solution?
There is an age-old battle between analog and digital organizers and before I jump into all of the Notion-goodness, first I want to touch on why you need a digital organization solution as an author.
Now I've heard digital organization systems referred to as an "external brains" sometimes and I think that term is perfect for describing the importance of a really great organization system since sometimes:
1. We ask too much of our brains sometimes.
A person's mind is constantly processing information - every millisecond so much information floods into our brains. And it's constantly tasked with processing that. Daily needs, reminders, and simple day-to-day functioning really makes our brains work. Now add into it all the other information we as authors and entrepreneurs have to process like oh, say:
- character backstories
- entire fictional worlds
- outlines and scene planning
- editing notes
- book launch plans
- strategies and marketing to-dos
Sometimes our brains need some help.
So having a reliable external system allows us to offload some of that extra that we're asking our internal brain to do. Ultimately allowing us to be more productive, more efficient, and just live a better stress-free life.
2. A total digital organization system can help fill the gaps other tools lack.
Sometimes we see a new shiny tool and think OMG this is going to help sooo much. And maybe it does. But it really only ends up helping with one specific solution.
Some apps are geared toward planning and productivity and only focuses on the to-do list side of things.
Other platforms are only good for managing book tasks like plotting, outlining, and world building.
And to make it worse, everything platform you try just feels RIGID. Like everything you put in has to fit nicely with everything else - the way they want it t, becoming far too limiting for our creative, sometimes wild, brains.
So we try adding another tool. And another.
But what we really end up with is a franken-system of apps, websites, and physical organization methods that leave us feeling more scatter-brained than we did originally.
See now why an all-in-one organization system could revolutionize the way you function?
3. It's shareable.
While it's true that writing can sometimes feel like a solitary experience, authorship as a whole isn't always. Sometimes the need arises to share certain information with certain people. Maybe this is a co-author, an editor, a social media manager, or virtual assistant.
The perks of a really great digital organization system is that the content inside can be easily shared (or protected, if you prefer).
What features do we look for as authors and why I chose Notion.
So when we look at building a system that actually works for our needs as author and does reduce friction and overwhelm, we have to look at a couple of key features.
When I'm about building a truly reliable digital organization system, these are the things that really come to mind in the forefront of what that platform or system needs to have:
- Convenient: it needs to be something that you can have with you as much as possible. So, looking at something analog, most of us don't really carry a full notebook around with us when we leave our homes. Carrying that notebook around, having it with you all the time, is just not something that we do. And of course the more complicated it is, the harder it is to maintain. So it needs to be something that's with you all the time. Let's face it, these days that is our smartphone. Think about it - we might accidentally go to the grocery store without the scrap of paper that we wrote the grocery list on, but we're probably not going without our phone. It's very rare these days that we're separated from them for long.
- Accessible: If you have to go find the notebook and write it down, or if you're spread out ove three apps, your information is not easily accessible. You have to stop and think about which place it belongs.
- Searchable: This is another issue with analog. And I'm a notebook person. I love my planner. However, in this case, it doesn't live up to being a reliable organization system because it's missing a lot of key features. Being searchable is super important. Think about quickly needing to look up a key piece of worldbuilding or character information for your manuscript or quickly searching for the correct, up-to-date outline. And this is another issue, particularly with a lot of apps that get used. I've found that the search function either is non-existent or it kind of sucks. Obviously, you can't run a control F and look for something in an analog notebook either. So having a system that you can easily search is ridiculously helpful.
- Shareable: This may not be a big deal to some authors, but it really is a key component to me. At some point, you probably need to be able to share something, whether you're sharing with an assistant, co-writer, family members, beta readers, whatever the case may be - having something where you can share just the right pieces without having to share everything in your "hub" is really helpful. There are platforms like Trello and Evernote and such that can be shared relatively easily. So there are some options (other than my favorite that I'm about to dive into) that work well for that.
So this, in a nutshell, is why I've ultimately chosen Notion for this. It is completely flexible. You start with pretty much a blank slate. I like to refer to it as like building with Lego blocks. You have some pre-made pieces, but how they fit together and which ones you choose to use are completely up to you. 100% customizable. That's why Notion quickly became my favorite tool.
What Is Notion + Why Do I Love It?
Notion is a flexible all-in-one workspace where you can write, plan, collaborate and get organized - it allows you to take notes, add tasks, manage projects & more.
It’s free for personal use and works across all platforms. Multi-device use makes it easy to capture, organize, and access information.
Notion, to me, feels like a couple of my favorite apps got together as a beautiful hybrid.
I get the functionality of AirTable and Google Sheets with relational databases. I get the open-up-and-type-whatever is on my mind with Evernote and Google Docs. And then I get the gift of Notion itself: extreme flexibility.
Unlike Trello, Asana, and ClickUp, I’m not required to make every bit of information fit some predetermined linear format.
Instead, I can open a page and dump in text, links, images, and files with abandon. I can capture just about any information I want at any time and then organize it however I see fit.
And when my needs change (or I get bored), I can rearrange and restructure to my heart's content. It’s amazing for a non-linear brain like mine.
I never have to wonder what app I put something in or worry about losing a thought before it’s captured. And for someone like me, that’s pretty life-changing. Until I discovered Notion, I was using Trello for a similar purpose. I wrote all about that here + even created a course teaching my methods. But it still had its limitations that left something to be desired.
Now, I’ll be honest, Notion isn’t perfect either.
- Its search isn’t quite as detailed as Evernote.
- And sometimes I wish it had a little better offline functionality.
- I still use a separate task manager because I rely heavily on recurring tasks.
But it’s still my can’t-live-without app.
I seriously keep everything imaginable in this lovely space. In fact, I’m drafting this post in Notion.
I house recipes and cleaning lists, meal plans, and homeschool details.
Random thoughts, wish lists, and meeting notes from coaching sessions, too.
Market research, book wikis, outlines, and editing notes are all there.
And while it may sound hectic to keep all of these various things in ONE PLACE, it’s actually been quite liberating.
And when I get tired of how it's organized, I can change it all around to suit my changing needs...I no longer have to go down the rabbit hole to find a new app or platform that suits me. And for someone like me, who has spent my entire adult life doing just that, it's kind of crazy!
Notion bills itself as an all-in-one workspace, and I guess it pretty much is just that.
How to set up your Notion as an author for optimum digital organization.
So let's switch gears here to talk about how to get your Notion all set up for optimum organization. I encourage you to have paper out when you get ready to start this process because this will be the beginning of deciding what your "hubs" or "organizational categories" are.
Step 1: Create an inbox.
This is the very important first step, no matter what tool you decide to use, because you need a single place to gather the information without over-complicating it or creating any unnecessary rules around adding things to it.
If you are familiar with Bullet Journaling, you can look at this as a kind of rapid log of informational categories. For myself, I customized a Notion template by Thomas Frank to be my inbox. It looks like this
Start off considering the types of info you regularly need to process. It can be specific pieces of information like "Viking Mythology research article" or an information topic like character names. Your "inbox" may be short or super long. Don't worry about the length - just get everything out of your noggin.
If you create this inbox in Notion vs paper, you can even begin to add photos or even drop voice notes. You can in toss links, just write things at random. It can all get thrown in there.
Step 2: Determine your organizational categories
Now that you have your inbox braindump, you can kind of use that inbox to take note about the general areas of your life and business, where there are large amounts of information that you collect on a regular basis.
- quotes/notes from books
- media you want to consume (movies, videos, etc)
- wishlist or shopping lists - things you want to invest in
- tasks + to-do
- research notes
- ideas + brainstorming
You can determine to keep personal and work notes separate if you prefer or join them together in a way that makes sense and feels good for you. You can even begin assigning your inbox notes to these specific categories.
Step 3: Create your digital hubs.
Now that you have your inbox and digital hub, it's time to determine what your "digital hubs" are going to be. I call them this because what it does is it takes information out of those organizational categories and it either filters it, combines it, or connects it in a way where we can actually use it.
So for us authors, maybe we need a task management / calendar hub. And a book wiki hub for all of our project notes and world building. A personal collection hub for our personal reading or gaming lists. Where marketing is concerned, we may have a hub for our content calendar.
These are just a couple ideas based on my usage. I also have what I call a life dashboard that pulls in all sorts of things like travel plans, life tracking and goals, finances, etc. I also have a homeschool hub for lesson planning, book lists, link saving.
You can see here how my Notion is broken into different main hubs - Author Home Base, Thriving Scribes, Personal, and then one where I store different templates and such.
Inside of each of those main hubs, you will find more sub-hubs. For example, in the Author Home Base, you will find things like my:
- word count tracker
- CEO dashboard (task management and goals)
- weekly planner
- book project control room (where my outlines, brainstorming, and book wikis go)
Once you pinpoint what your hubs are going to be, you can start designing them. Some people will find this step tiring and tedious while others will absolutely love it (I definitely fall into the latter). But the amazing thing about Notion is how intricately flexible it is to create whatever your heart's desire is.
I couldn't possibly go over every single feature inside of Notion and I don't want this post to turn into a string of tutorials so instead, I let you know that your hubs can be comprised of pages (and unlimited sub-pages) with:
- text (which can be formatted)
- embeddable photos, videos, web pages
- linked databases
- and more.
A perfect place to learn about Notion's capabilities and get familiar with them is their Youtube channel. Here's my favorite introductory lesson:
What Notion looks like for me what fully integrated into my author processes
I am always intrigued by how people do the things they do in their author businesses, especially when it comes to planning and book production. What about you? Do you like to peek behind the curtains like me?
Because I am curious (a.k.a nosey) I thought you might be too, so seeing how I utilize Notion as a self-confessed type-A, strategically-minded author could be helpful?
I am using the Digital Authorpreneur Home Base - you can get your own customizable template pack for just $47.
Digital Authorprenur Home Base
A magical Notion template pack + walkthrough videos to help you customize the system for your unique author business and workflows.
I'm going to talk about how I utilize Notion as the CEO, the marketer, and the creative in my author business.
Let's dive in.
Using Notion as the author CEO.
There are a lot of things an authorpreneur needs to focus on besides the actual writing of the book. I love using Notion to help me put on my strategic hat and really get into the nitty gritty elements of my author business.
After my initial annual review and strategy session, I come to Notion and create my action plan for the year. Ideas on paper are good, ideas moved from paper and given life and space within Notion is much better!
Here I list out my main annual objectives, add in my major milestones for each month of the year, and even give them a "top 3" focus.
Personally, I use a color-coding system so that at a glance, I can see that the red goals belong to project 1, the blue goals to project 2, etc. Now I can see my year at a glance I am ready to work through the rest of my Annual Strategy. This involves figuring out sales goals and marketing budgets.
Finally, I like to come back and check in on this hub every so often during my CEO dates to ensure I'm on track. I even complete my monthly and quarterly reviews right here from this hub.
Now when it comes to day-to-day task management and to-do, Notion is good for this too.
The weekly planner hub inside the Digital Authorpreneur Home Base is where I'll set my weekly top 3 focuses, my weekly word count goal, any appointments or important deadlines, plus daily to-dos.
Plus, since I can assign a certain WIP to my week (whichever one I'm working on) I can easily hop right on over to that project right from my weekly planner.
I'll dive more into the book work later, since it'll have it's own section.
Journaling + Review
Do you love to journal? It's something I really try to make time for, especially when things are feeling tough. Sometimes it's intricate and prompt-driven and other times, I just like to reflect on what I was able to achieve. My Notion template makes it really easy to do this.
And since the journal entries are housed in the weekly planner hub, I can easily access them later by heading into the week I wrote them or even by searching for a keyword with Notion's search feature.
Using Notion as the author marketer.
Next, let's talk about how I use Notion for marketing uses.
Content planning got you feeling all overwhelmed and under-excited? The Content Planner hub can help with that. This is where I plan your weekly content for social media, blogs, emails… whatever I like!
Personally, I like to come in here on one of my content batching days, like I teach in the Author Platform Content Toolkit and start plugging in social media posts, blog posts, and newsletters.
I love this template because not only does it function as a place for me to plop any content ideas I have, but it's also the place I can plan them, draft them, and even share this with an assistant or content manager who can take the actual scheduling and implementing from there.
Plus the multiple ways to view the pieces of content makes it invaluable compared to other outside planning tools.
Especially when you are leading up to a book launch, keeping track of all of the group promos, newsletter swaps, Facebook group promos, etc can be a big headache. That's where this nifty promo tracker comes in handy. That way I never miss a swap date, important link, or promo again.
While analytic tracking can sometimes be a drag, it can also be a really amazing way to see your growth over the month, year, or years even. It can also give way to some important information like which marketing tactics are working for you and which ones aren't. That way, you can pivot toward the most rewarding marketing tasks. That's why I developed this analytics hub for the Digital Authorpreneur Home Base.
I'm able to quickly keep track of all of my author platform and sales stats.
Using Notion as the author creative.
Word Count Log
I love tracking my wordcount with each sprint as well as end of day totals. It can be eye opening to see you patterns and how your environment affects your output. Notion is amazing for keeping track of data like this. I use a table to input my daily sprint count, as you can see below.
I especially enjoy the ability to assign a specific project, calculate daily, weekly, or monthly totals, and filter the table based on whichever project or time frame I want to look at. I usually keep this hub open during the day while I'm sprinting and then use the sum calculator to get my daily total to input in Pacemaker, which I use to map out my project game plans.
Book Production Process Streamlining
But here comes the real magic of using Notion as an author. I'm able to build my books, track my progress, and so much more. I've created a template called the Project Control Room which I use as my book-related-everything. Here's a peek at what it looks like when it's opened.
You can see more about the wiki section below. But when I click on one of those project portals, I'm brought to a page (conveniently templated, thanks to Notions template function) with everything I could possibly need for that specific book project. My outline, scene blocking, notes, important dates, publishing checklist and deadlines, you name it. See how that looks below:
Those "Phase" dropdowns you see? Those are where my publishing checklist is housed, broken up into different phases of book production. This makes sure I never miss a step or wonder what to do next. Here's what it looks like in my Phase 2 checklist.
And yes, each of those checklist items is linked to the page where that information is stored. So if I click "Complete Outlining", I'm actually taken right to my outline for this specific book.
Book Wiki (Character + World Building Organization)
Since Notion is amazing with housing and organizing information, it makes the perfect space to build out a project wiki. For example, I have specific pages for my character data, locations and settings info, my world map, world timeline event data, magical artifacts, and more. I love how Notion is so customizable that I can literally add anything here. See what it looks like when I dive into one of my character wikis.
You are seeing a lot in the clip above. Here's a brief explanation. I'm able to click into my Character's list from the Project Portal. From there I'm brought to the default view - an excel-style table showing important data like name, the book in which they appear, species (since this novel is fantasy), and more at-a-glance info.
I can also change the "view" into a more gallery-style aesthetic with character cards. When I click into a specific card, it opens up detailed character information. This is the same at-a-glance info plus more in this character's full page. Here I can put character appearance stats, backstory, goals, growth information and more. Seriously, anything I need to be able to reference for this character can be added here.
I make similar setups for my book locations, any specific organizations, artifacts, and anything else that needs a data hub.
The Digital Authorpreneur Home Base - Notion Template Pack For Authors
I hope you’ve found this post helpful! I’d love to hear in the comments if it’s helped you with you digital organization or given you some ideas on how to utilize Notion as an author.
And, if you are ready to dive into Notion but not really feeling up to starting from scratch, you can totally check out my Digital Authorpreneur Home Base - a magical Notion template pack + walkthrough videos to help you customize the system for your unique author business and workflows.