Tell me if this sounds familiar. You're leading a meeting, going over how to do "X," and you get nods that secretly communicate how lost your employees really are.
Why does this happen?
The most common mistake managers make is assuming employees and team members have basic understanding or expertise on tools, workflows or projects. This can be hugely problematic, largely because it's not apparent until it's a problem. Employees and new hires can mask their lack of expertise for a number of reasons; fear of looking inexperienced, discomfort asking for help or defaulting to 'figure it out' mode, to name a few. Especially in startups, where work moves quickly, it can be hard for new hires to ask questions, and get the support they need to work in a method that's effective.
Notion's Pretty Intuitive, Right?
Anyone who's come to Notion from other work apps like Trello, Asana, or Airtable, tend to pick it up pretty quickly.
But what about employees who are coming from outside of tech, or have a valuable expertise but don't have as much experience with new platforms or distributed teams? For many, Notion can look like a minimalist painting they're not sure how to interpret. The simplicity of its user interface also means tools and functions are less present, and less obvious.
As a founder or manager, it's easy to forget how much experience and learning has taken place to use Notion efficiently. For new hires, there's a few fundamentals that, if mastered, can have huge impacts on long-term productivity, while minimizing stress and anxiety around the platform.
Here are the top 10 things new hires and employees new to Notion need to know to succeed.
01. Notion = Pages + Blocks
Pages are pretty self-explanatory so we won't bother too much (at least until we get to sharing & permissions).
Blocks are Notion's best dynamic feature. Most note-taking apps or writing apps prioritize text, leaving any other media feel clunky. Notion treats all blocks equally, whether they're text-based, images, tables, boards, or links to other sites.
The graphic below from Notion's help page illustrates some examples of blocks.
Two things to keep in mind with blocks:
- Clicking and dragging blocks using the
⋮⋮allows you to move blocks anywhere on the page.
/will pull up the block menu to quickly add anything you want.
02. Navigating the Sidebar
Another key difference between Notion and other writing apps is its ability to nest pages inside pages, inside pages. The sidebar can be your best friend when it comes to quickly accessing your most commonly-used paces.
Let's take a brief look at each section.
Favorites allows you to pin your most important pages. This is great for specific pages that may be nestled deep in a workspace.
Workspace is typically shared by teams or entire companies. In other words, workspaces are macro-level pages that are often organized in a wiki style.
Shared pages will show up once you've shared an individual page with another user. These make sense for 1-on-1 meetings, or pages that shouldn't be shared team-wide.
Private pages are yours only, until you either add them to a public page, or share with other team members. These make sense if you're in draft mode, or using/modifying templates prior to adding them to shared spaces.
Also, if you're in Workspace or Private, clicking
+ New Page will quickly create a new page, and it will live in the sidebar section until you move it elsewhere.
03. Creating a New Page? Browse Notion's Templates First
If you (or your employees) are new to Notion, its blank-canvas nature can induce anxiety. Where is one to start? Thankfully, Notion has over 50 page templates hiding in plain sight. There are a few templates pre-loaded when you first open Notion, but there are two easy ways to access templates.
At the bottom of the sidebar, clicking Templates pulls up the library, allowing you to search and quickly duplicate any template you need.
Each time you create a new page, you have the option of customizing the page, using a template being one way to do this.
Notion has a great walkthrough video on how to do this.
You'll likely rely less on templates over time, but they can be incredibly useful to seeing various ways of organizing information, before creating your own customized pages.
Hands down, my favorite part. Mastering shortcuts will make you feel superhuman. There are so many, but here are the most popular:
nto create a new page (desktop apps only).
clickto open a new Notion window.
pto open search or jump to a recently viewed page.
[to go back a page.
]to go forward a page.
lto switch to Dark Mode (That's an L not a 1).
There are so many more, if you're interested in diving deeper into shortcuts, definitely check out Notion's comprehensive Shortcuts Page.
05. Mentions & Reminders
The best way to describe the
@ symbol is...magic. It's also something that may not be obvious when first using Notion. What can you use the
@ symbol to call attention to?
- People (@John), to ping them in a page
- Page (@Knowledge Base), to reference another page
- Date (@Next Tuesday) to set a reminder within a page
There's more granularity you can go into, like setting a reminder time in addition to date, but the goal is to utilize mentions and reminders as a way to connect people, pages, and dates to a page, wherever you need to in the page.
06. Links & Backlinks
First, let's take a look at links. Notion really sets itself apart when it comes to linking throughout a workspace, and customizing how and when you can link to other pages or blocks. There are two ways to add links:
Full Width Block
If you're adding links to a page, this method will essentially be its own block, meaning it will take up an entire row. Adding this type of link is as easy as typing
/link to pageand add the name of the page you're looking for.
If you remember earlier in the post, you can use the
@ symbol to quickly add a link to a page in line with other text. You can also type
[[, which also gives you the option to link to a page.
This feature came later to Notion, but can be super useful to get a sense of what pages are being referenced anywhere in the doc. Backlinks are a great way to quickly see what other pages are being referenced, directly below the page title. Backlinks are hidden by default, but if you're actively linking across pages, you can make these visible by default int the
••• in the header.
07. Sharing & Permissions
There's a few things to consider when changing sharing settings for a Notion page, but there are two main goals here:
- Make sure the right people can see the pages they need
- Ensure pages are not shared with the wrong teammates or the public.
Let's take a look at the sharing options.
Who can access your page?
The share button at the top right allows you to not only type in users' names or email addresses, but you can also change their level of access.
How to give access to your page:
Share to web
This means your page is completely public, and (unless you turn off sharing) for any subpages as well. Don't share to web unless the content is meant to be shared publicly.
If you're sharing the page with a few people, you can type in their names or email addresses to quickly share the page with them.
Share with Workspace
If you're at a company that has multiple teams, it makes sense to create workspaces for teams, ie. Sales, Marketing, or Product. That way, the common action of sharing new pages with your team is easier than manually adding people individually.
See Who Has Access
At the bottom of the pop-up, you'll see who has access, and what level of access. This brings us to the next section.
What can people see and do in your page?
There's a few different layers of access, to both protect your page from getting modified accidentally, and to facilitate collaboration. Here are the different levels of access:
Don't want to share this page with anyone? Set to No Access.
Users or groups who you've shared the page with can see it, but can't make changes.
Same as above, but users can drop in comments.
Users can make changes to the page, add, edit or remove sections. They can't however, share the page to others.
Users can make changes as well as share the page with others, including people outside your organization.
Other Ways to Help Team Members
New hires can quickly get overwhelmed with tools, platforms, and integrations, on top of the details of their role. There are plenty of apps more complex than Notion, but it is worth considering how to reduce friction, and make sure employees know how to navigate pages, what workflows make sense in which context, and collaborate effectively. Here are a few extra tips:
- Create a space – could be a Notion page or a Slack channel – where employees can ask questions judgment free. Having an easy intake system allows for employees to get the help they need.
- Create an FAQ. With any software, there are bound to be common questions around how things work; apps are imperfect and never 100% intuitive. Having an FAQ page gives employees a place to go before taking the time to resolve an issue with managers.
- Consider an onboarding workshop. Notion can seem very intuitive for seasoned users, but this can be a loaded assumption. Because Notion is a knowledge base, project manager, and word processor all at once, there are also workflows built in, that may not be clear to new employees.
Shameless plug; if you're looking at implementing any of these, thenotioncoach.com helps teams streamline workflows in Notion, through workshops meant to reduce friction, and optimize how teams work. If you're interested in learning more, you can book a free discovery call here.