When it comes to Notion, less can truly be more. With just three tables, you can create a unified and customized system that tracks and organizes all the information your team needs to succeed. Gone are the days of pulling out tasks from Asana and then searching for a corresponding standard operating procedure (SOP). Imagine never having to copy-paste awkwardly long shared Google links, instead knowing that they’ll always dynamically update themselves across your team’s internal Wikis.
In this article, you’ll learn how to architect, implement and maintain this minimalist setup for team-based Notion setups. (Start here if you need a quick 101 on the basics.) I’m going to walk you through setting up primary tables and show you how to best leverage them using Notion’s unique superpowers.
The Beginner’s Notion Trap
This minimalist setup begins with the end in mind: Projects. First, you’ll organize your entire team’s projects in one table for transparency and continuity. From there, you’ll organize your two “building blocks” of work (Tasks and Notes), both also as tables. Both of these “building blocks” ultimately roll up into the Projects table.
Seems pretty simple, right? Yet, in my experience most Notion setups overlook this primary table approach — instead creating a bunch of new pages and loosely stringing them together using hyperlinks (similar to your standard fare corporate intranet). This approach makes sense. It’s fast and can get you off the ground and running, but in that case you might as well just stick with Google Docs and a traditional file hierarchy.
The moment you put your Notes and Tasks into individual tables, you unlock an entirely new set of possibilities and permutations thanks to Notion’s rich set of metadata. That document you created can now be assigned to a team member, tagged across multiple business units, sorted by priority and much more.
But first, let’s zoom out to the overarching table that ties everything together: Projects.
It all begins with Projects
Let’s set up your first primary table, which is a snapshot of all of your team’s projects. Once they’re in a table, you can add the relevant metadata (such as due dates, project status, and KPIs) keeping everyone dialed in to every vital piece of information.
Let’s say your team’s working on a big sales pitch to be delivered at the end of the quarter. This is a tightly scoped project with a clear timeline, outcome and series of actions. What do you need in order to deliver?
Building Block 1: Tasks
First, you’ll have tasks: drafting, copy-editing, creating design assets and ultimately sending the presentation to the client. Next, you’ll have notes: sales copy, media assets, color schemes, and discarded revisions of old drafts. In this minimal setup, each Project dynamically brings together all of this information. Let’s walk through the other parts of the system to see how we get there.
Now that you know where your team’s going, the next step is to organize how to get there. How do you ensure that everyone stays updated and on the same page, without anything falling through the cracks? With your team’s Primary Task Table. Your entire team’s tasks — all in one table. You read that right. A simple source of truth, scalable across your organization, reduces cognitive load while keeping everyone on the same page.
At its core, the Primary Task Table is a simple To-Do list with three columns: the task name, due date and a checkbox (denoting its completion). But next, we’ll add metadata to really level up your tasks so that your team can identify the most important information to keep your projects (and ultimately your business) moving forward. If you’re a podcast production company agency, it might be a single select field indicating if you’re in preproduction, editing, or distribution. You might also want to add the estimated duration of each task, to allocate resources accordingly.
For teams, two powerful fields are “Assigned To” and “Assigned By”. For time-bound tasks, you’ll want to add a due date — but be cautious of using arbitrary due dates. Our sales pitch presentation truly must be finished before your next meeting with the client, but assigning a date to a more flexible task is an ineffective strategy. Another option for those flexible tasks is to use a “Do” Date instead, so folks can identify which day they will actually do the work — and mapping it to the project’s timeline.
Adding a field for prioritization might be helpful, but instead we recommend the $10K Work framework for identifying your highest-value tasks. You could also borrow from David Allen’s Getting Things Done approach and use Contexts. These are the “people, places or things” that you need in order to complete a given task. Other useful contexts can be things like energy levels, tools needed (such as computer or phone) or people who need to be involved.
Building Block 2: Notes
Next, you’ll need a place to keep everything you and your team create: your shared digital notebooks. Notion really shines here, providing an elegant solution that’s way more powerful than Google Docs. But once again, a mindset shift is required. Instead of creating a collection of loose notes in a hierarchical folder structure, Notion’s advantage is to create a Primary Notes Table — one rich with metadata that makes it easy to surface your most recent work, documents that need revising, or procedures related to a given project.
Here, I encourage you to think of the types of documents you create and reference on a regular basis. Do you have regular meetings with pre-set agendas? Libraries of SOPs? Candidate evaluation forms for interviews? Requests for proposals? Not only can you quickly organize them in Notion (without using folders), but you can create templates that streamline your workflow. (More on that later!)
In addition to the document type, once again, you’ll pick additional metadata such as Date Created, Last Modified and Created By. If you’re working with a team, you may also want a column with either the author or the person responsible for that particular note. Tags can also be useful if you have a predefined list, but can also become unwieldy if misused — so proceed with caution.
For your Note Type, I recommend starting with these four to keep things simple and streamlined:
- Active: something you’re actively working on and is reasonably developed. Think a draft of a blog post or sales copy.
- Brainstorm: new ideas that are still taking shape.
- Reference: a document that you’ll refer back to with some regularity or for a specific purpose.
- Archive: items that have served their purpose and you no longer need, but would like to be able to surface just in case (as opposed to flat out deleting them).
Feel free to customize these Note types based on your team’s needs. Do you have a lot of SOPs in your company or department? Make that a Note Type so you can find them all in one place.