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.
Putting It All Together: Relations and Roll Ups
Now here’s where it really gets fun. If turning your pages into tables makes them powerful, connecting your tables gives them true superpowers. A common mistake we’ve seen teams make is to create “mini tables” for individual instances. This approach works when you have a small number of tasks and projects, but as soon as things scale it becomes unwieldy — then ultimately unworkable. Thankfully there’s a better way, using one of Notion’s most powerful features: Relations. Armed with your three Primary Tables, you can now link them — effectively connecting the dots — to create a dynamic system.
By using relations, you’ve unknowingly taken a huge (dare I say life changing) step: you’ve left the world of spreadsheets and have entered the realm of databases. At first, the relations will exist as new columns within your tables, but it doesn’t stop there.
Once your tables are connected, you can begin to think of the individual project pages as mini dashboards. To create these dashboards, use Notion’s most powerful command — Create Linked Database — to pull in customized views of the related tasks and notes. The dynamic nature of these relations also means that you can quickly add a new meeting note or mark a task as complete from within a Project page and it will update the Primary Table. Everything always stays in sync.
Roll Ups take the relationships across your tables to the next level, by aggregating specific data from one table into another. (For spreadsheet nerds, you can think of them as giant pivot tables.) The roll up will allow you to apply calculations (such as sum, average and counts) across your data. Need to see the estimated duration for a project? Just roll up the Duration column for each associated task.
Creating Unique Views Using Dashboards
Okay, so you’ve built incredible Primary Tables and all your team’s information is now fully in sync. But how will you use all these tables? Clearly Jane from your ops team has a completely different set of use cases than James in accounting. Part of what makes Notion such a great tool is the ability to take information and slice and dice it and display it visually. From those Primary Tables, we can create custom views for each individual contributor, team or context.
First, you can create custom views of each table, depending on your aesthetic preferences and needs:
- Table: most like a standard spreadsheet, with the ability to hide and reorder the different columns.
- List: a simplified table best for accessing pages quickly.
- Board (or Kanban): ideal for tracking the status of Projects or visualizing workload (that is, simply organize tasks by “Assigned To”).
- Gallery: great for visually presenting data including art boards, visual assets and blogs posts.
- Calendar: useful for tracking Due Dates or Do Dates for tasks and Deadlines for Projects.
As you progress with Notion, you’ll come to love the three magic words: “Create Linked Database”. As mentioned above, this block type allows you to create a “snapshot” of any of the data in your Primary Tables (or any table, really) based on a predetermined format. Just as you pulled them into the individual Project pages, you can pull unique views into your customized team dashboards. Within these snapshots, you can sort and filter in order to show exactly the information you want with some great team use cases including:
- Sort by Due Date: quickly see what’s next up, due soon or what’s falling through the cracks.
- Filter by Assigned to: keep an eye on your own tasks only. Managers can use this sort to keep an eye on the progress of individual team members so they can intervene if someone is off track.
- Sort by Note Type: Show only the SOPs within your Notes, or access all of your active brainstorms for a deep work session.
Scale Your Team Using Templates
Finally, we move into the realm of automation and standardization. Imagine delegating a Typeform survey to your marketing team without ever leaving the Notion app. Or creating an Invoice in Notion that your VA will input into Stripe. Or quickly spinning up a preformatted call log when a client unexpectedly calls. Templates enforce simple structure into your team’s Notion workspaces.
Since templates are a Table-related feature, you can add them to any of your three Primary Tables, including:
- Task Template: what tasks do you most often perform? Do you write a weekly newsletter? Do you assign invoices to your VA each Friday? With a template, the person assigning these tasks never has to leave Notion but can quickly delegate the task with all the necessary information such as client, amount, due date. You can even pre-fill the Assigned To and Assigned By fields if the person responsible for these tasks is always the same.
- Notes Template: What notes do you find yourself taking constantly? Do you have monthly 1:1s with direct reports? Frequent phone calls with clients? Intake calls with potential clients? Create a template for any one of these and simply press a button to generate a fresh entry whenever you need it.
- Projects Template: Remember those mini dashboards that merged tasks, notes and projects? You can even replicate these entire setups (which are simply combos of linked databases) with the push of a button using the advanced database feature called self-referential filters. Now, whenever you add a new project, the page will magically contain just the tasks and notes related to that specific project.
The magic of Notion (and other no-code) tools is that you become the designer and architect of your own productivity systems. And while this can feel daunting, just remember to keep it simple, leverage the superpowers of tables, relations and templates. This will let you connect the dots so that everything you need stays front and center — so that your team can get the job done … with peace of mind.