We’ve recently introduced Notion for collaboration within our research group. Notion is knowledge management system where you can develop and store content in pages, organized in a series of relational databases. To leverage Notion’s full capacity, it’s crucial to set up the right structure.
In our Workspace, we organize our content into seven main databases:
Pages within each database have the same properties and can be filtered consistently and linked to other databases.
At the most macro-level, we have the Projects database which contains large, multi-year cross-cutting efforts. Here is where we track funded research projects but also every PhD student or PostDoc as well as longer-term ongoing efforts such as managing our website and running our research seminar. The most important project properties are: timing, participants, and funding.
At the next level we have the Publications database. This contains an entry for every publication and also publication ideas. The most important properties of each publication page are the authors, timeline, and status. For status, we track publications through the following stages: Concept, Research, Writing, Revision, and Published. We thus display the projects page in a KanBan board.
Every publication undergoes various submissions as it moves through the publication process. These we manage in the Submissions database. Each submission or re-submission becomes a “submission” and all are linked to a publication. In addition to the “Publication” property, the Submission pages include journal, submission date, timeline, and status.
If the Projects, Publications, and Submissions databases are the bins for the overall organization of our work, the remaining four databases contain most of the working content which goes into those bins.
Research Notes is our database for work products, reference material, and ongoing discussions about pieces of work relating to different projects, publications and submissions. This is our most flexible database where about 75% of our content lies. We classify Research Notes in to four main types:
- general Research Note: Information about a particular scientific topic or calculation (e.g. summary of different ways to calculate a given metric),
- Research Products: Discussions or content related to a specific publication and relevant only to that publication (e.g. draft figure and related discussions),
- Admin Note: Notes that relate to more than one project and generally contain management information such as budgets or project guidelines (e.g. budget planning and job advertisments)
- Project Note: An administrative note that relates to a specific project. (e.g. Reviewer feedback for a specific submission)
In addition, every Research Note has an Owner, Distribution list, Status, and importantly, tags.
Next we have the Meetings and Seminars database. Every meeting or seminar we have, we prepare for and share notes for within a Meetings and Seminar page which have the Convenor, Participants, Date, and with fields to link to relevant Projects, Publications and Submissions.
Pages which contain reviews a single article are contained in the Reviews database. Here, we write our own article reviews where we capture the main points as well as how it relates to our work. We also link each Review page to relevant Projects, Publications and Submissions.
Finally, we have the Tasks database. This contains tasks of varying sizes – everything from a PhD course to revising a figure for a given submission. The important parts of the task database are the timeline, planned hours, Status, Owner, and Assignee. We thus use this database to do everything from tracking commitments for a give PhD student to an overview of the Task timeline for a given Submission. We also link each Review page to relevant Projects, Publications and Submissions which helps us plan at different levels of granularity – from getting an overview of a PhD project to planning the timeline for a specific submission.
Thanks for sharing your academic workflow.
Working with too many databases caused some problems in my workflow. Especially while importing anything with webclipper, or organizing the tasks. I now prefer one database for all projects-publications-submission- and others, then subcategorize them with tags or another property. You can put everything (except tasks) into a single database.
Too many relation may decrease the value of database systems, because notion has only one-level hierarchy.
I wish success in your works..
Thanks, Ali! It’s indeed very important not to have too many databases. Notion is so flexible that one can organise all work in just one database manipulating various properties and tags. The problem then becomes that there are too many properties. I think we kind of struck a balance of having a reasonable number of databases and their properties. This is echoed in GTD system which already presumes at least three types of entities: projects, tasks and reference materials. Well, one can think that we divide the projects into generic projects, publications and submissions and we divide reference materials into meeting notes, research notes and reviews.
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Great post! This made me interested in using Notion for my group. I’d previously been using Trello for tracking my publication pipeline and tasks for each paper. I was able to use Butler automations to automatically populate a master task list and move task cards to a Completed list when I finished them on that list. But I can see a clear use case for linking papers and publications to particular funded projects, as well as to keep databases of paper reviews and notes which are then linked to projects, paper, and proposals. I also like the potential for a group Wiki for storing best practices, computing access, etc.
How do you manage your Tasks database? Is it integrated with, say, the Papers database? Inspired by your post, I’ve created a Projects database for funded projects, and I link this to my Papers database (which is further broken down into Submissions and Publications) to keep track of which papers are funded by which projects. I’d like to be able to automatically populate the basic research and writing tasks when I create a new paper, but I can’t quite figure out if there’s a way to do this. I can use linked tables to manipulate a master task list by manually adding individual tasks within a paper’s page, but since the basic research and writing tasks are similar from paper to paper, it’d be ideal if I could populate those as soon as I create a new paper entry (and there are obviously parallel situations for new students, new proposals, and so forth). I’d appreciate any tips you could provide, as it seems like Notion is quite powerful and I’ve only started to scratch the surface! As a shortcut, I could keep using Trello for this (or migrate to Asana) and link from a paper/proposal page to the associated Trello board, but it’d obviously be more elegant to use Notion for everything.
Thanks for the warm words and for sharing your thoughts. At the moment we don’t use much automation on Notion although we do use their templates for creating pages with regular content (e.g. meeting notes or article reviews). With Publications, we don’t do so many that we can’t populate each one manually, but we’ve been thinking of doing a template as well.
Essentially, a typical page for a Publication includes a table with Submissions (linked database) so that we can track what was submitted, when it was reviewed, revised, if we submitted to a different journal, etc. It may also have some basic ideas. The real work is going on within each Submission, where we have three linked databases: Tasks, Research Notes, and Meeting Notes. Maybe I can do a post on this later, but do ask if you have more questions.
That’s helpful, thanks. Have you stopped using Asana now that you’re using Notion, or do you use the two in combination?