Joshua Bergen is a very productive person.
His secret is the workspace app Notion. Bergen, a product manager living in Vancouver, uses it to plan trips abroad in meticulous detail, with notes and timelines. He uses it to curate lists of the movies and TV shows he’s watched, and records what he thought of them. It’s also a handy way to keep tabs on his 3D-printing projects, map snowboarding runs, and quickly update his cute list of the funny things his kid has said.
It might sound strange, but Bergen is one of a growing number of people using Notion, software intended for work, to organize their personal lives. They’re using it in a myriad of different ways, from tracking their meditation habits and weekly schedules to logging their water intake and sharing grocery lists.
“I’ve noticed my productivity with my own projects has exploded since I started using it,” Bergen says. “I’ve done more projects since I started using Notion in the last two years than probably the previous 10 years. Maybe it’s obsessive, maybe it’s too much, but it’s everything, and I love it.”
So why has a platform built to accommodate “better, faster work” struck such a chord when there are countless other planning apps out there?
Part of the reason Notion has such a devoted fan base is its flexibility. At its heart, Notion is designed to combine the various programs a business might use for functions like HR, sales, and product planning in a single hub. It uses simple templates that let users add or remove features, and remote workers can easily collaborate on notes, databases, calendars, and project boards.
This high level of customizability sets Notion apart from other work apps. It’s also what’s made it so popular among people looking to map out their free time. It started to gain traction around 2018 in YouTube’s thriving productivity subculture, where videos of fans swapping time management tips and guides to organizing their lives regularly rack up millions of views.
Since then, its following has snowballed. More than 275,000 people have joined a dedicated subreddit, tens of thousands of users share free page templates in private Facebook groups, and TikTok videos advising viewers on how to make their Notion pages look pretty have been watched hundreds of millions of times.
“You don’t have to change your habits to how rigid software is. The software will change how your mind works,” says Akshay Kothari, Notion’s cofounder and chief operating officer. “I think that’s actually been a big reason why you see so much love in the community: because people feel like the things they build are theirs.”
That ability to customize has meant that Bergen can use Notion to store the serial numbers of his newly purchased products in case they get stolen, alongside a detailed inventory of the contents of every single numbered box he packed during a house move.
Wesley Anna Tiner, a product designer and content creator in New York, has also found Notion indispensable for planning her impending house move, as well as her meals for the week. “I have a lot of ‘just for fun’ pages as well,” she explains. “For example, I received a Sephora perfume sampler for Christmas, so I created a database with the different products and logged my thoughts as I tried a new one each day. I also have a daily mood tracker, wish list, self-care toolkit, and many more.”
Tommy Meyer, a web developer from Phoenix, Arizona, started using Notion around 2018 after realizing he was carrying around three different notebooks at all times in a bid to stay organized. “I haven’t written a paper grocery list in years,” he says. He also uses it to help him plan fantasy novels he wants to write.
While Notion lends itself to note-taking and journaling, Adam Warren, a voice actor and voiceover artist from the UK, also uses it for managing his YouTube channel projects.
“I earn something equivalent to the wage of a good full-time job from Youtube and Patreon now, and all management for that business is done in Notion,” he explains. “I have all my video projects in a database, and use the kanban view to track their status. I also write the scripts for my videos right in those database pages.”
For people who enjoy feeling organized, these kinds of platforms make a lot of sense. Apps like Notion can help us structure and simplify our lives so they feel less overwhelming and chaotic, says consultant psychologist Elena Touroni.
However, spending too much time optimizing and organizing our lives can be counterproductive when we prioritize creating to-do lists over completing the actual tasks on them, a phenomenon known as the planning fallacy, says Gabriele Oettingen, a psychology professor at New York University.
Using Notion to track whether you’re drinking enough water or going jogging, or using it to plan assignments, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re actually getting those things done. “In a way, Notion might help me to get structure, but it might not work to get me going,” she says.
For people like Bergen who use the same app to map both their personal and work lives, there can be downsides, Touroni adds.
"The obvious benefit is that your work and personal life are likely to intersect and using the same app will take account of this for more efficient time scheduling,” she says. “The disadvantages are that it will become more difficult to create boundaries between work and home life, as you’ll be having to navigate both parts of your life whenever you use the app.”
Despite the wealth of options at their disposal, Notion’s most devoted fans say they’re unlikely to jump ship to any other promising platforms anytime soon—Tiner reckons she uses it to run “95% of my life.”
The company recently launched its own AI bot to automate tedious tasks and summarize large documents, and will be keeping close tabs on the community’s reaction to it on social media. “It’s unique for a business-to-business software company that makes money from business to have that kind of love,” says Kothari. “We definitely do not take that for granted.”
Humans and technology
Enabling enterprise growth with data intelligence
It's becoming more critical for organizations to organize data and put data infrastructure at the forefront of their data strategy, says Bharti Patel, SVP of product engineering at Hitachi Vantara.
AI gains momentum in core manufacturing services functions
More use cases means customers and employees experience AI’s ability to automate tasks, prioritize work, and empower the user.
AI-powered 6G networks will reshape digital interactions
The convergence of AI and communication technologies will create 6G networks that make hyperconnectivity and immersive experiences an everyday reality for consumers.
Customer experience horizons
The big ideas that define the future of customer and employee experience.
Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review
Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.