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Notion: the app every veterinary student, resident and intern should try

Nowadays we have anywhere from 20-50 apps installed on our devices, sometimes even more. Each app has a dedicated function; Outlook for email, OneNote for notetaking, To-Do for keeping track of tasks, Anki or Quizlet for flashcards, and the list goes on. What if there was one app that could do it all?  

Enter, Notion.  

Think of Notion as a personal hub/website, except that it’s not public (unless you want it to be) and it’s accessible from anywhere, on any device, as long as you have an internet connection. If you’re part of a team, study group, or even want to use it with your family to plan something, you can do that too.  

I came across Notion a few months prior to studying for my board exams and was instantly enthralled by what it had to offer. Not only was it a clean and minimalist interface, but it allowed me to plan personal trips, organize my to-do list, and was a fantastic way to study and stay organized for boards 

How I got started with Notion

I first came across Notion while scrolling productivity apps on YouTube. It became apparent that many medical students, business students and many many others were beginning to use this app not only for organizing their lives, but also as a very powerful note taker and flashcard generator. After seeing it was free for personal use, I had to check it out! 

After signing up, I immediately setup my lifeOS dashboard. This was meant to help me organize my personal life with a schedule and to-do list that I could reference every day. If I had a list of books, a grocery checklist, pretty much anything I needed daily, I could make a separate page for it and keep everything organized. “The Week Ahead” allowed me to have a daily to-do list that could be “checked-off” when completed and stored for later to show that it was completed. Similarly, I could setup a calendar.  I then downloaded the app on my phone and it became very apparent how accessible and powerful this tool really was.  

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My lifeOS dashboard for organizing everything in my personal life. Think of this as a ‘homepage’ on my personal website. On the lefthand side you can also see ‘workhub.’ This second tab became my homepage for anything work/graduate school related.

There are also a plethora of templates available, either from Notion directly or from other private sites that can be free or a few dollars for purchase. The thesis planner allowed me to keep track of timelines, create a status and/or update and ensure I stayed on track. As well, deeper to this integration, I could begin making summaries or each paper that would ultimately be integrated into my thesis and summarized in Notion for reference later.

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Templates let you simply add a page to your workspace that can help you get off the ground when you first start using Notion.

Once you’ve made your first few pages, I think it’s important to take a step back so you don’t get too disorganized and make a page for everything. Similar to making a website, it makes sense to have a plan for each hub and keep everything clean so you enjoy using it!

Notion for studying and taking notes

Textbook chapter reviews

There are some extremely powerful integrations that can turn this relatively simple looking software into a very powerful tool, especially when it comes to note-taking or studying for exams. Some medical students (check out Kharma Medic and Ali Abdaal) will separate classes by body systems and take notes accordingly. Others will have a separate page for each year of study, and then sub-pages for each course followed by their daily class notes. There is no ability for PDF annotation at this time, but if you are a note taker and want to include a diagram, all you need to do is take a screenshot and drag it into the area of the page you’d like it.

Flashcards / Toggles

When you start studying for any exam, the amount of information can be overwhelming. Spatial repetition is defined as the use of flashcards over longer periods of time to draw on active recall and establish a more permanent long-term memory. New flashcards and those that are considered more difficult by the user are introduced more frequently. Whereas the ‘easy’ flashcards come later and less frequently.

Notion, with the use of templates produced by other users does have some ability to do spatial repetition. However, I found it too complicated and less clean. So, I used notion as a repository to create toggle lists as questions. This kept my topics organized, the page minimalist, and the answers easy to visualize. When it came time to buckle down and really work on this spatial repetition, I used a free web application called Notion2Anki. Notion allows you to export your pages as a PDF (if you want to read it that way) or as an HTML file. These can be shared and viewed as a webpage, but HTML files can also be imported into Notion2Anki and generate Anki flashcards.

Anki is an app that provides free spatial repetition software and can be used on your laptop, phone or tablet through the internet browser. It continues to keep track of your progress on each of your decks, and syncs with a server so its accessible anytime or anywhere.

Using Notion as a Team

So, now that you’re a pro with Notion and you have all your pages set up, your friends or colleagues want to join too. Well, in Notion you can create shared workspaces that essentially works as an interactive website workspace for your whole team that syncs in real time. Many companies will use Notion for onboarding new employees, keeping track of deadlines/to-do lists, keeping meeting notes and assigning tasks to employees. It’s really just another tool in our productivity and organizational toolbox.

I highly recommend this video to explain how one company is currently using Notion for a team environment.

Features coming to Notion

Notion has just released their API to the public. An API is the Application Programming Interface, or essentially, all the background stuff going on while you click buttons, sync notes etc. What this means for the general public though, is that soon calendar integration (Google Calendar already appears to work) other apps built by developers will start to integrate with the Notion app.

Now with the Google Calendar integration, Notion will sync any new appointments or meetings that are added to your calendar and can be seen right from your hub.

Notion is relatively new and is just getting started, but I hope this brief article has provided you at least an interesting perspective on how you can utilize the power of one (or a few) app(s) to encourage and improve the readability and practice of your study notes!

For more check out the Official Notion Youtube Channel.

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