26
31 Comments

Notion sucks, it's time to move on.

Notion has been my choice of note-taking/database tool for personal use for over a year now. I keep everything on it, from my study notes to my goals and strategies. The idea is great, I like that I can create pages and switch between them in one app as opposed to writing 100 different documents (with an outdated paper layout) that are hard to organize and store properly. All of that including the fact that I can immediately access Notion on my phone to read or write something down quickly, is why adopting Notion was a no-brainer for me. I also ❤️ the aesthetic and overall design of Notion. However, lately I've been realizing that Notion isn't for me. It's not a productivity tool to me like it is to others. It actually makes me unproductive. The only way I use Notion right now is just to store my data.

My problems with Notion

For someone like me who is fidgety with their mouse and keyboard, Notion's UX is terrible. Literally doing anything in Notion just feels wrong. The main problem is that Notion is extremely reactive in a bad way, because it's based on a block oriented design, which is a terrible idea in and of itself. I can't even sit and type something out on Notion without getting frustrated. I just want to freely type something without distractions, and worry about the structure later. I don't want a new block to pop up when I go on a new line, it just feels unnatural. It ruins the writing experience. Want to select a section of two different text blocks? Welp, can't do that, Notion just selects both blocks entirely. The experience is actually so bad that I just open up LibreOffice Writer whenever I need to type something out, and then I copy paste it into Notion. Honestly, typing this post on Indie Hackers is a better experience than typing anything on Notion. The blocks of text are also terrible to read. I read texts by selecting them line by line, it helps me follow the sentences while reading, you can't even do that in Notion, as mentioned above, it defaults to selecting entire blocks, or even worse sometimes I accidentally move the entire block somewhere else because of the handle on the left hand-side of each block. There's also the problem with pressing your mouse in any empty area where Notion creates an unintended empty block which you then have to manually delete. The reactivity is pretty much universal as it's built into the foundation. Which means I have the same problems in all the different database views of Notion too. I know you can lock pages which could help with some of the problems here, but it's not a good permanent solution, especially because you have to lock every single page manually without a hot-key.

On Windows 10 I could at least somewhat tolerate these issues because of the native experience of the desktop client. However this has become another major problem with Notion for me since I switched to Linux a while ago: There is no official Notion client for Linux. Notion says they don't want to release official clients to platforms for which they can't ensure the quality. I totally respect that, but unfortunately this has become a total deal breaker for me. I've tried several unofficial packages that were available on the AUR but they either didn't provide the native experience I was looking for, or they were really buggy.

There are also some minor problems that I have with Notion. The first one is that I don't really like the way the database pages look. The properties and comments section can't be hidden with one click, or be hidden by default. You have to hide each property manually for each page. Also I don't even use the commenting feature in Notion at all. The second minor problem is that the databases feel kind of limiting. They get you really far and you can automate some things in Notion, but as someone who has developed software before and designed actual databases it felt a little bit limiting. It's not really that bad, but you can't build too ambitious systems within Notion.

What's next?

Right now I am looking for an alternative to Notion that's somewhat similar without the issues I mentioned above, but I don't seem to find something that fits my needs. I wonder if there are other people like me who were initially interested in Notion, but experience the same problems as me. Maybe there is a market for it, and it's an idea to build something for this group. I am also considering to develop an app from scratch that will work for me, or maybe just a method of organizing data.🤔 What do you think? Do you agree with my experiences I mentioned in this post? Do you know any good alternatives to Notion? Let me know!

  1. 7

    I've been using Bear to collect my personal notes - largely unstructured thoughts - and the reason it works well is that the interface is simple and you can add any number of tags to your note; no forced structure.

    Of course, the drawback is that it's Apple / iOS only, but if you're working within that ecosystem and want something simple to sync between devices, I'd recommend it.

    https://bear.app/

  2. 6

    I've been using Notion for a long time now, my issue is that it gets messy very quickly. I just don't like how the folder structure really works. I also find deleting and editing text quickly is more difficult than it should be.

    I would be interest to know what people suggest instead.

    I have just ended up resorting back to Google Docs.

  3. 4

    I agree with you on all the points you have mentioned @terranBased

    I switched to Notion back in 2018 after using Evernote for over 7 years. It was fresh air, and I loved the workflow in the first place, but just as you mentioned the UX is a nightmare, when you just want to take some quick notes, or simply want to get a certain kind of writing flow, everything has to be a block, within a page, within a workspace. While I liked the fact that Notion was my personal workspace powerhouse, since I basically could do everything in it, I decided simply to unbundle it.

    For super quick note-taking (and also some kind of project management) I now use Workflowy. It is an outliner app, which means it is based on bullets, or nodes. I created a "dashboard" consisting of seven bullets. For example there is a bullet called "Project", by clicking on that bullet you focus on it, and it basically turns into a page, which can be filled with even more bullets. Every piece of text you add is a bullet, that can be focused and indented over and over again. It is fast, simple, distraction-free, cross-platform, intuitive, and the small team around it keep pushing new updates. I also use it to outline my blog posts, quickly jot down some tasks (you can turn a list of bullets also into a kanban board), or just gather some links and thoughts.

    When I used Notion, I mainly used it as a knowledge base. For that use-case I now use Obsidian. It has a beautiful UI, is privacy-friendly since all your notes are stored locally on your machine (since they are stored as markdown files you can always move them to a different tool), it is feature-rich, and in my opinion, the better solution if you are looking for a tool like Roam. Obsidian is now my knowledge base where I take all my book, article, and podcast notes. With their bi-directional link feature I therefore can create what most people call "a second brain".

    Notion also acted as my task manager. For this use-case I moved to Todoist, cross-platform, all the features I need (or would expect from a task manager), fast, intuitive, and great features to structure projects and tasks. I simply love it.

    For deep focused writing I moved to iA Writer, which is for me personally the one and only writing app. All my long-form writing now happens within iA Writer. Since it is markdown-based I can now also write my newsletter issues within iA Writer and simply copy and paste them into Ghost (I am writing a weekly newsletter about creativity and productivity-boosting tools and resources, and recently made the switch from Substack to Ghost, and since their Editor supports markdown this new workflow boosted my productivity).

    As my general project management tool I now use Joplin, it is a free, open source note taking and to-do application. Quick side-note: I am privacy advocate and therefore a huge fan of tools, that do respect their user's privacy, and/or are open-source. At this point I also need to address that project management for me might be a different workflow to what other people would call project management. I do not need any fancy design elements within tools, boards, profiles, whatever, for me project management is simply text-based and a way to gather all the information and data regarding a project within one space, so I get a nice overview. And Joplin does exactly that (for me). Joplin has also synchronisation capabilities and it supports Nextcloud, which I use to sync my notes between my devices.

    I recently published a blog post about my workflow tech stack, an in-depth writing about all the tools I use on a daily basis, and how I use them to boost my productivity, you can check it out here.

    I always love to talk about producitivity tools, that is also the reason why I started my weekly newsletter Creativerly. So, if you want to discuss anything my DMs and email are always open!

    Also, keep us updated about what tools you tried out as an alternative to Notion! Curious to hear what you have settled on.

    Last but not least, this blog post about the topic of why Notion encourages busy-work has also been an eye-opener for me.

    1. 3

      Thank you for outlining your setup! I'm trying a couple new tools because of you :)

      1. 1

        Great to hear that! :)

    2. 2

      Your workflow and productivity stack is really interesting, thank you for sharing. It's making me rethink my stance on using an all-in-one tool for everything. I mainly adopted Notion because I wanted everything in one place, one app. I didn't want to have too many different applications for different purposes, it keeps the costs lower and it doesn't make my devices and workflow feel bloated. I want to keep my productivity stack minimal. A bundled all-in-one tool like Notion comes with many great advantages. Being able to make a relation between course notes and a project that I am working on is literally the best thing ever. Notes can be organized in one table and be filtered through a tag which is awesome. I also heavily use kanban boards for my projects and even for other endeavors. Everything is connected. I want to experience something like Notion with a better UX, but your comment makes me realize that I don't necessarily need to keep everything in one app. For example, I already keep my quick notes separate from my main workspace on Notion, usually typed on my phone. I then later integrate it into my notes database written in more detail if I need to, but most of it stays there. I want to try out Workflowy for that use case, especially because I literally take those notes in bullet points. I also think that as I go deeper in my indie hacker journey I will start to use more unbundled tools for better features. I want to write more in the future, maybe I'll look for better apps for that specific use case.

      As for Obsidian, I have actually installed it once. I liked it overall but i didnt really try it properly, like actually using it. Mainly because it was local, which btw I actually liked because it gives you more control over your files and ensures you won't lose your data, but I need to access it across different devices. I'll give it another try and maybe consider hosting the files on a private server and then develop a front-end to display it on my phone. I'd prefer my project management to go hand in hand with my knowledge base though, as mentioned above, the way I did it with Notion. I'll give an update with comments under this post with what I've tried and actually ended up using.

      The thing about Notion encouraging busy work in that blog post is so accurate lmao. I actually ended up making an over-engineered and unnecessarily complex system for learning which I never ended up using. That's also when I realized that Notion was pretty limited in terms of developing systems within it, compared to actual software development that is. Your website looks awesome btw, I subscribed to your newsletter. Looking forward to read more from you!

      1. 2

        I also always thought a bundled productivity tool is the one and only tool I am looking for, but Notion is the best example for also considering specific tools for specific use-cases. Notion basically does everything, but nothing as you would expect it.

        As for every tool, I would also suggest spending some time with Obsidian to see if it clicks for you or not. When I try out new tools I usually use them for month extensively to see if they fit my workflow.

        Since you get to choose the location of your Obsidian Vault (the folder where everything gets stored) you surely can choose a folder in your cloud. If you are using iOS, you could then access your vault from your iPhone by using an app like Pretext which has synchronisation capabilities and therefore lets you choose the folder you would like to sync, ergo you could choose the cloud folder where you stored your Obsidian Vault (I am using Nextcloud for that purpose and sync all my Obsidian files to my iPhone where I use Pretext to edit them.

        Thank you for signing up and the kind words, I really appreciate it!

    3. 1

      Hey Philip. Fellow Joplin user here. I had an idea for a service which allows you to easily publish Joplin pages on the web. Would love to hear your feedback on this as a hardcore Joplin user, if you have time. My email is in my IH profile.

  4. 4

    Disclaimer: I'm probably the world's biggest Notion stan.

    I agree the blocks get in the way of writing.

    I settled for a quick workaround about a month after downloading the app (perhaps two years ago now): creating "code" blocks for long-form writing. These blocks simulate normal writing behavior and work on mobile, etc. Granted, you do have to go out of your way slightly to create them, but it's still less friction — by a country mile — than opening up an entirely separate app.

    (Similar story with the databases. Notion DBs are less feature-rich and performant than Airtable DBs, but the fact that Notion DBs live inside of Notion along with everything else I care about means I produce and ship 10%+ faster than people wrangling different apps together.)

    1. 2

      Damn this is a really good hack for the writing and even the reading issues I'm having with Notion, just tried it out, never thought of using code blocks in this way. I'll use them for the time being until I find something else. Maybe it's an idea for Notion to develop a special block for writing🤔.

      I agree with the all-in-one tool philosophy of Notion, it's the biggest reason I adopted it, naturally I am looking for something where I can do everything in one app and data is centralized like in Notion. As long as it's something where I don't have to leave the app because I get frustrated over something, or have to use workarounds, because then it defeats the point of having an all-in-one tool.

  5. 3

    Typora and OmmWriter are both excellent. Check them out! 👍

    P.S. So is MS OneNote

    1. 1

      This comment was deleted 2 months ago.

  6. 2

    Ive been using notion extensively for the past month now, and I have to say, its working pretty neatly for me. I agree the phone app isnt the best. The desktop app while working with a mouse and a proper pc is a breeze for me.

    I think notion works best at scale, when you have 20+ people in your workspace. I actually love how easy it is to setup and how clean the whole thing feels. Sharing single spaces and being able to swiftly set memberships, roles and privacies helps alot.

    I was on teamwork spaces before and after a few months I started getting alot of drawbacks and issues, and the pricing model is not userfriendly when you have a big company.

    The block thing can be done better, but I belive their team is working hard to constantly improve the UX/UI.

  7. 2

    It's an either/or thing, methinks. Want to write freely and without distractions or you want a powerful content platform? For the former, a simple "minimalist" note-taking app does the job most of the time, for the latter, it's to reconsider habits and expectations.

    Personally, I've been using Notion for about 2 years or more and the experience has been revealing: I have simple "links" that go twelve layers deep in some cases or more; the whole point of Notion is reimagining "docs" and "sheets" beyond their boundaries, but I agree that tweaking the shortcuts and writing experience overall will be a win for all of us.

    My concern are databases, though, ha, those I don't understand.

  8. 2

    Half of my brain now lives in joplinapp.org - highly recommended.

  9. 2

    Hi, I use Nimbus Note. For me it feels like a hybrid between Evernote and Notion.
    You have the Evernote folder structure, but you can have sub folders also. And Notion with draging blocks and workspaces.
    It's not 100% polished but they're progressing well. I first tried Notion in 2018 and it didn't felt the right tool for note taking, that's why I used Evernote for it

  10. 2

    Yeah I agree. Notion is amazing, but it feels slow and everything works really clunky.

    I've tried Bear, which is great. And Supernotes, which is pretty annoying. And Outline which is great but not smart enough.
    Then I tried RoamResearch and was blown away. Can't deal with the bad UX though, so building https://Ting.is to make a slightly simpler but way more polished tool.

    1. 2

      Hey Jesper,
      Any chance of getting a beta invite ☺️👀

  11. 2

    I was looking for notion alternatives yesterday, not to replace notion, but just out of curiosity, if found clickup.com
    I played with it for a while, it looks nice, it shares a lot of features with notion and much more, I think it solves your writing problem and it's available on linux.
    I can't (don't want) to switch from notion for now, but ill try clickup for my next project to see if it is better than notion.

  12. 2

    I've been using Notion daily for 6 month now, and quickly after I started, I created tailored-notion.com just because I saw many problems that could be fixed easily with a bit of CSS.
    I think that without my extension, I wouldn't use Notion that much. And I don't use the mobile app version every day so, it works for me.

  13. 2

    The block design is terrible and I notcied it is becoming a comman theme across a lot of products. Wordpress, Mailchimp are some examples. The blocks appear out of nowhere and are quite frustrating to work with.

  14. 2

    Never get it from ux perspective, too much options. Using Bear for notes.

  15. 2

    I used to use Notion a lot, but rarely any of the advanced stuff. My workflow was often that I found a site, a tutorial, or a tool that I wanted to save, I would copy paste it into a fitting category(document) that I created with a title and emoji, sometimes I also added a to-do or note about the site.

    To reduce the friction of jumping in and out of notion I created a browser extension that would support my own workflow: tabExtend. It's not really a fully-fledged writing tool(yet!), database, or any of the millions of things you can do with Notion so it obviously not a right fit for everybody.

  16. 2

    I totally agree with you - the writing experience in Notion can be extremely frustrating. (I also personally despise how it handles comments, which makes it both a frustrating experience when using it solo and when using it at work at my current company.) The sidebar that houses all your documents fundamentally doesn't scale - I don't know why they haven't come up with a better way to display all your docs in a workspace. Despite sending in a fair amount of feedback about this, nothing about the writing or commenting or organization experience has improved in the past year - kinda disappointing.

    FWIW, I find Dropbox Paper has by far the nicest writing experience for my purposes (writing technical documents and product specs, and personal to-do lists), and crucially for me, has collapsible headers that can collapse the body text underneath it to make it easier to focus on one section at a time. It also seems to be the only one I've found that has an outline view in the sidebar automatically generated from your headers that you can click on to quickly bounce around different sections of your document. It makes it so, so easy to get around a long document. It's the closest I've found to being able to focus on the what I'm writing and not the how.

    The tradeoff is that Dropbox Paper is extremely limited - it's basically a Markdown editor with Dropbox-aware embeds. No databases, no makeshift kanban boards. You do get to-do lists though. If you need anything remotely spreadsheet-y or database-y you're stuck trying to stitch together a bunch of other tools - Dropbox Paper is in no way comprehensive.

    I've been looking more at their main competitor Coda lately to see if the writing experience is noticeably better than Notion at all.

  17. 2

    I agree with many things that drove you nuts.

    But what I don't understand is why you were torturing with it. I tried Notion once, maybe 2 times, was super frustrated with EVERYTHING there (from the moment I tried to sign up) and right after I closed the browser's tab and never opened Notion again.

  18. 2

    I like the outline format. But it is hard to type long content. Links are hard to format.

  19. 2

    I also had many of the same problems with Notion, so I'm building my own app that'll work for me. The productivity space is very large, so there are many unique ways to approach it. The real challenge is/will be marketing/distribution/getting users.

  20. 2

    Roam or Obsidian perhaps? There was a discussion here recently comparing them.

    Or, what about Gitbook?

  21. 1

    I have to agree. I LOVE Notion the idea and the product is good in general, but in terms of applicability, it is just too much of what I really DON'T need. I need something to take basic notes (meetings and the like), something for ideation (I use Roam for this--It is WAY better than anything for facilitating ideas, for me personally. I don't need every dang note to link to every other dang note, it dilutes rather than builds, for me), and something that gives me a way of visualizing my days and tasks. In this case, I actually think Trello is a substantially better tool and is incredibly user friendly. I am thinking of going back to Evernote, because it actually works better as a general repository, deals with nearly ANY file I throw at it, allows me to hand write notes, links Google Drive, and works substantially better across platforms.

Trending on Indie Hackers
💯 users 💯 days 31 comments Can you give me some feedback? 18 comments HootSuite founder Ryan Holmes discusses product validation platform Kernal 7 comments How to fight back against Google FLoC 6 comments Building in Public for the first time!😲 2 comments How Leave Me Alone App Got Its First 100 Customers 2 comments