June 11, 2020

· technology · project-management

I’m horribly bad at project management. It’s not usually something that is specifically taught in graduate school even though it’s incredibly important to an academic’s professional life. There are many ways to go about this (low tech to super high tech), but the purpose of this post is to explain one tool that I have found incredibly useful and flexible. That tool is Notion (notion.so). Notion can do way more than I am going to explain (see Using Notion as Your Second Brain), but this is how I use it to keep track of writing projects throughout the process of development to publication.

what i want from platform

Before I dive in, I have a few requirements from a platform.

  1. The ability to organize content into discrete databases
  2. Hierarchy of content
  3. Simple, intuitive formatting (i.e. markdown)

The first is really important to me. A database approach allows me to manipulate projects so I can see what I should be working on, what is dormant for right now, when I need to check on things, etc. As we’ll see, it’s a cornerstone of the approach I’ll describe below. Hierarchy is important because I need to nest items (reviews, research) inside of projects. Lastly, I don’t want to spend a ton of time messing around with formatting. I’ve found markdown to be a simple and intuitive way to make that happen.

notion and project management

Notion is free for educators. Just put in your .edu email address and you’re good to go. The link above takes you to the educators site which has a lot of information about and templates for using Notion for teaching (scheduling, lesson planning, etc), but is fairly silent on project management.

master project database

This all starts with a master project database. You can create that by starting a new page and then choosing the “database” option for the type of page. Each line is a database entry for a single project identified by the paper title (you can change this at any time). I then tag each with the relevant article number (if under review), its status (in-process, under review, R&R’ed, or published), the journal, the last time there was a status change (I submitted it somewhere, it got rejected, etc), and any relevant due dates (you can also set reminders to any date in Notion). I’m only showing published and in-process work here for obvious reasons, but this highlights one of the benefits of arranging your project this way. I can filter projects by status and then save that filter as a “view” that I can come back to (see below). This allows me to quickly arrange my projects based on what I want to see rather than an overwhelming list of things to do.

If I want to see only projects in the pre-submission phase, I can see only those in the “In Process” view. Or I can see only manuscripts under review so I can easily figure out if I need to check with the journal editor on its status. These views make it very easy for me to see the information that I want to see. There’s an immense level of customization for these views that you can tailor to your own needs.

project pages

Because each entry into the master project database is a page unto itself, you can use this organize information about the project. This is a project page for a manuscript that was published last year in Public Budgeting & Finance. It currently contains the abstract and the two rounds of reviews I had from PBAF (in further nested pages). However, this page can contain anything you like. If I had been using this system earlier, this would have reviews from the journals this paper was rejected from, notes about how I might alter the manuscript, or anything else I might want to save with this project. You could also do some task management here though I use another program (Things 3) to manage the day-to-day to-do lists associated with a project. How creative you want to get here or what system you want to use is completely up to you.


A nice part of Notion is that you can create templates for new pages. In the master project database, the main template is for a new project. This pre-populates a new project page with areas for the abstract, reviews, and notes. You could pre-populate a new project with Mirya Holman’s Submission Checklist. The sky is the limit.

It’s a little thing that saves me time when I set up a new project to track.

wrapping up

I’m bad at project management though I’m much better than I used to be. This is a fairly simple way to keep track of a lot of projects and their associated content in Notion. I’m not suggesting this is the perfect system or even a preferable system for anyone other than me, but of the numerous things I’ve tried, this has stuck. It’s as close to how I map things out in my brain as I’ve found. Hopefully this as given you something to think about and an intro into a tool I have found incredibly valuable in my own work.

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