Student life can be demanding with tight schedules, never-ending to-do lists, university obligations, and extracurricular activities. Having solid organizational skills is important, but you need a student operating system to leverage those skills.
And this is where Notion excels. Notion offers an external system (a second brain if you will) that helps you map out your entire student life and beyond.
In this step-by-step guide, I’m going to show you how to use Notion as a student to organize your life.
Let’s get started.
Why Notion is the best tool for students?
The Notion app is a powerful tool to take class notes, manage your daily tasks, and organize your entire life. And while it has a bit of a steep learning curve, Notion’s functionality will immediately compensate for your efforts. It doesn’t take much time.
Here’s why Notion is best suited for university students:
- Completely free: Use Notion for free as a college student. No hidden data limits, behind-the-wall functions, or limitations. Notion is completely free for personal use. (The only minor limitation of the free plan is the 5 Mb limit on uploading files to individual Notion pages. I can say, however, that you’ll hardly exceed this limit. And even if you will, there’s a way around it.) Notion also offers a student discount: if you sign up with your school email address, you can use the Plus Plan for free for your entire Notion account. Cool, isn’t it?
- Truly collaborative workspace: Publish your work or share your Notion workspace with your classmates or other people.
- Flexible setup: In Notion, everything is a block. Put together these blocks as you want and create a highly personal and visually esthetic student OS.
- All-in-one tool: Maybe Notion has been the first app that not only claimed that it’s an all-in-one workspace, but it is one. Notion can replace or augment Google Drive, Google Docs, Microsoft Word, and many other tools.
Let’s figure out how to use Notion as a student for maximum productivity.
How to use Notion as a student: use cases
We’ll now build up your student operating system from the ground. You don’t even need to search for the best Notion templates.
At the end of this guide, I’ll show you how to put everything together so that information will flow from one bucket to the other.
We’ll begin with creating a simple to-do list for your daily tasks.
How to use Notion as a to-do list
As a college student, you always have a lot of tasks under your belt. There’re university obligations, campus jobs, extracurricular activities, and much more.
Notion is a great place to home your daily tasks. You can create a simple task list or a more complex GTD dashboard with due dates, Kanban boards, recurring tasks, contexts, and more.
Also, you can embed your Google Calendar in a Notion page, or sync your calendar via Zapier or other tools using Notion’s API.
You need to create two separate databases for your to-do list:
- A Task database to home your tasks.
- A Project database to home your projects.
Of course, you can create a single database for your to-do list, but I highly recommend you keep your project list separated.
Let’s break down everything into single steps:
Step 1. Create a new database for your tasks (Task database).
Step 2. Create and set up the properties of your Notion page:
- Status: This checkbox property indicates whether your task is done or not. (It’s an important one because we’ll hide completed tasks later.)
- Task: This title property is for entering your task’s name.
- Projects: This relation property connects your Tasks database to your Project database. (See later.)
- Priority: This checkbox property simply shows whether your task is important or not. (I don’t believe in multiple levels of priority—something is of priority or not.)
- Due date: This date property makes it possible to schedule your tasks.
- Context: This select property shows the GTD contexts of your tasks (optional, but highly recommended).
- Notes: This comes handy if you want to quickly jot down some notes.
Step 3. Create a new database for your projects (Project database).
Step 4. Specify your properties:
- Project: This is the title property.
- Tasks: This relation property connects your Project database with your Task database.
- Label: This select property helps sort your projects into different buckets like university stuff, personal stuff, and more.
- Due date: This date property displays the deadline of the project (if applicable).
- Archive: This checkbox property is marked done when you finish a project. (With a filter, you can then specify to hide archived projects from your main window.)
Step 5. Put your task manager into your dashboard. I’ll show you exactly how to do that at the end of this post.
It’s time to take some notes.
How to use Notion for note-taking
There’s a single activity university students engage in all the time. No, it’s not drinking: it’s note-taking (hopefully). And Notion is among the top-notch choices when it comes to note-taking tools.
- World-class editor: Notion’s editor supports math equations and symbols (a big shout-out to my science folks). The styling functions go way beyond coloring and highlighting: you can insert emojis, images, toggles, embeds, and code blocks, just to name a few. There’s a keyboard shortcut for pretty much everything, which makes the writing experience fast and convenient.
- Interactive learning center: You can easily embed PDF files, Youtube videos, and more in a Notion page to facilitate the learning process.
- Web clipper: The Notion web clipper makes it easy to save important information from the web. The Save to Notion plugin brings your learning to a whole new level. You can use this plugin as a web highlighter—highlight text on individual web pages and watch those highlights appear on your target Notion page along with the corresponding source. This is the best way to study and create fast notes from web sources.
- AI technology: You can ask Notion AI to improve your writing, translate your text, and summarize your studies. And the list goes on.
- Powerful databases: You can organize your notes into databases and then leverage filters, sorters, relations, rollups, and mentions to quickly reference what you want and form a relationship between course materials.
Let’s see how you can organize your class notes with Notion. We’ll create a database for your classes. Later, you’ll learn how to leverage this database and connect with others.
Step 1. Create a new database for your university classes (Classes).
Step 2. Add the properties to your database:
- Class: This is the name of your class.
- Lessons: This relation property will connect your individual lessons to the corresponding classes. (Although you can use a single database for all your classes and associated lessons, this granular setup is way easier to display and handle.) I’ll describe how to create your Lessons database in the next section.
- Schedule: This date property shows your scheduled classes. (Useful if you want to show your schedule in a weekly or monthly calendar.)
- Teacher: This text property shows who’s giving the lecture. (Alternatively, you can create a dedicated Notion database for your instructors and use the relation property to pull up the data.)
- Semester: This select property indicates the university semester. (Useful if you have the same class spread across multiple semesters.)
It will do for now. We’ll revisit your classes later. Let’s get down to some serious studying.
How to use Notion for studying
Active recall and spaced repetition are evidence-based study techniques that will help you learn faster, improve your memory, and gain a deeper understanding of the curriculum.
Essentially, active recall is the process when you try to recall the main points of the study material using your own words instead of passively re-reading the material.
Spaced repetition is a fancy term describing how often you want to practice. You may want to test yourself at expanding time intervals. The more you test yourself at expanding time intervals, the better you get at the subject.
Using Notion for active recall and spaced repetition is a great way because Notion databases can be used for both “programming” those practicing sessions as well as homing and displaying your notes.
Let’s jump in and figure out how to use Notion for studying like a pro.
Step 1. Create a database that will hold your lessons (Lessons).
Step 2. Propagate your database with properties.
- Lesson: This is the title property, which is a unique identifier of your Notion page.
- Class: This relation property makes it easy to assign individual lessons to your Classes database.
- Review: This date property shows when you’re going to do your first practice on the selected lesson.
- Review2: This formula property calculates the date of your next active recall.
- Review3: This formula property calculates the date of your third active recall.
Step 3. Set up your preferred intervals for spaced repetition and schedule your first evidence-based practice.
Let’s leave the campus a little bit and figure out how to use Notion beyond student life.
How to use Notion for extracurricular activities
Student life goes way beyond college classes; it can support your personal life, too. You may want to search for scholarships, educational grants, and job applications; track your expenses; establish new habits; connect with people outside the college; and much more.
Let’s create your first application finder that will help you gather scholarship and job opportunities and act on them.
Step 1. Create a new database—call it Application finder.
Step 2. Define and create your properties.
- Opportunity: This is your title property indicating the scholarship or job application.
- Publishing date: This date property is necessary to create a nice-looking application timeline view.
- Submission deadline: This date property shows the deadline for submission.
- Link: This URL property will bring you directly to the application.
- Authority: This select property makes it easy to quickly see applications from the same authority.
Step 3. Create a timeline view, separate start and end dates, and sort your results by submission deadlines.
Step 4. Propagate your Notion database whenever you find an interesting opportunity. (You can use the Notion web clipper to quickly capture information and do the heavy lifting later.)
Now, it’s time to put together your student OS.
Your student operating system
You learned how to put together different databases that communicate which each other. It’s time to put the icing on the cake. You’ll enjoy it!
There’re two ways you can ignite your student OS. You can create a master page that will serve as a home to all your Notion pages, or you can create a new page for your student dashboard that will link to all those Notion pages and databases.
I prefer the second option because it’s more flexible.
We’ll create different views by leveraging linked databases and toggles.
Create a priority view
Your Priority view is your most important asset where you have an overview of what needs to be done on any given day and what’s on your priority list. Also, this is the place where you capture new tasks that are coming in during the day.
Step 1. Create a new Notion page and name it Student OS (dashboard).
Step 2. Navigate to your Task database and copy the link (Cmd + L) to create a linked view of your tasks.
Step 3. Go to your dashboard and paste the link that will create a linked view of your Task database.
Step 4. Rename your view to Priority and hide the database name.
Step 5. Create an advanced filter like this one to display your tasks that are either scheduled for today or marked with priority.
Create a waiting for view
A Waiting For view is a great tool to have a glance at your “outsourced” responsibilities. These are the tasks that you’re waiting to get done by others or the ones you’re waiting to get feedback on.
Here’s how to create your Waiting For view in Notion:
Step 1. Navigate to your Task database and copy the link (Cmd + L) to create a linked view of your tasks.
Step 2. Go to your dashboard and paste the link that will create a linked view of your Task database.
Step 3. Rename your view to Waiting For and hide the database name.
Step 4. Create an advanced filter like this one to display your tasks that are marked with the context of Waiting For and are not yet checked off.
Create a learning hub
We already created your Lessons database with all the lessons from different classes. However, we want to focus only on those lessons that are in our pipeline for active recall.
Let’s create a view that will show you only the sessions that are due today.
Here’s how to do it.
Step 1. Navigate to your Lessons database and copy the link (Cmd + L) to create a linked view of your lessons.
Step 2. Go to your dashboard and paste the link that will create a linked view of your Lessons database.
Step 3. Rename your view to the Learning hub and hide the database name.
Step 4. Create an advanced filter like this one to display your practicing sessions that are scheduled for today.
Create a class calendar
Your class calendar will display your course schedule. You can then easily reach your notes from a calendar view.
Here’s how to create a weekly agenda in Notion.
Step 1. Navigate to your Classes database and copy the link (Cmd + L) to create a linked view of your classes.
Step 2. Go to your dashboard and paste the link that will create a linked view of your Classes database.
Step 3. Rename your view to the Class calendar and hide the database name.
Step 4. Create a calendar view to display your classes for the current week. Navigate to the layout option and select Show calendar as a week.
Step 5. You need to set up classes with recurring dates to have your classes displayed for each week. To set up recurring dates in a Notion database, create a new template, and set repeat to every week.
Congratulations! You’ve created your first fully functional student OS from scratch. Your job is to actively use this system daily, find out what works, and tweak your system on the go.
But what are the benefits of such a student OS?
What are the benefits of using Notion as a student?
The major benefit of using Notion is that you establish a system mindset for daily life.
By using your student operating system, you’ll be more focused, you’ll always know what to do next, and you’ll mechanically do more of what moves the needle.
Both your student life and your personal life will be more organized, and you’ll find common themes and emerging points between those areas. (I can say, this is a big one.)
As your Notion system grows, you’ll find it more satisfying, valuable, and ease of use. You’ll likely tweak your system here and there but try to stay away from uber-complicated setups. The goal is to have a system that you could maintain for the rest of your life.
Build a simple system that you’re able to use on your way home from a college party. (I know students have a strong passion for drinking.)
If you want to learn more about Notion and remote work, check out these guides:
- Todoist vs Notion: Which is Best? (Detailed Comparison): the definite guide whether you should use Notion or Todoist as your task manager.
- Making Remote Work More Efficient With Online Tools: has fantastic information on how to ensure you have a good internet connection for remote work.
- Notion vs Asana: Which Project Management Tool Is Best: find out which is best for project management.