Notion Foundations: Page Layouts

As I’ve mentioned in the Starting Out With Notion lesson, page layouts can be as straightforward or as complicated as you’d like. This lesson will introduce headings, dividers, and the multi-column layout concept. 

This will enable you to start designing your dashboards like the one below. The example below is a PARA-inspired Resources page that stores all my notes and information, aka my second brain. Another topic for another lesson!

Page layouts intro example

Notion is designed to get thoughts out of your head and onto the page. Once they’re there, you can rearrange, organize, and structure them to think and write more clearly

We discussed adding, editing, and moving blocks in the previous lesson. Now let’s look at structuring your page so you can simply distill key messages.

Use Headings To Signpost Your Page Layouts

By headings, I mean the Heading 1, 2, and 3 blocks. You can call a heading block using” /heading” or “/” followed by h1, h2, or h3.

Headings block

You may wonder why this is important – headings help users read and understand a page. Think back to some essays you have written. The headings help to represent the key concepts and ideas of your paper.

The headings levels also help to visually define levels of importance in your text and help guide your eyes to the key points.

Table of Contents Block

Finally, using the Heading blocks will enable you to create a Table of Contents automatically.

Pro tip – use /toc to generate a table of contents. I like to put a toggle block at the top of a long page and include a table of contents inside.

This will help you navigate long documents with multiple headings and subheadings. The table of contents block will automatically create links that allow you to navigate those headings.

I suggest you use toggle headings for the super-long pages to help break up the page. Don’t worry; you can open all toggles quickly with this trick.

Table of contents

Add Some Dividers

I’m a big fan of these dividers, which helps break up a page. In my opinion, it also helps to add to the aesthetics of a page!

Divider example

There are two quick ways to add dividers:

  • Type /div, then hit Enter
  • Type – – – (three hyphens in a row), and a horizontal divider shows up.

Check out this tutorial to add a vertical divider to your page.

How To Create Columns In Notion

Before we start, I suggest you use the “Full width” option, as the columns can look squished if you use the standard container size. Change this in the top right ellipsis (three dots) and toggle on Full width.

Like most things in Notion, there are a couple of ways of setting up columns on a page.

  • Type /column, and you will find options to create 2-5 columns. The shortcut to these is /2c, /3c, /4c, and /5c. There are no caps on the number of columns across the width of a page, but at some point, it’ll be pretty messy!
  • The other method is to drag and create another column. Click on the ⋮⋮ symbol to the left of a block and drag it into the new column position. You’ll notice a blue line that will help guide you when creating the new columns. Tip – you can select several blocks and move them into a column in one go.

One thing to be conscious of is using Notion on a smartphone. If you have several columns, the Notion app will automatically stack columns on top of each other (similar to a website).

I only use certain pages on my phone – for example, a notes page where I just brain-dump ideas. Using my personal dashboard will be almost impossible!

Can You Make Columns Within Columns In Notion?

The short answer is yes, you can create nested columns. I find dragging and dropping nested columns easier, as adding the column blocks through the menu is cumbersome.

Nested columns

Backlinks and Bi-directional Linking

One of the powerful features of Notion, and a core component of many “second brain” setups, is its ability to create links between different pieces of content.

  • Backlinks: Whenever you mention another page within a Notion page, the mentioned page will have a section at the bottom called “Backlinks.” This section automatically lists all other pages that reference it. This is extremely useful for keeping track of related content and seeing the relationships between different notes or projects.
  • Bi-directional Linking: This is closely related to backlinks. You’re forming a two-way connection between those pages when you create a link to another page (using the “@” symbol followed by the page name). This ensures that the interconnectedness of your ideas is preserved, and you can navigate between them easily.

Customizing Page Appearance: Make Notion Your Own

Moving on from the skeletal framework of a Notion page, you’ll find various cosmetic options you can adjust. Every Notion page is effectively a blank canvas! So, where do we begin?

Start with cover images. These images are at the top of your page. Set them by clicking on “Add Cover” when you hover over the header area of a page.

Not only do they provide a visual identity, but they also set the tone for your page’s content. You can use images from Notion’s library or upload your own. 

Next in line are emojis. I use them as visual cues, making it easier to identify pages or sections. For example, you can use a 📚 for ‘Reading List’ or a 💡 for ‘Innovative Ideas.’ Have fun with this one!

Lastly, don’t forget to set the theme. You can switch between light and dark themes to adjust the visual ambiance. Trust me, toggling between these can instantly change how you interact with your pages!

You can find this option under Notion >> Settings >> My Settings>> Appearance.

If you need additional ideas, check out these five ways to improve the aesthetics of your page.

Templates: Streamlining Repetition

You’ve designed the perfect page layout but now want to replicate it a few times. Instead of rebuilding the same structure each time, why not convert it into a template?

I recommend creating templates for frequently used pages like meeting notes, project plans, or daily journals. Trust me, your future self will thank you for this foresight!

For more information, read this tutorial on saving pages as a template.

Now that we’ve covered some of the core concepts of Notion, we’ll move on to a simple Personal Dashboard build project.

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