Tracking my reading using Notion

Last year, friend and fellow author, Jenna Kendricks, introduced me to Notion. I lost a few hours’ productivity figuring out how to use the deceptively easy tool—and I do mean deceptively easy. Notion is almost absurdly simple to use once you understand how it works. I also quickly figured out that while others’ templates served as a inspiration and instruction, designing my own was the way to go.

I now use Notion to track dozens of activities, including plotting and outlining my WIPs, marketing and promotion, tracking buy links and review quotes, brainstorming, jotting down ideas, keeping wishlists, and tracking my reading. What I love about it, and why I’m using it, comes down to two very simple ideas:

  1. Every page starts with organized data, so… a spreadsheet
  2. I can view this data in more ways than I need to; as a spreadsheet that’s fully sortable and searchable, as a list, a calendar, an Kanban board, or a simply as a page, meaning just one line of my spreadsheet can be expanded into a single sheet.

There is a learning curve, but once you realize that everything you create starts as a spreadsheet, there’s literally nothing you can’t do. I especially love using Notion to outline my books because once I have my list of scenes, I can sort them into a calendar view (handy for keeping my timeline straight) or as notecards I can move around on my screen. I can also open each line item and enter as much detail as I want. I could even cut and paste the entire text of the written chapter in there if I wanted to, and not have it crowd my other views.

The only thing I’m not using Notion for is my daily To-Do list. I like sitting in front of my paper diary for that. But I love it for planning vacations (lists of destinations with attached pages of detail that I can sort into a calendar view? Hello!) and I’ve been experimenting with a meal planner. The idea is that I’ll transfer all of my recipes to a database and somehow link them to a weekly calendar, which will make shopping the ingredient lists a lot easier than having to sort though multiple Pinterest boards and recipe binders!

One of my simplest projects is my reading tracker.

For reasons explained in my March 2021 Report from Mount TBR, I recently ditched Goodreads. Because I’m in the middle of umpteen-hundred series, however, I did want to continue recording what I read. I also like to refer back to see why I enjoyed a book (or didn’t) and read any thoughts I might have had.

This is what my reading tracker looks like—the raw data view. It’s a spreadsheet.

Each one of these lines ‘opened’ becomes a page, which is generally the view I use to enter a new item.

I only bothered adding book covers, URLs, ISBNs and the like for about a month before I decided that while I loved the look of my gallery view—

—I didn’t really need a record of that data. What’s most important to me is the series, the format, the provenance (where the book came from), and how I felt about it. The only reason I’ve added a rating field (currently hidden) is so I can find, at a glance, the books I loved for reading recap posts. I could easily replace the rating field with another tag, which is how I used to mark my favourites on Goodreads.

If you did want to include a cover without the hassle of downloading an image and then uploading it to your Notion database, check the Notion subreddit. Be warned, it’s as much a rabbit hole as Notion itself. There are a number (as in, like, a thousand) of people writing awesome little macros and plugins for your Notion database, including one that pulls book cover images from Goodreads.

I can also view my reading tracker as a list, and this the format that shows the most clearly how many books I’ve read (although the tally does appear at the bottom of the spreadsheet/default view). Because I started this tracker in December last year, the number is essentially meaningless, however. It’s not the number of books I’ve read in one calendar year, meaning I currently feel no pressure whatsoever to achieve a goal. I’m reading simply for the pleasure of reading—and also trying to tackle my massive TBRs.

If I did want to see how many books I’ve read in 2021, however, or by a single author, or in a single series, I can learn all of that by using a sort, and I can create a sort in ANY view. So I can sort my lovely gallery by author and see that I’ve read three books by A.G. Riddle.

To display books read in 2021, I can simply search for 2021. I can also check how many books I’ve borrowed through the Philadelphia Free Library by searching for my Libby tag. If I apply a search on top of a sort, I can get a feel for how many books I’ve borrowed from the library in 2021, and so on.

Except to get screenshots for this post, I might never use these sorts, but I like numbers, so I like the ability to be able to sort my data in such incremental ways.

When I first devised this tracker, I thought I’d copy a new version to use for each year, but quickly discarded that idea for the very reason I track my reading: series continuity. While my tags (authors, series, format, etc.) will carry over with each copy of the template, the data doesn’t, meaning I’d have to check several databases for series entries.

I’m slowly importing the data I downloaded from Goodreads into a separate, archival database that I can use to fully populate series as I enter the next book. I can also search my old database for that information in the meantime. Eventually, I’ll have all of that data in my new reading tracker, making it just as valuable to me as my Goodreads database was. To preserve the integrity of my Notion reading tracker, particularly series titles, I’ll first edit my old database to make sure the fields match and that I don’t have weird duplicates caused by spelling errors.

Because I’m not Goodreads and I’m not plugged into Amazon’s vast catalog of books, I’ll still have to enter tags for new authors and series as I discover them, but I’ll only ever have to do it once. Then they’ll be on the list forever after. A template of my database could be very handy for folks starting out fresh, especially if our reading tastes are similar. All those tags—authors, series, categories—will already be there. But I’d recommend using my screenshots as a guide to create your own template instead. You might want to track heat ratings of your romances, or the period for your historicals. Categories of non-fiction, or what scared you the most about a certain horror novel. You could add tags and entries for TV and movie tie-ins. You could track books you own and haven’t read yet (the TBR) or books you’d like to own or read (a wish list). The permutations are endless and you’ll only figure out which are most valuable to you by seeing which ones you use the most and which fall by the wayside (like my attempt to add covers and ISBN data).

You probably have to be into data and sorting data to experience the true joy of creating your own reading tracker, or for much of anything to do with Notion. But for those of us who are, it’s a thing of beauty. If you try it out, let me know and send me a link! I’d love to see how you organize your data.

3 thoughts on “Tracking my reading using Notion

    • Kelly Jensen

      Haha! It looks way more complicated than it is. I figured out most of what I know by playing. I just started creating things and got better as I went. I also looked at what other people were doing and at first it was like SORCERY! then I just sort of picked apart what they had until I understood it. But, this is from the perspective of really enjoying the backward engineering process. It’s how I learn most tech stuff. 😉

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