The Trek Episode 11 on Notion: Civics Unplugged discuss alternatives to Google Docs and how they stay organized and mindful – in collaboration with Humanity 2.0

Contributed by: Show Editorial Team

Gary Sheng, Madison Adams, Noor Myran, Julia Terpak, Ashley Lin, Maryam Tourk, Dariel Cruz Rodriguez, Jonah Zacks, Lillian Hertel and Chabu Kapumba, discuss Notion on this week’s episode of The Trek


  • Civics Unplugged hosts Trek Session with Gen Z community on the Notion platform and how it differs from Google Docs
  • Prominent Gen Z figures discuss how they stay organized and the importance of journaling
  • Future leaders of America discuss mindfulness and separating school from leisure



Brought to you by: Humanity 2.0 – a Non-Profit (Non-Government Organization) focused on identifying and removing the most significant impediments to human flourishing through technology and thought-leadership in collaboration with the Holy See (Vatican).

Special consideration; to CommPro Worldwide for their PR and media support

INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPTS: Gary Sheng, Co-Founder/COO at Civics Unplugged, Madison Adams, Director of Dialogue at Civics Unplugged, Noor Myran, Founding Fellow of the 2020 CU Fellowship, Julia Terpak, Founder of Gen Z Connect, Ashley Lin, Founder/CEO of Project Exchange, Maryam Tourk, Co-founder of CU Summer Camp, Dariel Cruz Rodreguiz, CU 2030 Steering Committee for Civics Unplugged, Jonah Zacks, Steering Committee Member at Civics Unplugged, Lillian Hertel, Founder of Students Stand Up and Chabu Kapumba, Senior Fellow at Civics Unplugged

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:00

Hello, everyone and welcome back to Groupthink. Groupthink is our dialogue series at CU where we pick a topic and talk about whatever feels meaningful. Today, we’re talking about Notion the all-in-one workspace that we use all the time for CU. My name is Madison and I’m a high school senior from Verges, Oklahoma, and I’m joined by some amazing humans. So if you all could introduce yourselves, that would be phenomenal. 

Julia Terpak – Founder, Gen Z Connect: 00:26

I’ll go. I’m Julia. I run a platform called Gen Z Connect and I live in Pennsylvania. 

Maryam Tourk – Co-founder, CU Summer Camp: 00:36

Hey everyone, I’m Maryam. I’m a senior from the suburbs of Chicago and I’m 17. 

Ashley Lin – Founder/CEO, Project Exchange: 00:44

Hey everyone. I am also a senior in Vancouver, Washington, and my name is Ashley. 

Dariel Cruz Rodriguez – CU 2030 Steering Committee, Civics Unplugged: 00:58

My name is Dario. I’m a junior from Orlando, Florida. 

Jonah Zacks – Steering Committee Member, Civics Unplugged: 01:11

Jonah. I am a senior 18 years old from St. Louis Missouri.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 01:17

Hi there. My name is Chabu. I am 19 and I’m a first-year at UFT.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 01:23

And I’m Gary. I’m one of the co-founders of CU based in New York city.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 01:29

Thank you all so much. So now we’re going to start with our word association. So when you have your three words ready, shout them out and I can write them down. 

Julia Terpak – Founder, Gen Z Connect: 01:55

I’m newer to Notion. So I kind of have a clean slate outlook on it, but a word I would use is simple, it’s really easy to navigate and straight forward. “Curious” because the platform just encourages you to share short term and long-term goals, thoughts, and all of those kinds of things and “collaborative” because with it being a database and just a home for ideas for others to share.

Dariel Cruz Rodriguez – CU 2030 Steering Committee, Civics Unplugged: 02:10

I think “Fancy, fancy.” because whenever I export a PDF to send to somebody that’s not on Notion, the first question that they ask is where did you make this? The second one will be collaborative. It’s very easy to collaborate on. Google is also easy to collaborate on, but Notion just a little bit smoother and “data oriented” because a lot of the notions stuff that you can do is based off of data and numbers, 

Jonah Zacks – Steering Committee Member, Civics Unplugged: 02:49

I guess I’d say versatile, just because there’s so many tools that you can deploy when you’re working in this space. That’s very useful.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 03:06

So for me, the word comprehensive just because I kind of do everything and anything in there. Then encouraging, because it encourages me to document more than I already was documenting before because there’s a space to do that and do it well and last is, integral because again, we use it for everything, whether it’s school, long-term goals, Christmas shopping or anything else.

Maryam Tourk – Co-founder, CU Summer Camp: 03:42

Okay. My words would be organization because it helps me organize my life like Chabu was saying. Life-changing because like I was saying, it completely changed the way that I use technology. And then the last one would be “things” because I’m not a tech person by any means, but I can like make notions think like my notion, workspace think like exactly like how I do and set it up in the way that best works for me. So, yeah.

Ashley Lin – Founder/CEO, Project Exchange: 04:17

So the words that I thought of was the second brain, aspirational self, and then your clarity, because I love relations on there. Just putting things in tables and lining things up has revealed a lot of patterns to me that I otherwise would not have noticed.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 04:44

Awesome. And for me, I would say Google docs because I didn’t realize how bad Google docs was until I started using Notion for everything, because you can use Notion for everything from your personal projects to making a website like we did for CU summer camp and writing because I do a lot of writing because of Notion. Gary, do you have three words you want to share?

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 05:14

Sure. Supercharging, I don’t even know like how I would exist without Notion. I will also piggyback on Jonah, versatile. I can do basically whatever for that. And I’ll say groupthink because we’re using Notion right now and barely much of the functionality, but it’s okay. You can do something. That’s very simple with it as well.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 05:50

And I think that brings a first question to my mind. What is the most unique thing you use Notion for? 

Maryam Tourk – Co-founder, CU Summer Camp: 06:07

Well, I don’t know if this is unique, but I didn’t have any technology that allowed me to do this beforehand, but that’s making pages within pages and it kind of can be a subset in anything. And it’s like organization on steroids, which I love. So definitely the pages within pages. 

Ashley Lin – Founder/CEO, Project Exchange: 06:29

Yeah, definitely second that I’ve started creating these topic forests where I just essentially put thoughts into pages and they’re just organized in a bigger page. And it’s like a tree of ideas just branching out, but I love how Notion allows me to do that and not a Google doc. It wouldn’t be a bunch of hyperlinks, which would release that.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 06:55

So this is kind of how this is almost a hybrid of how I use Notion. So my Notions divided by categories, like general, school, my commitments. And all the pages are color coded. And then my Google calendar is the same color coding of that category as it would be my Notion. So I think, I guess the unique way that I use it would be the fact that I allow it to be the foundation for all my other organizations tools.

Dariel Cruz Rodriguez – CU 2030 Steering Committee, Civics Unplugged: 07:40

I don’t have any unique use for it, but I do like how you can have pages within pages, like how Maryam said and how you can attach files to different pages in the tables, which makes it easy for me whenever I’m editing videos for Gary or Maryam right now for the orientation, I can see which one goes with which. Like how I was editing a very enjoyable video before I got on here of, you know, showcasing Maryam and Madison’s and Gary’s acting skills.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 08:20

Amazing acting skills.

Jonah Zacks – Steering Committee Member, Civics Unplugged: 08:27

One thing that I use notion for pretty much every day is I have my daily planner to keep track of. Like I found the board feature incredibly useful for that.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 08:48

And that brings another question to mind because I had to do this today and I didn’t know what to say. How do you explain notion to other people?

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 09:05

Can I add to the top question? So I think a lot of us do the same thing because of CU but I document my diet, document and define my identity using Notion via civics on blogs, leadership, blueprint.

Julia Terpak – Founder, Gen Z Connect: 09:33

Yeah. I think a thought just bouncing off with Gary, it’s simplistic design feels like an empty journal in a way. And just being simple merely makes you want to dump a bunch of thoughts and brainstorms in there. So yeah, it’s like one of the most simplistic designs that I’ve seen out of a lot of databases and just makes you want to do those things.

Maryam Tourk – Co-founder, CU Summer Camp: 10:02

Jumping down to how do you explain Notion to other people? This is something that I’ve struggled with because once I started becoming obsessed with Notion after CU, I was like, everyone, you need to get Notion it’ll change your life, download notion, download notion. And I think we had a little trial period during the fellowship where we got used to its basic functions. And then from there we were allowed to do whatever we wanted with it. But everyone kind of was like, Oh, so you’re just building your own website. Which it definitely isn’t that, but it’s definitely hard to explain it because it just does so many other things. And now I kind of just explain it as like it’s an everything in one, it’s Google docs and notes and this and that, and that’s kind of how I do it, but it’s still not completely comprehensive. So I’m interested to see what everyone else does.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 11:00

I have a hard time explaining it verbally. I usually just show people my Notion lists and then just list almost the variety of things that I can do out there. So I’ll be like I do a daily accountability checker early time at tracker. I do a daily reflection on here. Here’s my monthly budgeting, but then here’s also my generally and my core seem to be his phone call the classes I’m taking this semester and all this stuff of internships I want to apply for, you know what I mean? Just showing people the variety and the pages and then showing them my pages. And that’s kind of how I do a lot of screenings.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 11:43

That’s smart. It’s helpful when you can say things such as Civics Unplugged will not exist without Notion. And it’s kind of like obviously a fuel source for it, right? I mean, that’s not even the best metaphor, but it’s like, we use it for basically everything that’s Civics Unplugged. And a lot of the leadership team use it for everything as well as all of you.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 12:19

I’m seeing some similarities between our conversation yesterday with the 2021 fellows about the CU brand and Notion people not really understanding what CU is because they don’t have anything to compare it to. And the same thing for notion. I think that that’s a really good sign. That whatever thing it is really revolutionary is if you have nothing to compare it to that does it justice.

Jonah Zacks – Steering Committee Member, Civics Unplugged: 12:45

Yeah. I like to think of it as you can do everything except for handwriting addition. Which I say kind of

Dariel Cruz Rodriguez – CU 2030 Steering Committee, Civics Unplugged: 13:02

If the notion people are watching you should add handwriting.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 13:05

Well now you can, they have an iPad feature where you can.

Dariel Cruz Rodriguez – CU 2030 Steering Committee, Civics Unplugged: 13:10

Oh really? The only thing is I have something called a computer. 

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 13:21

I’ll put everything except writing unless you have an iPad.

Jonah Zacks – Steering Committee Member, Civics Unplugged: 13:29

Yeah. I mean, one thing that I use a lot is when I’m actually taking of notes is I use a smart notebook. There are a bunch of different brands out there that you can choose from. And I really like it because I like that tactile feeling of handwriting and there’s all kinds of data that show that helps you, but Notion doesn’t integrate with really any of them. And I think that’s going to change now because they’re working on an API that will allow people to interact with Notion. But I would like to see that. I don’t know, maybe if we do limitations on Notion section, I can talk more about it there. 

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 14:33

That was a great point. By the way, Madison, about the parallels to see you. If you’re trying to explain something that is revolutionary relative to predecessors there really isn’t a clean analogy. In fact, our hope should be in the coming years that people are like, Oh XYZ, cool organization is the, CU of X. You want to create a whole new category? 

Dariel Cruz Rodriguez – CU 2030 Steering Committee, Civics Unplugged: 15:26

Being able to what’s the limitation, being able to export documents without forcing, because whenever you have a page on a page, it has a clickable link when you export it as a PDF. And when you share it with other people that don’t know what Notion is, they get super confused when they click on that link and it sends them to a website where like, they don’t know how anything operates. So maybe having the ability to export all of those pages as like things in the same document where when you click it, it sends you to that page and the PDF document will be helpful.

Ashley Lin – Founder/CEO, Project Exchange: 16:06

So this is a really tiny, but just being able to comment and tables would be really helpful.

Jonah Zacks – Steering Committee Member, Civics Unplugged: 16:16

Oh, getting rid of the title of those charts when you already have a heading over it. So it’s not like duplicated actually. 

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 16:24

What do you mean by commenting in tables?

Ashley Lin – Founder/CEO, Project Exchange: 16:29

Because right now you can comment on the row, but you can’t highlight what someone wrote and comment on that. Or you can’t comment on a box you can only comment on the whole paper. 

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 16:48

I don’t like how the first section has to be a name and you can’t change kind. 

Jonah Zacks – Steering Committee Member, Civics Unplugged: 16:59

Well you can move that section around. Yeah. 

Ashley Lin – Founder/CEO, Project Exchange: 17:06

But then it does weird things to your relationship because that one table has to be I mean, not one column has to be the title and you can’t do anything else.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 17:16

I think that the Notion is the fact that yes, it’s easy to get the basics of it, but to become fluent in Notion takes time. And once I got fluent in Notion, it became my end all, be all. But before that it was a little difficult to navigate it and use it to substantial. So, I don’t think I’m fully fluent in Notion and I’m pretty good cause he was in all the time. But it’s a very hard tool to get to the point where you know everything you can use it for.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 17:51

Yeah. And I would say all of you have the luxury of being immersed in a Notion culture. So you’re kind of observing things even when you’re not actively trying to learn Notion, you’re just seeing it happen. And also if you have questions, anyone can help you. But if you’re just kind of a lone person and then, well this kind of highlights, the issues of being a lone person in general, like in the power of community in general. You’re much more willing to experiment, take risks, even though it doesn’t really feel like a risk, but I take risks in trying a new platform deviating from Google docs. If you have other people that you trust that can help you onboard right. To something that’s less well-known

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 18:51

All right. Any other responses to this one? Or another question on that?

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 19:00

I have one. If someone was to make one Notion page and one Notion page only, what would your core foundation be? 

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 19:20

Well, why don’t we make it a little bit more general like use case.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 19:29

What do you mean?

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 19:32

So like you had a collection of pages could fulfill a particular use case, like journaling. 

Noor Myran – Founding Fellow, 2020 CU Fellowship: 19:53

This is also kind of cheating because it’s like a page that has pages in it, but mine is called “day to day” and it has my morning and night reflection templates and my weekly to-do tracker and I’m trying to think of the last one. Oh, it’s my affirmations and things that I’d want to tell myself on a daily basis. And it’s really easy cause it’s separated from like all the other stuff. So it’s really clear and very I almost want to say like short, but it’s really small. So it’s not like visually overwhelming to look at.

Jonah Zacks – Steering Committee Member, Civics Unplugged: 20:35

Not to get off topic. I’m going to answer the question as soon as I say this thing, but Gary has a user manual in his leadership blueprint and I think we need to know that. If we don’t acknowledge that, I think we are missing an opportunity anyways.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 20:48

The inside joke for anyone watching is that Jonah thinks I’m an Android slash robot. Jonah we’re going to add this to the 20-21 fellowship because it’s basically like, what is your personality? How should you work with me et cetera, it’s actually really useful speaking. 

Jonah Zacks – Steering Committee Member, Civics Unplugged: 21:05

We should have a Notion page with all the videos of all the different fellowship pauses all the time. Are we calling it like when you change the name, different weight of the Monday morning bonfires. We should have a Notion page of the recordings of all the non-bonfires for sure. Just cause I’m curious about the stuff we’re changing. But anyway, to answer the question, my Notion page would be basically the same as Noor as I call it my daily planner. And I have all my things there.

Maryam Tourk – Co-founder, CU Summer Camp: 21:58

Yeah. I’ll hop on the bandwagon of Noor and Jonah. Mine is called Maryam’s Mind and it just has my journal and my reflections and things that I try and do every day.

Jonah Zacks – Steering Committee Member, Civics Unplugged: 22:11

I wish I had a very alliterative name for me. 

Maryam Tourk – Co-founder, CU Summer Camp: 22:14

Yours could be in Jonah’s Journal.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 22:35

Something that I do with the Notion that I’m glad to see other people starting to do as well is create a type of journal entry you might say called a “brain drop”, which is like a full thought about the world, or some observation about the world. And so I have a page that is just, it’s actually just a table where you just click into a row and it’s that full thought.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 23:26

It be what I call “Madison’s digital home.” It has my daily and weekly reflections and I used to call them brain drops, but I started writing way more than brain drops. Sometimes they’re like poems or reflections on quotes and things like that. So we just call it writing and yeah, that’s basically it.

Dariel Cruz Rodriguez – CU 2030 Steering Committee, Civics Unplugged: 23:50

My notes for class.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 24:02

Are you super organized with those notes, Dariel? 

Dariel Cruz Rodriguez – CU 2030 Steering Committee, Civics Unplugged: 24:10

Absolutely not.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 24:13

I think my like favorite Notion, I think my most useful Notion is definitely my daily reflection and accountability tracker. But my favorite Notion page is my ideas page. It’s literally just a table and whatever idea crosses my mind, I just jot it down. Some of them are things that would take 30 years to formulate. Some of them are just like out-of-pocket commentary on something that I witnessed, but I love that I can just put it down and know that the idea exists somewhere. And when I’m ready to, I can always go back to it.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 25:06

Well, I have a question. How would you feel if you were forced to never use notion again?

Jonah Zacks – Steering Committee Member, Civics Unplugged: 25:21

I mean, I guess it would depend on why I was forced to.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 25:26

Because you might have bigger problems.

Jonah Zacks – Steering Committee Member, Civics Unplugged: 25:28

Yeah, yeah, exactly. Like if I were still doing all the things that I’m doing inside CU and then someone’s like, okay, no more Notion for you. Everything would pretty much grind to a halt. I’d be stuck. Yeah. That would be an unpleasant situation.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 25:57

This actually reminds me this kind of answers the limitations question, but the version of this event actually happening is what I want to do. Like a technology detox, tiny chance because my daily reflection is in the Notion, like where would I do reflection? So if I was to never use it again, I would kind of be at a loss because there’s just a couple of things that I would have a hard time replicating in real life.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 26:34

Yeah. It’s interesting how the technology can be so useful that it literally changes. It forces you to reevaluate things that seem timeless, like a technology detox.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 26:53

Hmm. And this next thing, I want to pose a question. I mean, if someone else wants to answer this, they can, but I want to get it down before I forget. What has Notion taught you about yourself?

Noor Myran – Founding Fellow, 2020 CU Fellowship: 27:12

One of the things after a month of using Notion after the fellowship so like, I don’t know how many months that would be, but quite a few months I tried playing around with not hyperlinking, I forget what it’s called, but it’s like when you connect tables or tables, relations. And it was cool because it wasn’t kind of like how Chabu said earlier, it wasn’t hard to learn. It just took time to learn. But being able to backlink things and see how entirely different pages could be connected was really cool. And I think it was both a forcing function and a means to make connections easier in my head. Because I knew that it could happen with the tables. And so it’s like, how can I make it happen in real life?

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 28:12

Yeah. Well said, well, Hey Lillian, you want to introduce yourself.

Lillian Hertel – Founder, Students Stand Up: 28:18

Hi, I’m Lillian. I use she/her pronouns. Is that good? 

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 28:23

Lilli I just linked the document in the chat. So feel free to kind of scan over it and feel free to answer any questions that are already here or you jump in anywhere.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 28:48

I would say for me, I thought that I wasn’t super good at brainstorming or just coming up with ideas in a short period of time. But once I realized that if I was by myself and just had a Notion page open and could literally just jot things down as they came to my head and start building on ideas, even simple features like being able to use dots and having like a dot underneath a dot helps me develop ideas a lot better. 

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 29:36

So one thing that notion helped me realize purely on the basis of the sheer number of pages that I’ve created over the past couple months is the fact that there are so many thoughts, ideas, comments, whatever it may be that I don’t write down easily because there’s no place to write it down. And just having with the simple thing of knowing that there was a Notion page where I can jot this down and come back to it when I’m ready or have the bandwidth for it has allowed me to be more creative, come up with more ideas and almost apply whatever new learning an incident, because there’s a tangible space to let that happen in my brain, the thought just crosses my mind. And there’s very little chance of people’s come back to it.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 30:21

I think this is also really interesting. This is something that Gary talks about in defense of why he’s not a robot, because he says that a lot of people do things in their life that technology could do and that he leans on instead. So for instance, like if you don’t use it to do with Microsoft to do Notion, then you’re going to be thinking about what you have to do throughout the day. And it kind of clutters your brain. But because he stores everything in a place like notion it frees up his almost like his mind and he can think about other things and be more creative.

Lillian Hertel – Founder, Students Stand Up: 31:06

I think that argument might be a little counterintuitive because your argument for why you’re not a robot is that you use technology to store your information.

Dariel Cruz Rodriguez – CU 2030 Steering Committee, Civics Unplugged: 31:20

Notion has taught me that just because your school forces you to use it because they get it for free, doesn’t mean it’s best option out there, hint – Google docs.

Jonah Zacks – Steering Committee Member, Civics Unplugged: 31:30

But also schools could have free Notion. 

Dariel Cruz Rodriguez – CU 2030 Steering Committee, Civics Unplugged: 31:35

I mean, if notion integrated with an educational program, like how Google does for Google for education. 

Ashley Lin – Founder/CEO, Project Exchange: 31:46

I’m going to push back on that event though, because I feel like Notion has taught me that I don’t know that it’s important to be intentional in what I use certain tools for. Like, I feel like I’ve been so intentional in making Notion of space where I can be creative and that is not connected to school, like in Notion I write almost only in lower case and I love bullet points and I do not use Notion for like college apps. I do not write my college essays in Notion. And I feel like that distinction has made Notion a safe space and a creative space for me to access different parts of myself that I don’t want it to be tainted by school.

Jonah Zacks – Steering Committee Member, Civics Unplugged: 32:43

I was just saying, Notion is not universally the best tool. So I did all my college essays in Google docs because they have a better spellchecker, which is something I desperately needed and they have a really good word cap feature. And I can also interact with people right on the document very, very easily. I mean, that was just what I needed for that particular task. So Notion could be really good at all of those things, but then they would have to compromise and be less at other things. And I don’t need another Google Docs. I’ve already got Google Docs.

Julia Terpak – Founder, Gen Z Connect: 33:33

I think it also goes back to Ashley’s point. Like when you look at Google docs, you kind of automatically think that say it’s just because you see the paper outline while Notion it’s just all white space and kind of just feels more freeform than relating it to school. 

Noor Myran – Founding Fellow, 2020 CU Fellowship: 33:52

Kind of back to Ashley’s point, there’s a platform posts coming to explain it, but I really don’t vibe with capital letters, if I’m just relaxing texting, that’s the phrase they’re invasive to me. I don’t know how else to describe it, but they feel cold. And the first Notion hub that I tried creating was all in capital letters and I wasn’t using it. I stayed away from it and I just never used it. And then I was creating my 20-21 version of it. And I find myself using that a lot more, even though it’s not the new year. But I wrapped up December in it. Just cause kind of how Ashley said, it’s a creative space, but also I think Julia’s point about it being like, when I see a Google doc, I think lines in my head. And every time I go to journal, I try to journal without any dots or lines on the paper. Because your mind can visually free flow and connect things that aren’t necessarily linear. And so I think those are the two kind of things that stand out to me.

Lillian Hertel – Founder, Students Stand Up: 35:07

I agree with, what’s been said about association and I think going back to the question, what it’s taught me about myself, I think it’s shown me how much I value aesthetics of things. Not to sound shallow and stuff, but I’m so much more motivated to get started on a journal or something because I see, Oh, this is going to make my page look like it has more journals and now I can actually be substantive. And yeah, I don’t associate it with all of the assignments that I have to do on Google classroom and Google docs and stuff, which is big. 

Ashley Lin – Founder/CEO, Project Exchange: 35:42

I don’t know what about this makes me happy, but just the fact that you can drag blocks of text around. I feel like the act of doing that, gives me a different feeling than if I copy and paste a paragraph into a different position and the fact that it’s not only linear, you can do it sideways.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 36:03

I think what’s so incredible here is the fact that Notion is genuinely a reflection of how your brain operates to an extent. So the way that it isn’t just intersectional thinking, you’re allowed to do that here really well. And for me it also became a thing where I was able to recognize patterns in the way that I think, and then also improve certain things. Like for instance, I am very big on having boundaries or putting things into categories hence why everything’s color-coded in certain sections, but I also would draft induction pages and they’d be way too complicated for no reason. And then I wouldn’t even be get to use them because they were too hard to maintain and that realizing that’s the way that I naturally think, allow me to kind of like reverse engineer the way that I think. And we’ve, it’s like the simplest thing, the thing that I can use consistently is probably the best route to go with this.

Maryam Tourk – Co-founder, CU Summer Camp: 37:01

Yeah. I’ll second Chabu what you’re saying, because when I first started Notion, I was like, Oh, there’s so many things to do. And so I made this giant headquarters with all the different pages that I wanted to build up and then I just didn’t use it because it was too overwhelming. And so once I started simplifying things and making it cute with emojis and all that stuff, I started just naturally going towards it. 

Noor Myran – Founding Fellow, 2020 CU Fellowship: 37:39

I think to Lillian’s point about it being aesthetically pleasing, I didn’t even realize this until now, but going back to Google docs, some of the highlighter colors are so intense, they’re so bold that I hate it. I really don’t like it and all of them in Notion are either pastel or muted. And I think that’s pretty, and I think that makes it soft. You know what, the really bold colors on Google docs have the same energy as capital letters. That’s what it feels like. And Notion is just the opposite.

Lillian Hertel – Founder, Students Stand Up: 38:21

I will say that one of the things I don’t love about Notion is that you have to highlight the entire line. And you can’t do if that has bullet points coming off of it, then those are automatically highlighted. I don’t love that, but I completely agree, the Google doc highlighters are just super aggressive, and I do not like that.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 38:58

I think that I like the fact that there aren’t too many options of highlighting, bolding, downsizing, all those things. Like there are very few things that you can do with Notion like a set few colors, there is one font. And that holds because I feel like I can just get over involved and invested in just sending everything on a certain color and making it look a certain way. And so it forces me to just not do that or if I do that, it’s super simple.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 39:34

Awesome. We can go ahead and move to the reflection portion. So I’m going to send the link in here. You guys can take a look at what we talked about and then we can reflect on it.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 40:20

So something that I saw reoccurring was the fact that everyone kind of uses Notion as complimentary to the things that already exist in their lives. Like it adds to that rather than starting something. And I think that’s really cool.

Dariel Cruz Rodriguez – CU 2030 Steering Committee, Civics Unplugged: 40:58

Notion was annoying at the beginning cause you know, I don’t like it when somebody tells me to use a certain system. Sorry, Gary. But and I’ll be honest with you. I only use Notion for leadership blueprint and then after those two hours or one hour of me working on it, I said cianaro util next week. But after I entered Pacific’s 2030 like campaign and I started actually using it for planning stuff. I saw the use of it and I started using it personally.

Jonah Zacks – Steering Committee Member, Civics Unplugged: 41:41

Here’s a conversation that I’m thinking about. The leadership blueprint reminded me of, because of the conversation here a long time ago about the leadership blueprint is for a little while I was playing with using the Notion of desktop hap. And I basically just abandoned that entirely. Like I haven’t touched in forever because it doesn’t. Yeah. It doesn’t add any functionality. You can’t open multiple tabs. 

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 42:11

Yep. That’s the biggest thing about the Notion that you can work on Chrome with multiple tabs. 

Jonah Zacks – Steering Committee Member, Civics Unplugged: 42:19

So I haven’t touched it. But if I could, if I don’t even think that it gets to there.

Dariel Cruz Rodriguez – CU 2030 Steering Committee, Civics Unplugged: 42:27

another issue is if you click on the Notion, it doesn’t open up the Notion of, if you haven’t installed it, it just opens up a problem. So it’s just very easy to use on Chrome.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 42:37

I am religious about Notion. But I guess the duality is that I’ll use it sort the weekly planner or to do lists. Like it’ll always be on that page. And then in Chrome I’ll open other tasks. I suppose.

Jonah Zacks – Steering Committee Member, Civics Unplugged: 43:00

One thing I would like to be able to do is offline editing, that would be brilliant.

Lillian Hertel – Founder, Students Stand Up: 43:10

This is general idea, but I think it would be cool if, I get really tired of both the light mode and the dark one a lot. So if they introduced different colors, that’s kind of mundane, but I think it would be super dope.

Noor Myran – Founding Fellow, 2020 CU Fellowship: 43:37

This is more of a reflection on groupthink and Notion, but it’s cool to me that we can have an hour-long conversation about it, but also that people are really excited to have this conversation. I know that at the start everyone was like, Oh my gosh, we can run through our Notions and see how they differ and are similar. And I remember that one night, we just screen shared and showed it. So I think it’s a Testament, both to groupthink, but also to the fact that it’s just a really cool thing to have.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 44:14

Yeah. On that note, I think a reason why it’s fun to talk about Notion is because it’s in a lot of the use cases that we all use it for. It’s a way to express yourself in one way or another. And you can customize so many different things that if you share a page it’s sharing really a lot of your vibe and your values.

Julia Terpak – Founder, Gen Z Connect: 44:47

Yeah. For me, again, being very much of a beginner, it’s kind of the point I’m kept making throughout, but just the design encourages people, how to use the platform, even though the platform doesn’t prompt you much at all. Just the design of it encouraged you to use the space in a very freeform way. 

Maryam Tourk – Co-founder, CU Summer Camp: 45:11

I also think that it’s such a big Testament to Notion that all of us have just become Notion evangelists after using it and can literally have an hour-long conversation about why we love Notion, which I don’t think, well, I don’t know, I’m not super techie, but I don’t think that anybody else would really want, let’s have a conversation about how great zoom is or Google suites, but Notion is just so wonderful. And it’s just so great. So I feel like people want to have conversations about it, but I definitely think that figuring out how to introduce it to other people in a way that they would want to use it without having to be immersed in CU culture is definitely something interesting to explore more.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 46:01

Maryam, I guess the question that makes me think of in terms of the whole persuasion aspect it’s hard. It feels like it’s really hard to convince someone to make a pretty meaningful lifestyle change, unless they’re really inspired by something or someone.

Maryam Tourk – Co-founder, CU Summer Camp: 46:33

Yeah. To that point, I think that when people maybe see other people using Notion and get inspired by how it looks or how cool it is to organize it. It’s definitely easier because I know that once my sister saw me using Notion, they were like, Oh wow, this is so cool. And now everyone in my family is on Notion, but for people I don’t see that often. And don’t see me using it like my cousins are like, Oh wow, they’ve seen it once and they thought it was really cool, but then they just abandoned it because they’re like, Oh, this is too hard. And I don’t want to put in that much effort. 

Noor Myran – Founding Fellow, 2020 CU Fellowship: 47:07

So I definitely agree. My mom’s a teacher and she saw me using it and she really liked the way it looked. And her students say that it’s just visually easy to follow along with stuff that she posts that she puts on their screen shares. So to Maryam and Gary’s point, I think that’s interesting.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 47:29

Oh, that’s really cool. Did she hear about it through you?

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 47:39

Gary, I can’t get over what you said about how the way people use Notion reveals a lot about who they are. Like when I first saw the way Chabu uses toggles and how she, on her title, she puts one color, usually a gray and then a blue text over it and then like this. So how people use certain features, because while it’s really simple, it’s so nuance and there’s just so many things you can do with it. So I just thought that that was so interesting.

Jonah Zacks – Steering Committee Member, Civics Unplugged: 48:17

Okay. So here’s my question. Do you guys, the headings that are things that you’re actively working on? Because when I highlight a heading that gives it a kind of air of finality to me.

Lillian Hertel – Founder, Students Stand Up: 48:28

I kind of do that when I’m reviewing, like if I’m going back through and studying and stuff that’s what I find.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 48:47

One of the things that I’ve just learned through trial and error. That is like, I’ll just put it down here, call-out and I’ll be like this is, you know, just in the early brainstorm of ideas, feel free to whatever two is. And this is not just useful for Notion documents, but the fact that there was a call-out element makes it so easy to have the disclaimers at the top. And again, this is Notion agnostic kind of advice. But what I realized is that when people look at something that doesn’t have a disclaimer, they feel really cautious and risk averse in giving any comments or feedback or adding ask any questions. Because they don’t want to offend the person that is sending that to them. Just an idea.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 50:14

I think there are a lot of parallels between the fact that as much as it is my Notion page is the way that people engage with the Notion page has a lot of meaning like is inappropriate to comment? Can I edit? Did I make an appearance on the Notion page and then send you the link? And so I feel like there was the way that you engage with the Notion pages also earth collection, just like less of a dynamic that exists that shows that to the fact that Notion is very much a reflection of a person you see.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 50:50

Yeah. It’s like house rules. Like do you take off your shoes when you enter someone’s house? What are the table manners type of thing? Another thing that this conversation is brought to mind for me was that how can we expect teachers to adopt this if they’re not getting help on how to learn how to use it and why would they use a tool that makes them look like novices? And if they’ve spent like 10 years using Google docs and maybe they’re just getting the hang of that, why would they switch over? 

Maryam Tourk – Co-founder, CU Summer Camp: 51:47

Yeah. And just to add on to that point, I think at least a lot of mine, my teachers still struggle with technology that they have been using for so long. So to get them to switch to another platform that’s completely new would just be like a big ask overall, because I feel like tech is just not something that they have any help with at all. And so it’s pretty much just them on their own.

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 52:11

I know there’s a couple of comments about doing the convention master class, but I think that if I had to sit down and learn that, I would just miss out on where to be. And it’s one of those things that you almost have to learn to love over time. And then you come to realize it’s personal added value for you. Like look Notion, assess learned through time and process and having to work with it like we did with the fellowship. And then it kind of makes sense after that.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 52:46

I’m just realizing that this reflection itself was so useful. The whole thing was useful. This whole group think was useful because I think it’s revealing to people dimensions of something that they care about social love and enables the capacity for people to love it even more and take more full advantage of it, which makes me realize that we should definitely do something for Slack. We should definitely do something for whatever thing that we spend a lot of attention thinking about dwelling in. 

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 53:38

Yeah. I definitely want to do one for Slack because Slack and Notion or two things that I’m always learning new things about super useful.

Jonah Zacks – Steering Committee Member, Civics Unplugged: 53:50

Just like with Notion. There’s also a Slack certification too. You can be an admin or development. Well, the certified slacker. 

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 54:13

Okay. Well thank you all for coming tonight. I really enjoyed this discussion. Thank you, Gary, for making the page so much more visually appealing. We’re going to have to do that more in the future.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 54:25

Right. It’s funny. I mean, if anyone’s been following along, right. We’ve just got kind of changed one thing at a time and it’s been fun because it’s like, we’re being really cautious about the iterations and I got to shout out to Jonah for breaking the rule in a good way. I think for word association.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 54:45

I was about to say something about that, but I was like, you know what? I think that’s fine. If you just want to say one word.

Dariel Cruz Rodriguez – CU 2030 Steering Committee, Civics Unplugged: 54:58

But why is the Slack exam $300 to take? 

Jonah Zacks – Steering Committee Member, Civics Unplugged: 55:06

Yeah, well it’s $150 to take and then $150 for the prep course. 

Dariel Cruz Rodriguez – CU 2030 Steering Committee, Civics Unplugged: 55:13

So, I’m thinking that’s going to be a CU partnership kind of thing. I’m going to try and convince my school to pay for these exams and have it as like a certification class for certain kids for the career kids. Because we have Adobe certification classes and stuff like that. That would be cool. 

Chabu Kapumba – Senior Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 55:41

I feel like I use Slack often but what’s the point of getting certified? What would you get from it?

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 56:05

Well, thank you all for coming tonight and I will see you later.

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