I Used Notion For A Week.
8 Reasons I Switched
Back To OneNote
Do you want a multitool or a notebook?
Notebooks are essential tools for all writers. Yet the choice between electronic notebooks isn’t clear-cut, especially if you’re relying on other people’s opinion and research or polls. Little quirks in an app that you might consider a deal-breaker could be completely overlooked by the reporter(s).
I switched to 100% paperless about ten years ago, when I started using OneNote. In the last year or so, I’ve been gradually upping my note-taking game to build a Second Brain, or Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) system. Almost no one talks about using OneNote for a Second Brain or PKM, which made me wonder if I should switch apps.
OneNote is the grandfather of notebook apps (it’s 15 years old). I wondered if I was missing out on great features. As I’ve been using notebook apps for over a decade, I know what features I need—the deal-breakers. But if I could keep those and reap new ones, that would justify a switch.
I did a deep dive into notebook apps and came up with two possibilities that were not super expensive: Obsidian and Notion.
After trying out Obsidian for a few days, I returned to OneNote—the learning curve was too high for me to easily assess if the app would do what I needed it to. After fighting with it for three hours, trying to clip an article from the web, I gave up.
I gave Notion a decent trial, as it was intuitive enough to get started quickly. I learned that it categorically does not do what I need it to do.
Here’s 8 reasons I’ve switched back to OneNote with a sigh of relief.
Notion is not free. Or cheap, if you share with others.
I can share one or all of my OneNote notebooks with anyone with a Microsoft account and it doesn’t cost me anything. I get OneNote as part of my Microsoft 365 subscription, but you don’t have to be subscriber to use OneNote. It’s free for everyone.
Notion has a “nominal” monthly charge for personal users who want extended features. But once you move into sharing notebooks, the price spirals.
Still, I was prepared to take on the annual subscription for teamwork, if Notion proved to be the tool I needed.
I have a decade of IP stored in OneNote
Notion was not going to make it easy to bring that archive over.
There is a mass import function, but it doesn’t treat OneNote’s inbuilt spreadsheets nicely, nor does it deal with pages with PDFs embedded, or tables. Layouts in OneNote were scrambled in Notion. The prospect of cutting and pasting, then fixing and formatting, ten years’ worth of stored data made me feel a little ill.
Still, this was not yet a dealbreaker.
If Notion proved to be a better tool than OneNote, I could run the two in tangent for however many months it took to transition over, transferring a little each day.
Limited fonts and text formatting
I always switch san serif fonts to serif fonts, as serif fonts are easier to read. Notion, though, would require me to manually change every page to a serif font–and not a font of my choosing.
Plus, there is no way to scale up the font to a size that suits my vision. I am “of a certain age” and squinting at pre-determined and tiny lettering would be a problem in the long term.
There was the option to use accessibility tools and further scale up the visuals for the entire computer. Only, I’m unwilling to give up screen real estate, which is already crowded in some applications.
You MUST be online to use it.
I was aware of this limitation before I began my trial. I didn’t think it was an issue until I was in a location where cellphone reception wasn’t fantastic.
I could still capture the story idea that struck me using OneNote on my cellphone, but Notion was a dead, blank screen.
We have occasional power outages in my city, too. Suddenly, those rare moments took on significance.
Notion won’t let me manipulate text with my keyboard.
There are keyboard shortcuts that are native to all Microsoft Office products that I cannot live without. I didn’t know that until trying to use Notion.
One of them is the ability to shift an entire paragraph, or images, or chunks of selected text (pages worth, if you want) up and down the page using ALT + SHFT + the Up or Down arrows. I use this so much, without thinking about it, that the first time I tried to use it in Notion and it didn’t work, I was actually shocked.
Notion requires me to take my hand off the keyboard and use the mouse to drag and drop paragraphs (“blocks”) on the screen. It’s only a tiny second to shift my hand to the mouse, but over a day, a month, a year, those seconds add up.
This is just one of the drawbacks Notion brings with it because it is not part of the Microsoft suite as OneNote is. Unfortunately, it’s a biggie.
The Web Clipper is just awful.
I clip a lot of sources and articles from the web.
Some of my daily tasks depend upon this function (collecting promising BookFunnel author promotions, for example). OneNote’s web clipper (added into Chrome) gives me a range of options for clipping, including screen shots of areas I define, or purely text (sans ads), or a virtual screen shot of the page. There are additional options, including basic text formatting, and adding notes of your own.
Notion’s web clipper has no options. It clips the page you’re on and you get what you get.
Plus, when I tried to clip a BookFunnel author promotion page, it failed to clip more than the title of the page and the URL.
This was a deal breaker for me, but it wasn’t the only one.
You can’t send email to Notion
I would have included this (lack of) function in with “all part of the Microsoft family,” only I can send my emails to ToDoist, which is not a Microsoft product.
The inability to send emails to Notion was a flat out deal breaker. It differentiates OneNote from Notion as a “real” notebook.
Notion is a multi-tool, not a notebook
Like many multi-featured, everything-for-everyone apps, Notion does everything okay, but nothing brilliantly (or easily).
It has some super-cool features. No argument there. It makes lovely-looking pages, and the interface is great. But that’s just cosmetics. The cool features were not something I would get any use out of. I already have a calendar that works, and a task manager that works even better.
I can live without backlinks. OneNote lets me forward-link anything to anywhere, and I’ve never found the lack of automatic back links a major inconvenience.
Simply being the hip new app out there isn’t enough to overcome Notion’s other drawbacks, for me. I need a fully functional notebook. Not this year’s must-have app.
I dithered for months about changing notebook apps. FOMO tethered me.
It wasn’t until I actually trialed the apps in real time, while attempting to complete my everyday tasks, that I learned in a hurry what would work for me. I suggest you do the same. Most notebook apps have free trials, or free versions. Test them out—actually try to complete your work using them.
You’ll figure out very quickly which is the app for you.