Quick overview: Setting up OneNote

Update: Stuart Bruce reminded me that OneNote is now available free of charge across all your devices.

Following the previous post about using OneNote to manage your digital life, I had a number of people ask how I actually structure OneNote, so here’s a quick overview that hopefully provides some food for thought.

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One of the great things about OneNote is that it’s completely adaptable to how you want to work. There isn’t one single structure or approach, rather you can fine tune it so that it best suits how you work or what you want to do. This flexibility came home to me recently when I was reviewing my OneNote archives going back to 2007 and it’s been interesting to see how the structure of my notebooks have changed over that period.

So for what it’s worth here’s how I use OneNote.

Start before you open OneNote

One of the great things about OneNote is that you can just dive in and start adding notes and thoughts, archiving emails, clipping web pages etc. However, I always advise people to invest some time thinking through how they want to use it, what are your work and personal priorities and responsibilities, what information will you put in OneNote etc.

One useful way to do this is what David Allen calls a mind sweep. This is a process of sitting down and pulling together everything you have going on in your work and personal life so that you have a good left to right view of your world from an urgent project to cleaning the yard.

The next step is outlining the priorities you have and using those priorities to drive the structure of your OneNote.

At this point you should also think about where you want to keep your OneNote notebooks stored. You can save them locally to your hard drive or you can use built in support for OneDrive and for work related content you can also use OneDrive for business.  For me using OneDrive is essential, it keeps all my notebooks synchronized across all my devices. So no matter where I am, I have the latest content.

Structuring OneNote

My OneNote notebooks have evolved over time, however the main structure has been consistent and works for me.

There are three active notebooks I use:

  • Personal (Web) – this is the default notebook that’s opened when you install OneNote – I’ll explain why it’s easiest to use this notebook later
  • 2014 Work notebook – my work notebook for the current financial year
  • Reference notebook – a general notebook

Personal (Web) Notebook

This is the notebook where I spend most of my working day. I’ve structured it based on my personal and professional priorities. It includes the following sections:

  • Quick Notes
  • Journal
  • Agendas
  • Projects Work
  • Personal Projects
  • Someday Work
  • Someday Personal

Quick Notes – this is the standard OneNote tab in the standard OneNote notebook when you install the app. I use it because it’s where OneNote stores any quick notes you create, and if you’re using the new OneNote services like web clippings or posting to OneNote via email (using me@onenote.com) this is where those notes go.

Quick Notes is my OneNote Inbox. It’s the default place I send information from emails, to meeting notes, ideas, articles, documents etc.

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I also have a shortcut to Quick Notes on the home screen of my Windows Phone so if I think of something I can quickly write or record the thought directly into OneNote.

(Note for Windows Phone 8.1 users: The other benefit of using this notebook, is that if you use Cortana this is the folder where any notes you dictate to her are sent).

The key here is that you capture everything in the Quick Notes section, then you process every item in there and file it as required. For example, review meeting notes for any actions or reminders. After reviewing them then I move them out of Quick Notes and into the relevant notebook or section. The aim is to empty out the Quick Notes section regularly. 

There are a number of other tabs in this folder:

Journal – I have over the past few years kept a journal. Though calling it a journal may be overstating it a little. I don’t necessarily write it up every day, but I do jot things down and capture any thoughts, ideas, or lessons I’ve learned. I’ve found it incredibly valuable in terms of keeping a record of what’s been going on. Because OneNote can handle any information I can pop photos, text, documents, links, screen captures etc in there, and it’s accessible from my PC, any web browser, tablet, phone etc.

Agendas – In here I have a page for everybody that I’m working with. I create the Agenda page for each person by sending their Outlook contact card to OneNote. Then on each contact’s page I jot down things I need to talk to them about next time I see them, I also link to the notes from previous 1:1 meetings so I can review those notes ahead of our next meeting if required.

Projects – I have a page for each active project I’m working on. How you set this up is down to personal preference. I have a page for each project that is set it up similarly to this mock-up:

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The fantastic thing about OneNote is you can then attach files, handwritten notes, links to resources on the web – and even better, links to other OneNote pages. This means that this one project page can aggregate all the information and references for a project. It’s an incredible time saver.

Personal Projects – Same as above but for Personal interests.

Someday – In this tab I have a general page that has future work related thoughts, ideas etc. Then I have an individual page for larger items or projects which I will need to do in the future but aren’t actionable right now. I review this tab every week and then migrate projects or ideas into the project tab when they are ready to go.

Someday Personal – Same as above but this is for personal projects. I also use this for capturing notes and lists such as books I want to read, movies or TV programs I want to see etc.

 

Work Notebook

This is for all the reference information you need as part of work life. Each year I’ll have a specific Work notebook, and when the year ends I retire it to my archives and create a new one. This keeps all the reference material, notes, emails, files, etc. for that year together and in context. I’ve over 10 gigabytes of OneNote notebooks that contain a lot of information and resources going back over the years.

So how do you structure it? Well there are probably a number of core focus areas or responsibilities for your job. For example things like Administration, Management, Planning, then specific clients, services or products – this will obviously be specific to your work life. I have a tab for each of these areas in my work notebook.

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Then when I have a relevant email, article, or meeting note I file it in the related area (and cross link them to my project pages) which creates an incredibly rich database of relevant work information.

Finally, I also have an archive tab. When a project is complete I put it in the archive folder which gives me a full inventory of projects completed through the year.

Note: Given it’s work-related information I host this notebook on OneDrive for Business – which comes with Office 365 and ensures sensitive company information is separate from your personal OneDrive.

 

Reference Notebook

Finally I have a reference notebook. Whereas the first two notebooks hold mostly date-specific information, this is a big old notebook that I use as a repository for evergreen information I may want to review or read again. How you structure this really depends on your interests, for me it has career related content, PR content, old manuals, interesting articles, quotes, resources, etc.

 

End of year

At the end of the calendar and work year, I archive the year specific content that I have in my Personal (Web) and Work notebooks into new notebooks for that particular year – one for personal and one for work. I keep any information that remains relevant for the new year.

 

Some additional OneNote Tips:

  • Hyperlinking: The best power tip is hyperlinking in OneNote. Not only can you link to web pages, but you can link to other notes. So for example in the Agendas section. I can link to previous meeting notes so I have a complete record of past conversations I can quickly review. From your project page you can add files and links to related notes.
  • Tags: OneNote has useful tagging capabilities which make it faster and easier to find information later. One absolutely killer feature is tag search. You can not only search all your notes and notebooks for tags but you can pull together tags onto a ‘summary page’ – this is a great feature.
  • Outlook Integration: When I build out my projects, I’ll have a list of next actions. Using ‘Ctrl-Shift-K’ I can create an Outlook task from that action and the two items are linked, this is a great focus tool. Also, when the Outlook task is completed the item is marked complete in your notebook automatically.
  • Using two OneNote windows: When you start using OneNote a lot, there may be times you want to have two OneNote windows open rather can clicking back and forth between pages (or using Alt-left or right arrow). Instead just hold down Control-M and a new OneNote window opens.
  • Office Lens: One of the best things about OneNote is that you can add practically any type of digital content from anywhere. This includes making non-digital information digital. Think about that printed brochure, that receipt, napkin, whiteboard or moleskin page. Office Lens is a fantastic little app that simplifies capturing that content with your phone and transfers it automatically into OneNote. It’s also smart, optimizing capture with different modes from Whiteboard to documents and photos. It’s currently available for Windows Phone.
  • Onetastic: Microsoft developer Omer Atay has created a set of great little tools and add-ins for OneNote including OneCalendar where you can view all your notes on a Calendar. It’s a free download and I recommend it.

 

The beauty of OneNote is it’s flexibility. You should play around and find a structure that works for you.

I’d love to hear how you’re using OneNote and if you’ve any tips or questions leave a comment or feel free to get in touch.

Additional notes:

  • OneNote is now available on Windows (both traditional desktop and as a modern app – which is really nice and worth a look if you haven’t already). Windows Phone, Mac, iPad, iPhone, Android and on the web.
  • There’s also a host of new complimentary apps and services for OneNote from doxie to Feedly and IFTTT.

Related posts:

One(Note) productivity tool to rule them all..

Somewhere along the way the true meaning of personal productivity got lost.

Instead of productivity being about doing more of the things – work and personal – that are important to us, it became about just doing more.

We’ve only a limited number of hours in a day, and if you want to perform at your best, you need to focus on getting your work life balance right and NOT just working longer hours or that ridiculous concept of being ‘always on’.

I’m always intrigued about how people stay organized, particularly in the marketing and PR world where we’re dealing with more sources, information and interruptions that ever before.

So here’s a brief overview of how I stay on top of my working day, keep focused on what’s important and get my inbox to zero practically every day.

I’ll start by giving you a rough outline of the process and then a bit more detail on the tools I use.

Tip: If you’re interested in some good, solid advice on personal productivity, I really recommend Getting Things Done. It’s a great introduction to putting some shape on all the information and commitments you’re managing every day and ensuring you’re focused on what’s important.

For me there’s four main things I focus on in terms of productivity:

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1. Capture everything

When I say capture everything, I really mean everything. Capture that thought you have getting out of the shower, capture notes from a meeting, emails, that interesting photo you took, the whiteboard chart from your last meeting. Whatever it is, capture it and put it in a central repository or system where it’ll be processed (see the next section).

For me everything I capture goes into OneNote where I know I’ll process it.

You might have multiple ‘inboxes’, from your email, to your physical desk inbox, an inbox at home for personal stuff, a notebook for ideas, a note app on your device. It doesn’t matter what your inboxes are, it matters that they are capturing everything and that you are then processing those inboxes.

2. Process your stuff

Once you have captured everything then you need to process it. This is where you have to make decisions about all the ‘stuff’ you’ve captured.

What does process mean?

Well take an email as an example. Is it actionable? Is there an immediate action for you, is it part of a project, is it something you need to delegate, or delete, is it something you need to file for later etc.

(Tip: Review this diagram from David Allen’s Getting Things Done as an illustration of this process).

The trick here is to only touch an item once – make a decision about it and move on. Through this process you can build out your projects and next actions, while making sure all the related information is together.

This is the secret to not having 12,000 emails in your inbox and not forgetting stuff.  When you process all this information you should have complete project lists, task lists, reference lists etc. Then you need to…

3. Do it

I think that’s pretty self-explanatory :). Allen’s guidance is that if there’s something in your inbox you can do in under two minutes you should do it. Carving out time in your day to do things is essential, especially given you probably have a lot of meetings and calls.

4. Review it

Once you have all these lists of actions, projects and reminders you need to review them to make sure you’re moving projects forward. I typically do a quick daily review where I look at my schedule for today and tomorrow and look at what I need to get done. Then once a week I do a more detailed review, which includes reviewing my schedule from the past week, my schedule for the next week, my projects, tasks list, objectives, priorities etc. The review process is key so I actually have blocked time each Friday.

So that’s the process in a nutshell. I’ve kept it high level on purpose as my experience is that everyone’s work style is different.  There’s a lot of additional detail in terms of how you organize and process all that information.  If you’re interested in learning more I recommend buying a copy of Getting Things Done, it has some great tips and advice.

 

Work tools

There’s a lot of different tools and apps I use each day but there’s two apps I use most of all.

First of all I use Microsoft Outlook for all my work and personal email, scheduling and tasks. It’s a great product that I’ve used since it was Schedule+.

However…
OneNote 2013
  If there was just one tool I could have for managing my work life and my personal life, it’s Microsoft OneNote.

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OneNote is one of the lesser known parts of Microsoft Office. In the most simple terms it’s an electronic notebook, but that doesn’t do it justice. (Tip: There’s a basic introductory video here).

You can take notes (keyboard or handwritten), but you do much more. You can insert files, archive emails, capture web pages, add photos, link different notes together, share your notebooks with others and edit them together in real time.  Effectively you can embed anything in OneNote, and once it’s in there the information is searchable, you can add tags and you can organize the information using the notebook metaphor in a way that best suits how you work.

The result is in effect a complete encyclopedia of your work and personal life.

I have multiple gigabytes of content stored in OneNote going back over eight years from meeting notes, to projects, journals, task lists and reading materials.

Here’s an incomplete list of things I capture in OneNote:

  • Capturing random thoughts or notes at my desk or on the go using the OneNote phone or desktop app
  • Meeting notes (you can auto-generate a meeting note from Outlook, with all the attendees etc. already populated)
  • Project planning including outlining
  • Project plans (including hyperlinks to other OneNote pages, attaching relevant files, photos etc)
  • Archiving relevant email (one click from Outlook)
  • Saved web pages, articles, RSS feeds
  • Cut and Pasted information from other apps or websites
  • Printing documents for review (once OneNote is installed you can print a document into OneNote as you would use a printer)
  • Sharing notebooks which I can collaborate on with colleagues
  • Capturing screenshots
  • Inserting pictures and photos
  • Capturing photos of whiteboard diagrams and incorporating them in my notes
  • Scans of paper documents and brochures
  • Capture handwritten notes – both directly with a stylus or from a notebook via the camera on my phone
  • Take audio and video recordings of meetings which OneNote indexes (with the agreement of participants)
  • And much more!

It’s completely mobile. If I’m away from my desk and have an idea I just open OneNote on my phone, type a note or record my thought with voice and then by the time I’m back at my desk the note is synchronized across all my devices and the web. If I need to find something I can also search those notebooks on my phone.

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That synchronization is thanks to OneDrive which keeps all my notes and notebooks available and synchronized on any my PCs, with Office Online in my browser, my tablet and my phone (I use Windows Phone, but OneNote is also available on iOS or Android).

OneNote has meant that I’m now nearly (98%) paperless. There are times I like paper and for that purpose I carry my trusty Field Notes notebook with me. It’s small, hardy and slips into my back pocket. If there’s something useful in the notebook I just take a photo and post it to OneNote.

Some additional resources on OneNote:

So beyond OneNote and Outlook what else do I use?

Communications

  • Microsoft Lync (for work calls, instant messaging, video calls, conference calls)
  • Skype (for personal instant messaging, and calls)
  • Yammer Notifier – keeps my on top of what’s going on with Yammer (and I use it with the Yammer web app)
  • Tweetdeck – my preferred Twitter desktop client from Twitter

Productivity

  • Microsoft Office 365 (including Outlook, Excel, Work, Powerpoint, OneNote, Access)
  • NextGen Reader – since the sad demise of syndicated feeds with my beloved FeedDemon I’ve turned to NextGen reader which syncs with Feedly. The new sharing capabilities inside NextGen make it a great tool for not only keeping up with news and content but sharing and keeping them for later.
  • Reading List – If you have Windows 8.1 the reading list app is a great way of keeping lists of sites you want to read in the future together
  • Stacks for Instapaper – Along with Reading List I’m a long time user of Instapaper. The Stacks app for Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone is a great way of accessing deferred reading wherever you are.
  • Flipboard – I’ll just send you to Stuart Bruce’s review of Flipboard

Tying it all together

I use OneDrive to keep all my personal files, folders and information (and for Windows 8.1 my settings, browser tabs etc) in sync across all my devices from PCs to tablets and phones.

For work information and files I use OneDrive for Business – the business version of OneDrive.

Hardware

  • My primary PC is a Lenovo Carbon X1 – great machine, nice touch screen, thin, fast
  • Surface Pro – nice mix of a full Windows PC with tablet capabilities, great stylus support
  • Dell Venue Pro 8" – great 8" Windows 8.1 device runs all your Windows apps, with fantastic battery life
  • Nokia 920 – love my Windows phone, plan to upgrade to the Nokia 1020
  • Two 20" Monitors – can’t live without them
  • Polycomm Communicator brilliant device for conference calls where you’re out of the office
  • My Doxie scanner turns paper docs, sketches etc. into digital content for OneNote

 

Other related posts:

PR in 2010: Coping with the Cacophony

As we approach the start of a new year, and indeed a new decade, the blogosphere will no doubt be overwhelmed by predictions and forecasts of various kinds concerning the future of traditional media, social media, PR, marketing etc.

So I thought I’d take a different tack.

I’m going to assume that we are indeed heading into another year of evolution and change. So if that’s a given, why not consider you. What will you do in the next year?

It’s December, it’s a great time to take stock, to review how you’re doing, and to preview where you’re going.

The world of work is changing; and I think that PR and marketing professionals face even greater challenges as we struggle to juggle our traditional work loads and responsibilities with new emerging channels, tools and relationships. So how will we cope with these challenges?

Now before I go any further, I would hate you to think that I’m living in some sort of personal Zen. I can assure you that I am not. However I have reached the conclusion that we must take responsibility for how we manage our personal and working lives. We need to actively think about how we not only cope with a broader set of responsibilities but how we succeed with them.

In short, I think 2010 is the year that you need to invest in you.

I’m not a personal development guru, but here I present 12 areas that I’ve been thinking about recently – for what it’s worth. (And there’s not one mention of unfollowing people on Twitter – that’s a promise.)

I would love to hear your views. What have I missed? What do you disagree with? Jump in with a comment or write your own post and let me know, I’ll add links here.

 

1. If you don’t know where you’re going.. I am sure there are many people in this world who are naturally ‘planful’. No doubt their work and personal lives revolve around a clear vision of short, medium and long-term objectives. I’m not one of them. However, I have been investing some time in thinking about my own priorities and my own objectives. What roles do I play in my personal and work lives? What objectives do I have? What changes do I want to make? Where do I want to go and how do I get there? Start small, map your roles and responsibilities and your aspirations, then review and review again.

2. Make time for your personal life… Do I need to write any more? If I do, then please refer to the beginning of this paragraph.

3. Love what you do.. It amazes me how many people hate their jobs. They dread the sound of their alarm clock. Well, they are clearly stronger than I, because I couldn’t do that. It’s a personal thing. I need to have a passion for what I do. There’s a nice quote I read recently from a Steve Jobs address to students at Stanford: “You’ve got to find what you love… If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.” Spot on.

4. Get smart about your workload… You face an avalanche of work, commitments, e-mail, tweets, meetings, tasks and calls every day. Do yourself a favor, start thinking about how you can work smarter. There are some great approaches to more efficient personal workflow. Research them, try them, and give yourself some time back.

5. It’s OK to be a nerd… Related to getting a personal workflow is getting smart about how you use the tools you have. Investing some time in learning to use your PC and applications – as well as the tools and services available online – more effectively, is a good investment that will give you a huge return. Get searching.

6. Get Social.. I know this sounds really obvious, but social media is here to stay. Ignorance really isn’t an option. Many, if not most of our traditional tools and channels will remain important and relevant for the foreseeable future, but social media opens new opportunities to increase the effectiveness of your efforts. The fact you are reading this on a blog means you’re probably already there, however, keep current and get involved. See point #12.

7. Consume greedily.. Keep your brain active and challenged. Find time to read, find time to listen to podcasts, find time to talk to people. Expand your mind outside your area of expertise. Build it into your objectives. Creative ideas and approaches come from many sources and many of them are surprising. Bring your Zune :-) or your Kindle to the gym or on the train. Make time.

8. Live a little… So as the quote goes, "If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got." We live in exciting times, take calculated risks, experiment, review it and measure the results. At worst it provides fantastic learning opportunities and at best will have a major impact on the effectiveness of your work.

9. Write proper…Isn’t it time we addressed the black and white elephant in the room? The advent of social media demands that we revisit how we communicate. Corporate speak is over-used and it no longer resonates with our audiences. We must change how we think about it, we must bring words to life and go back to telling stories. This is a long journey but one that is worth taking.

10. Where’s your vision… There’s a land grab underway in social media. Who owns it? Who drives it? Don’t be left behind, take control of your destiny. Be clear on your goals (and how they tie back to the business), your strategies and your tactics. Social media isn’t about starting a Twitter account it must be integrated across your business.

Remember the story about everybody, somebody, anybody and nobody?

This is a story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody.  There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about this, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it.  It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.

11. How big was it?… Don’t look at your shoes and cough. Measure your successes AND your failures. Review them. Learn. Go again. Be accountable.

12. Know your audience… Invest in getting a better insight into your audience. It will pay huge dividends. Don’t pay lip service to it, do it.

 

Last but certainly not least, enjoy it… remember this isn’t a dress rehearsal…

 

Author’s note:

When I was drafting this post, I happened upon a post I wrote around this time of the year back in 2007. It’s still relevant.


How do you stay organised?…

With the growing volume of e-mails, meetings, blogs, RSS feeds, tasks, projects, plans, media outlets etc. coupled with balancing work-life balance and your sanity – staying organised and on top of things is a challenge.

I’m always interested in finding out what systems people use to manage the crazy day-to-day requirements of modern living.

I have filed this post under “He would say that”, as my primary tool is Microsoft OneNote.  It’s the centre of my working day and I still keep finding new features and capabilities.

What do you use? How you you stay on top of things? Let me know!

 

Organisation Central

So what do I use OneNote for?

Here are just some of the uses and features that I use….

 

imageEmail Archive: using this button on the Outlook 2007 toolbar I archive all my e-mail in OneNote automatically (including attachments) making it easy to index, search, organise and browse

 

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Meeting Notes: I record, file and archive every meeting so that I can review the notes for actions, next steps and reminders

Bonus: If you record audio of a meeting on your laptop while using OneNote, it automatically time stamps the audio with any notes you make.

 

Project Planning: With OneNote I can pull together files, links, text, pictures and handwritten notes on a single page making it simple to get access to the information you need for a project.

 

Daily Notes: I have a new OneNote page for each day where I record thoughts, events etc.  If a particular item requires a project I can simply create a new linked page in OneNote and get started.

 

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Next Actions: Once I’ve finished a meeting I review my notes and when I spot an action item I can create an Outlook task directly from inside OneNote.  The task then appears in Outlook with an automatic link back to the relevant OneNote page (and you can also create meetings).

 

 

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Capture information: I can insert and attach files, scans, I can print documents into OneNote, I can capture web pages and articles for future reference (and OneNote automatically inserts the local URL).

 

Find everything: OneNote not only offers fast text search, it indexes PDFs and images and integrates with Windows Desktop Search so you can find whatever information you’re looking for, wherever you are on your PC, when you need it.

 

 

Tagging: In addition to fast search you can tag any item in OneNote.  Then at a later date you can run a report that pulls all your tagged items into a single page report.

 

 

 

 

 

OneNote on the go: If you have a Windows Mobile phone, you can take OneNote Mobile wherever you go and automatically add notes to your PC when you get back to the office.  You can also copy pages from OneNote to your phone to take with you on the road.

 

 

 

OneNote Powertools: Finally there’s a whole range of different add-ons for Outlook from utilities that let you import and export HTML pages, to gadgets that let you quickly and easily send a page to your phone. (See link below)

So… how are you staying organised?

 

Other tools I use:

 

OneNote Resources:

For those into David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” approach to work:

 

Note:

[Cross posted on my Microsoft blog]