Last year, Microsoft released To-Do which was derived from Wunderlist. The promise was all to-do’s in one place, a focus on today’s activities and integration with Office 365. I looked at it as a possible bridge for OneNote Windows 10 while that version of OneNote awaits tag search. What I found was much to-do about nothing.
To-Do offers a quick snapshot of the Tasks residing in Outlook.
Since the Tasks actually exist in Outlook, additional functionality can be found in Outlook (e.g., sorting and filtering).
My Day does allow the user to focus on just what you have chosen for today.
No reporting on the past dates. For example, if you want to review last week’s tasks for completing your time sheet, you can’t do that in To-Do (but you can do that in Outlook).
Although it can sort, the sorts available just are not that useful (but again, you can do it in Outlook).
To-Do task notes cannot include links, such as to your work notes, or a relevant web site (wait for it – Outlook!).
Essentially, if you use To-Do, you end up spreading activity management across three applications:
Focused activity list: To-Do
Notes on activities: OneNote
Review completed activities: Outlook
Right now, I can do all three in Outlook. But for other reasons, I prefer to keep everything in OneNote:
Focused activity list: OneNote
Notes on activities: OneNote
Review completed activities: OneNote
So, To-Do offered no functionality or features that were not already available in OneNote. Using To-Do means opening another window and scattering information across multiple applications. This seems to go against the rule of Keeping It Stupidly Simple.
Of course, what makes OneNote useful is being able to refer to your notes anywhere – from your office, from home, or even during a meeting at the client site. To do this, you need to store your notebook on OneDrive. Your OneDrive account can be tied to your personal account, or to your work account. There are pluses and minuses for both options, so take a minute to figure out which works for you. Personally, I use my work account, since that is what I sign into on my work machine.
To use OneDrive, right-click on the Notebooks listing towards the top left. From the drop down, choose properties. In the Notebook Properties window, you have the option of changing the location of the notebook. If the notebook is not already there, use the Change Location button to navigate to your OneDrive.
Now you can access OneNote from your iPad or phone, as well as your main desktop machine.
In a previous tip, we said that we only use tags for verbs (actions). So, how do we find all the notes related to a client? Or notes created while in Connecticut? And what about that trick we learned about moving pages around in SharePoint?
This is where the OneNote search function comes in handy. As opposed to tagging these items, we take advantage of Search to find nouns. For example, if you use a code to identify projects, you can search for that project code. The search results will show all notes in currently open notebooks that contain that code.
You can also enter someone’s name, which brings up all notes with that person’s name. This leverages the Meeting Notes feature, which includes the invitees to meetings. Thus, any meeting attended by that person will show up in the search list.
Here is a mini-tip: If I fail to find a note after two searches, I make a list of the searches I used. Once I find the note, I add the keywords from the failed searches to the note. This makes it more likely that I will be able to quickly find the note next time I go looking for it.
Tagging the actions allows us to use the Find Tags feature to create a To Do list, aka Tags Summary. OneNote sorts the list alphabetically, which is not the most useful arrangement. To make the list a bit more practical, we can place a date at the front of the action item. For best results, we use the ISO date format (YYYY-MM-DD). Now when we refresh the Tags Summary, OneNote sorts the actions based on the date.
In the demo, we go back to our meeting notes and apply dates to the actions. For me, I use the date that I need to perform the action, not the due date (although these are often the same). I also have my computer default date format set for YYYY-MM-DD, which allows me to use Shift+Alt+D to easily enter today’s date.
Once again, we refresh the Tags Summary to see all of the actions sorted by date. When planning my day, I simply work the list down through today’s date. As I finish each task, I click the To Do tag checkbox to mark it completed. Using the option Show only unchecked items in the Tag Summary removes the completed items, keeping my To Do list nice and clean. Alternatively, if I do not finish an item, it remains on the list until completed.
Tags let you quickly find items across all of your notes, sections and notebooks. You can apply a tag to a word, a line of text or even a full paragraph. If you take a look at the default tags provided with OneNote, there is quite a variety – To Do, Idea, Project A, Project B, Music to Listen To. Here again is one of the challenges in adopting Microsoft technology – it does so freaking much that it is overwhelming.
So, let’s go back to the first rule: Keep it Stupidly Simple. With that in mind, our guide for tags will be to use them only for verbs. Thus To Do is a pretty good tag (but we’ll soon make it even better). However, Idea and Project A – not so much. But you say, “Why not? Won’t more tags make it easier to find things?” Hold that thought and for now just stick with verbs.
Doing this is pretty straight-forward. Review a note and determine if there are any actions that need to be taken. In the demo, our notes show that we need to bring in the RTR documents. Placing the cursor next to this line item, we go up the ribbon and click To Do. Note that this places a check box next to the action item. We can do this for each action item that came out of our meeting.
Just to the right of the To Do button in the ribbon, you will also see Find Tags. Clicking that button opens up a panel that lists tags across all of our notes. This becomes a handy To Do list.
Which brings us to the reason “more tags” does not necessarily make things easier to find. If you tag every project, every customer, every thought, every thing, two things happen. First, you spend a lot of time on each note trying to identify everything that might benefit from a tag. Second, the handy To Do list gets so long that it is no longer useful.
Never fear, though. We will soon cover how to find every thing.
Meeting Notes are a great way to capture your notes along with critical meeting information such as subject, time and attendees.
To take advantage of Meeting Notes, go to the Calendar view and locate the meeting. After selecting the meeting, in the Calendar Tools > Appointment menu, click the OneNote icon to create Meeting Notes. A dialog box opens asking if you want to take notes for everyone (if you are the organizer), or take notes on your own. Click one of these options to continue.
At this point, OneNote opens up a new note. The title of the note will match that of the meeting subject. The new note also includes meeting details: meeting date, location, original message and participants. Notice that there is a link to the original Outlook message. So, if you are reviewing your notes and want to respond to the original invitation, simply click this link. Since the new meeting note also includes the participants, you can use the OneNote Search function to find past meeting notes with specific attendees.
Below the heading Notes you can enter personal notes from the meeting, either taken directly during the meeting or transcribed from your handwritten notes. Be sure to include any key words that will help you find these notes in the future, such as project name and agenda items.
Since the Quick Notes section is our holding area until items are reviewed, this is where all items should go first.
Microsoft has built in capabilities for sending content from other Office applications to OneNote, using the Send to OneNote button. Applications that have this feature include:
Web content (Internet Explorer or Edge)
Print to OneNote
To set this functionality such that new pages go to Quick Notes:
In OneNote, click on File in the menu to open the “backstage.”
On the left side toolbar, click Options.
In the OneNote Options dialog, click on Send to OneNote in the Category list.
For each location option, use the drop-down menu to select Set default location…
In the Select Location in OneNote dialog box, click on the Quick Notes section of your notebook.
Click OK to close the dialog box.
Repeat this for all of the location options.
Once all locations have been set to Quick Notes, click OK to exit the settings dialog.
You can also associate an email address with OneNote and send anything to your notebooks by emailing it to firstname.lastname@example.org. For instance, you can use this as the cc: address for flight and hotel confirmations.
Previous iterations of the OneNote strategy recommendations used a section named ‘Inbox’. This section was the entry point for all notes coming into the OneNote system. Actually, OneNote already has such an entry point: Quick Notes.
Quick Notes is a default section in OneNote, with special features. For instance, ⊞ Win+N creates a new note located in Quick Notes. So, let’s go with the flow. ALL new notes should start in Quick Notes. Whenever you start taking notes, either use the ⊞ Win+N combination or click Add Page within the Quick Notes section. Once you have finished with the note, move it to the appropriate location.
One of the ways that I differ from Microsoft’s official line about OneNote: Do NOT create a notebook for everything and anything. What I have found is that this complicates finding notes. While OneNote is very good at searching for terms within notebooks, the notebooks have to be open to be searched. This means having all of your notebooks open to ensure you can find what you are looking for. As well, after creating a note, which of the myriad of notebooks do you put it in?
My recommended structure:
That’s it. Compare that to the days when we would carry around our paper-based personal organizers. We didn’t carry around an organizer for each client. We didn’t keep a separate organizer for our business and another for home life. We had a single organizer and kept everything timely and relevant in that organizer.
As far as the three sections are concerned, I use:
Quick Notes – Basically, my inbox for unprocessed notes.
Agenda – Includes a Work Journal for planning my day, as well as tracking events of the day.
Archive – At the end of the week, everything goes to the Archive.
The general flow in this structure:
All notes come in through Quick Notes.
Once processed, they move to the Agenda section.
At the end of the week, everything moves to the Archive section.
This simple structure ensures I am able to leverage the core benefit of OneNote – I can find my notes when I need them.
To see how this hierarchy has evolved over the last couple of years, compare this to the article OneNote Hierarchy.
With all of the pieces in place, here is the general flow of information:
Get an idea, thought, email or call – Forward the item or make a note in Capture. Go back to what I was doing before.
First thing in the morning, and at opportune times during the day, review the Capture section. Use the header to classify the item by Project, Company, and Contact. Identify any action items, adding a due date. Move the item to Organize.
Also in the morning, start planning out the day. Create a Work Journal in the Engage section. Fill out the header and list out today’s goals – what you’d like to accomplish today.
Review the tagged items tagged for anything that should be added to today’s Goals. Review complex items to break them down into manageable tasks.
With today’s goals identified, select an item to work on and move it to Engage. Add a link on today’s Work Journal to the item, to make a clean list of what was worked during the day.
At the end of the day, review the items in Engage to ensure they are properly tagged and move all items to Organize.
Now, go home knowing that you have accomplished tasks that matter.