Daily Routine

OneNote serves two main purposes for me – a repository for ‘things’ and a productivity tool.  For the latter, a key is setting up a routine.  My routine is driven by the tags ‘!Daily’ and the day-of-the-week tags, such as ‘/Monday’.

First thing after firing up my machine, I start OneNote and click the Find Tags menu item.  At the top of the Tags Summary is a list of actions I take every morning in order to keep organized.  For these particular items, numbers at the front end helps keep them in an order that works best.  A sample of these items:

The day-of-the-week tags are for activities that do not need to be performed more than once a week, such as:

  • Monday
    • Review A/R report in Quickbooks
    • Update weekly time entries
  • Friday
    • Update Project Status Reports

Tag Prefixes

After having some pages loaded, I have found that the tag strategy is less than optimum.  OneNote uses Windows Desktop Search, which ignores special characters.  So, if the search does not distinguish between ‘hashtag’ words and words used incidentally in a sentence.  For instance, if a page has the sentence “The project included multiple MS Word templates as part of the deliverables,” then that page would show on a search for #templates.

As an interim fix, I am supplementing the hashtag with a prefix, as follows:

  • Projects: #pr_
  • Company: #co_
  • Contact: #ct_
  • Keywords: #kw_

With this in mind, I can mark any generic checklists as #kw_template.  Searching OneNote for #kw_template will only produce pages marked as templates, not every instance of the word template.

Hopefully, I can keep it down to these few. In particular, I suspect I will rely primarily on #kw_

2016-10-20 Update: Yeah, no.  This became too clunky.  Just be sure to add words to the body of the note that will help find the note when needed.

Adding a Working Section

My initial approach was to use only two sections within my notebook – Inbox and Processed.  I have modified that by adding a new section, Working.  This brings the OneNote model closer to the physical workspace analogy.  In the physical world, you typically have an Inbox that allows you to receive information from others.  When it comes time to work on that information, you bring it to your work area. There you decide what to do with it – either handling it immediately or marking it for follow up later.  Once you have categorized the item, you file it away in a drawer as “processed.”

(2016-10-21 Edit: The three folders are now Capture, Engage, and Organize to align with the GTD model.)

This OneNote model follows the same flow.  Everything comes in to the Inbox Capture.  From there it is moved into the Working Engage section, where it is either worked immediately or processed for follow up. It then goes into the Processed Organize section.  This keeps with the idea  that you should keep your physical workspace clean and free of distractions.

Besides the clean workspace, this model has had a couple of other advantages found through use.  For one thing, all new pages in Inbox Capture use a custom template with the following header:









This promotes a consistent marking of all pages in my  OneNote.  Not all pages will have entries for each item above, but it serves as a quick prompt to perform at least some basic processing before filing the page away.

Another advantage I found deals with the use of pages and subpages.  If I am working on a series of tasks, I can break those tasks across pages that represent a day’s activities.  I then make a “master” page, and make each task page a subpage to the master.  Now, when I go to work on one of these tasks, I can move the whole set of pages easily from Organize  into Engage, and easily refer back to past efforts on the activity.  Once I am through with the current work session, I then easily move the whole set of pages back to Organize.

You may find that using Subsections works, or any other level in the OneNote hierarchy works better for you. That is perfectly fine as well. In fact, feel free to share your take on the hierarchy and your reasons in the space below.

OneNote Sort Order

During my testing of tag strategies, I discovered that OneNote does not observe standard ASCII sort for the Tags Summary panel.  It uses a sort order similar to Microsoft Excel, but slightly different. Excel uses the following:

0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 (space) ! ” # $ % & ( ) * , . / : ; ? @ [ \ ] ^ _ ` { | } ~ + < = > A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Testing of actual tag sort shows that OneNote uses the following variance on the above:

(space) ! ” # $ % & ( ) * , . / : ; ? @ [ \ ] ^ _ ` { | } ~ + < = > 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 ‘ – A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

This means forcing a tag to the top of the Tag Summary is fairly simple – prefix it with a space, or just about any of the observed special characters (except ‘ or -).  However, to force a tag to the bottom, the only option is to use a “z” since there are no symbols that follow letters in this sort.  Note also that the sort order does not distinguish between upper and lower case.

Basic Workflow


In keeping with “Keep it Simple” and to align with GTD, I have three sections in my primary notebook:


Capture is the catch-all for collecting things – ideas, clippings, emails and so forth. The section holds these until they can be properly organized.  Some items are immediately sent to trash, otherwise they get classified, prioritized and moved to Organize.


This is the clean room.  Only items currently being worked belong here.  This helps prevent distraction.


This is the final resting place of all notes.  If they have been prioritized, the tag search picks them up for future work.  If all actions are complete, the note settles into the bottom of the Organize section where it can be referenced in the future.

OneNote Tags and Keywords

So the elephant in the room – OneNote does not do tags even half as well as Evernote.  But, a little bit of planning will help set the foundation for when OneNote finally gets full functionality in this critical area.

For the actual OneNote tags, I created the following (with a tip o’ the hat to “The Secret Weapon”):


A few notes about these tags:

  • To Do – The standard To Do item. OneNote allows searching for this tag from the ribbon.  I only use this as a temporary tag.
  • Tally Only –  I use a lot of checklists to ensure consistency in routine tasks.  I don’t want these incomplete items showing up in searches for outstanding to-do items.  In the Tag Search panel, I cannot filter these out, but I can collapse this category so it does not clutter up the results.
  • 1-6 – These are priorities for tasks.
  • Daily and Monday thru Friday – There are certain tasks I distribute throughout the week.  Some other tasks I do every morning.  So, in my morning routine, I start by reviewing all pages with !Daily tags as well as all pages tagged for the current day of the week.

Since OneNote searches for all tags, it gets cluttered to try to add all of the custom tags that I used in Evernote.  For example, I don’t want a OneNote tag for every customer I have spoken with.  Instead, for topics I use hashtags (#) to mark keywords in the body of the page.  This is particularly handy because OneNote can do SOME boolean search.  For instance, OneNote can use AND as well as OR:

#Apple OR #Windows – Returns pages that have either keyword.

#Apple AND #Windows – Returns only those pages that have both keywords.

So far, I have not had any luck with “-” to eliminate keywords from the search results. (#OneNoteWishlist)

OneNote Hierarchy

It’s hard to get past the very first step, as it will impact all decisions going forward – how to use the OneNote hierarchy.  Evernote has a fairly simple hierarchy:

  • Evernote
    • Notebooks
      • Notes

While within this structure, I was using two primary notebooks in order to adhere to “Keep It Simple”: Inbox and Processed.  Everything new came into my Inbox to be categorized and then moved out to Process.  This made searching for past documents fairly simple.

The OneNote hierarchy is similar, but with more options:

  • OneNote
    • Notebooks
      • Section Groups
        • Sections
          • Pages
            • Subpages

In the first attempt in the migration, I am attempting to replicate the Evernote experience as much as possible.  As the system stabilizes, I will begin to consider alternate structures.  So, the initial structure shall be:

  • OneNote
    • Notebooks
      • Randy’s Notebook
        • Section Groups
          • Sections
            • Inbox
              • Pages
            • Processed
              • Pages

A single notebook supports simple searches. If the search has to extend across notebooks, the search dialog has to be adjusted to specify where the search should execute.

Section Groups were avoided in order to support “drag and drop” movement of pages from the Inbox to Processed.  With Section Groups, a drag and drop results in a dialog popup to identify the drop point.


Logging the Journey

Before even getting out the door, I considered what should come of this series.  For one thing, it should be as an actual log – discovery as the journey progresses.  This includes missteps and mistakes. So, the blog will go down some dead ends.  But, once we get to the destination there will be a summary to cover the accomplishments, and hopefully a map for others to follow with less detours.  We’ll see.

Meanwhile, general goals of the expedition:

  • Begin with the End in Mind (Covey’s 7 Habits)
  • Make use of GTD principles (David Allen)
  • Keep it Simple

Migrating to OneNote

These past years, I have been a big fan of Evernote.  Lately, OneNote has made dramatic improvements and presents quite a temptation.  The biggest barrier has been switching costs – all of my routines are Evernote-centric.  The next few posts will describe the systems that I have used, and how I have adapted them to use in OneNote.  It should be an interesting journey.