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.