To Do Just not Done Yet

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.

Pros

  • 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.

Cons

  • 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.

OneNote Tips: Keep OneNote on OneDrive

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.

OneNote Tips: Search People, Places and Things

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.

OneNote Tips: Date Actions

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.

 

OneNote Tips: Tag Actions

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.

OneNote Tips: Use Meeting Notes

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.