Sharpening the Saw

I vowed to use 2019 as an experiment in rebuilding my productivity process in order to address these weak points.

A year ago I found that although the method I was using with OneNote was not necessarily broken, it certainly was not as effective as I needed it to be.  Here is how the original recommendations stacked up with regular usage:

  • Keep It Stupidly Simple – As the amount of data captured increased, the notebook-minimalism approach just did not work.
  • Quick Notes as the Inbox – This worked well, with Quick Notes becoming the clearing house for nearly everything.
  • Set Up Send To – So, if Quick Notes is still a good idea, we still need to set up the Send To feature.
  • Use Meeting Notes – Still a good idea.
  • Tag Actions – Actions still need to be tagged, but custom flags (even a few) became a maintenance burden.
  • Date Actions – To take advantage of sorts, we had to change our system settings for dates.  This had some impact on other applications, such as Excel.
  • Search People, Place and Things – Still a good idea, especially if compared to a plethora of custom tags.
  • Keep OneNote on OneDrive – Mostly yes, but in itself it is not adequate for sharing and collaboration.
  • Daily Routines – Still a key part of staying productive.
  • Work Journal – This turns out to be a personal tool that does not necessarily apply to everyone.

So, I vowed to use 2019 as an experiment in rebuilding my productivity process in order to address these weak points.  Now, the list looks more like:

In the coming weeks I will be posting more about each of these.

Afilando la sierra

I vowed to use 2019 as an experiment in rebuilding my productivity process in order to address these weak points.

Hace un año descubrí que aunque el método que estaba usando con OneNote estaba funcionando bien , ciertamente no era tan efectivo como yo necesitaba que lo fuera. Así fue como las recomendaciones dadas previamente se acumularon con el uso regular:

  • Mantenlo tontamente simple – A medida que la cantidad de datos capturados aumentaba, el enfoque de minimalismo del cuaderno simplemente no funcionaba.
  • Quick Notes como bandeja de entrada – Esto funcionó bien, con Quick Notes convirtiéndose en el sistema de procesamiento para casi todo.
  • Configurar “Send to ” – Así que, si Quick Notes sigue siendo una buena idea, todavía tenemos que configurar la función “Send to”.
  • Usar Notas de la Reunión – Sigue siendo una buena idea.
  • Etiquetar acciones – Las acciones todavía necesitan ser etiquetadas, pero las banderas personalizadas (incluso algunas) se convirtieron en una carga de mantenimiento.
  • Acciones de fecha – Para aprovechar las clases, tuvimos que cambiar la configuración del sistema para las fechas. Esto tuvo algún impacto en otras aplicaciones, como Excel.
  • Buscar personas, lugares y cosas – Sigue siendo una buena idea, especialmente si se compara con una plétora de etiquetas personalizadas.
  • Mantener OneNote en OneDrive – En su mayor parte sí, pero en sí mismo no es adecuado para compartir y colaborar.
  • Rutinas diarias – Sigue siendo una parte clave para mantenerse productivo.
  • Diario de trabajo – Resulta ser una herramienta personal que no necesariamente se aplica a todo el mundo.

Por lo tanto, me comprometí en el año 2019 a experimentar para reconstruir mi proceso de productividad con el fin de abordar estos puntos débiles. Ahora, la lista parece más bien la siguiente:

En las próximas semanas publicaré más sobre cada uno de estos puntos.

If it Ain’t Broke, Break it!

It’s been a while since we restructured our OneNote to fit the ‘SecretWeapon’ methodology (  Overall, this has been a qualified success.

As we come to the close of the year, and the start of a new one, it is time to take inventory of the past, and gaze into the future.  Looking backwards, we started to see the impact the very large notebooks is having.  In some cases, it has resulted in corruption of a notebook (very bad).  Generally, though, where we see the practical impact is on mobile.  It appears that anytime that OneNote does a full stop on a mobile device, it has to perform a reload of data.  When we are out and about, and internet speeds can be choked, this can be quite a nuisance.  In particular, it truly interferes with the “quick note” concept – that is, get things out of our head quickly and get back to what we were doing.

Looking forward, Microsoft definitely talks to collaboration being the key to the future.  As such, our notes should be available to anyone who would benefit from them. For instance, our notes on a specific project should be shared with the whole project team.  However, if we are using the single notebook approach then we cannot share just a subset of our notes.

So, these two perspectives – large notebooks are slow notebooks, and visible information is good information – require some deep thought on how to properly organize the OneNote environment.  The biggest drawback is simultaneously the biggest strength of the ‘big notebook’ strategy: we don’t have to remember where we put something because Search is smarter than we will ever be.  If we break up our big notebook and put the pieces in Team sites scattered across the ether, we have to tell Search all of the places our something could be.  Further, we must load all of those notebooks  into OneNote before we can search them.  Ooof.

In that spirit, we are going to use 2019 as another experiment – an experiment where we break and then try to renew the Keep It Stupidly Simple (KISS) rule. We will break out notebooks and put them up for display.  While doing this, we will work on KISS strategies on how to find things when we need them.

Reboot: Bringing it Together

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.

Reboot: Daily Routine

The previous entry on setting up a Daily Routine still applies.  The only significant update is the use of a three-digit number for the prefix.

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

Reboot: Work Journal

The previous blog entry for creating a daily work journal still applies pretty well, with a couple of modifications:

  1. The Work Journal is a template for the Engage section.  By clicking “Add Page” in the right-side navigation, I get a clean Work Journal for the day.
  2. When finished, the Work Journal is moved from Engage to Organize.

The next few postings highlight some of the daily tasks performed.

010-Set Timer

Using the Pomodoro Technique has been useful to me.  I use the 25 minute interval for work, with a five minute break.  The app I use is Be Focused Pro, which seems to fulfill my needs.

Starting the timer is the first task of my day.

020-Create Work Journal


Blank Work Journal

This template provides a consistent tracking of the day.  Steps to use the template:

  1. Click “Add Page” to create a new Work Journal from the section template.
  2. Use Ctl+Alt+D to replace Date with the actual date.
    Note that date is in YYYY-MM-DD format to facilitate sorting of pages.  This has to be set up in Windows as the preferred format for your machine.
  3. Use Ctl+Alt+T to enter the start time.
  4. Enter the work location for the day.  Sometimes having a location helps me remember exactly what I was doing that day.
  5. Now that this is an actual journal page, and not the template, remove #kw_template. Substitute any relevant key words you might expect for the day.
  6. Use the Activities to track actual work for the day.  Each activity should have its own OneNote page, and the Activities portion of the Work Journal should have a link to that page.
    I also use the Goals for Today heading to to quickly capture things are on my mind as the day starts.  This is less of a work list and more of a brainstorm.  Anything that comes up here that takes more than two minutes becomes a new OneNote page to be processed and prioritized.
  7. The Fitness section is a personal section.  During my Pomodoro breaks, I try to do a bit of therapy for my knees as well as remind myself to drink water.  I also put down any injuries or pain I might be feeling just to keep track of how long problems may be persisting.

As you will see later, one of the daily tasks is Clear inbox. This includes clearing out the previous workday’s journal.  During this time, I review the journal, update the hours and then move it to Organize.


Completed Work Journal

Reboot: Create Custom Tags

Tags are the tool we use to bring items up out of storage (the Organize section) at the appropriate time.  If we use tags properly, we do not have to scroll through the whole Organize section to find relevant notes.

By design, tags allow us to consistently apply certain attributes to our notes.  They even allow us to include a visual clue, such as a dot or a color.  Unfortunately, OneNote tags cannot be included in the search field. This means we cannot use them in simple Boolean expressions, such as “To Do” notes that are also “Project XYZ”.  This is a probably OneNote’s biggest weakness, but we can work around it fairly effectively.

I recommend starting with the following custom tags:

  • 032-Next
  • 036-Waiting
  • 921-Tally

The numbers are simply a way to be sure the Tags Summary list the tags in the same order every time.  These tags are part of two groups I use: 000-Actions, and 900-Misc.

The numbering in front of the tag keeps the tagged items in order when I use the “Find Tags” option to create a Tags Summary.  You can use whatever numbers work for you, but as I will explain in a different post, these numbers work well for me.

The “tally” tag is for checklists, to show that I have completed an item.  You can use the default “To Do” that comes standard in OneNote.  I have some reasons which I will cover in a future post on why I do not.


So, after several months of using and adapting OneNote to a productivity model, I have made quite a few changes and adjustments.  I have updated some of the previous blog entries to reflect those changes.  For the sake of clarity, this entry represents a re-boot of the description of the model as it stands today.

The basis of the model is the GTD methodology, which uses the following five steps:

  • Capture
  • Clarify
  • Organize
  • Reflect
  • Engage

The first step, Capture, aims to collect anything that has succeeded in grabbing your attention. So, it make sense that our model should include a bucket for Capture.

The second step, Clarify, consists of taking action on what we have captured. The items in Capture leave that bucket based on the action – trash, reference or action. Since we can perform the action from within the Capture bucket, we do not need a bucket for Clarify.

The third step, Organize, puts the action items in appropriate lists so that we can get to these items when the time is appropriate. Based on this, we will need a section for Organize.

Next, Reflect has us review our lists and updating them as needed. Since these lists are already in Organize, there is no need for an additional section.

Finally, Engage involves simply doing what needs to be done. Creating a section for Engage allows us to focus on just the task at hand, making notes as we progress.

To implement this model, we create a notebook with a title such as [My Name] GTD. Within this notebook, we create three sections:

  • Capture – For receiving everything
  • Engage – Our space for what we are currently working
  • Organize – To hold everything after Clarify, Reflect and Engage.

Clear Inbox

The third !Daily task is 30-Clear Inbox.  This provides a quick review of the previous day and clears your workspace for a new day.

Many productivity experts recommend clearing your desk at the end of each day.  I find that first thing in the morning works a bit better for me, since I don’t have a fixed end time – maybe that is something I need to work on.

Every morning, clear out the various inboxes through the use of appropriate tags, and then moving it to the relevant folder.  Don’t overlook the various inboxes you may have:

  • OneNote
  • Company email
  • Client email
  • Personal email

During this clear out process, update the previous day’s Work Journal to take credit for all of the things your handled. Be sure to check the Sent folder for tasks that you may have completed, but did not record.

Sometimes being on the road means not being able to adequately process items.  In these cases, use the default “To Do” tag, with a note to “Move to xxx”.  When you return to your regular workspace, search items with the default “To Do” and change them to one of your custom tags.

General process for clearing out these boxes:

  1. For each item in the Inbox, add relevant tags for what, when, who, and where.
  2. Identify any action items, tagging them with a priority (Ctrl+1 thru 6).
  3. Move the item to processed.

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.