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: 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: 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.

OneNote Tips: Set up Send To

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:

  • Outlook
    • Email
    • Meeting Notes
    • Contact Notes
    • Task Notes
  • Other Content
    • Web content (Internet Explorer or Edge)
    • Print to OneNote
    • Screen Clippings

To set this functionality such that new pages go to Quick Notes:

  1. In OneNote, click on File in the menu to open the “backstage.”
  2. On the left side toolbar, click Options.
  3. In the OneNote Options dialog, click on Send to OneNote in the Category list.
  4. For each location option, use the drop-down menu to select Set default location…
  5. In the Select Location in OneNote dialog box, click on the Quick Notes section of your notebook.
  6. Click OK to close the dialog box.
  7. Repeat this for all of the location options.
  8. 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 me@onenote.com.  For instance, you can use this as the cc: address for flight and hotel confirmations.

To set up email notes to OneNote:

  1. Go to www.onenote.com/EmailToOneNote, and click on Set up email to OneNote.
  2. In the page that opens:
    • In Your addresses, enter the address that OneNote should use to send messages directly to your OneNote.
    • In Choose Location, choose the Quick Notes section of your notebook.
  3. Click Save.

 

To send notes to OneNote from email:

  1. Open up the email account set up in the steps above.
    • Create a new email, with your message to send to OneNote.
    • Alternatively, open an email that has been sent to you and Forward it.
  2. In the To: field, enter me@onenote.com.
  3. In the Subject: field, type the title to be used in OneNote.
  4. Click Send.

(Note: This is an updated version of the previous article Set Default Locations.)

OneNote Tips: Use Quick Notes as the OneNote Inbox

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.

OneNote Tip: Keep It Stupidly Simple

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:

  • One Notebook
  • Three Sections

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.

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: Set Default Locations

(Note: An updated version of this article can be found as Set up Send To.)

Since the Capture 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:

  • Outlook
    • Email
    • Meeting Notes
    • Contact Notes
    • Task Notes
  • Other Content
    • Web content (Internet Explorer or Edge)
    • Print to OneNote
    • Screen Clippings

To set this functionality such that new pages go to Capture:

  1. In OneNote, click on File in the menu to open the “backstage.”
  2. On the left side toolbar, click Options.
  3. In the OneNote Options dialog, click on Send to OneNote in the Category list.
  4. For each location option, use the drop-down menu to select Set default location…
  5. In the Select Location in OneNote dialog box, click on the Capture section of your GTD notebook.
  6. Click OK to close the dialog box.
  7. Repeat this for all of the location options.
  8. Once all locations have been set to Capture, 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 me@onenote.com.  For instance, you can use this as the cc: address for flight and hotel confirmations.

To set up email notes to OneNote:

  1. Go to www.onenote.com/EmailToOneNote, and click on Set up email to OneNote.
  2. In the page that opens:
    • In Your addresses, enter the address that OneNote should use to send messages directly to your OneNote.
    • In Choose Location, choose the Capture section of your GTD notebook.
  3. Click Save.

 

To send notes to OneNote from email:

  1. Open up the email account set up in the steps above.
    • Create a new email, with your message to send to OneNote.
    • Alternatively, open an email that has been sent to you and Forward it.
  2. In the To: field, enter me@onenote.com.
  3. In the Subject: field, type the title to be used in OneNote.
  4. Click Send.

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

WJournal

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.

WJournal2

Completed Work Journal