Friday, August 28, 2015

One of the ways I use OneNote

It probably won’t surprise regular readers of this blog that I’m a big note taker. Where did this start out? When I was at university doing my first degree in Electrical Engineering it was drummed into us during every lab session that lab notes don’t need to perfect, it is far, far more important to capture the information right then and there.

My first job required me to complete a regular journal of the work that I performed everyday and have that available at regular intervals for review. All of this reinforced the importance of getting stuff down on paper.

Years later I read the book “Getting Things Done” by David Allen and found that it really spoke to my inner scribe. His main premise is that the human brain is designed for creativity not storage, that’s why you need to write things down some where ‘safe’ so you can free up your mind for bigger things.

Of course the majority of the notes that I have taken have been paper based. I have used all sorts of time managers and recorders but normally defaulted to a simple blank notebook in which I could express myself in any manner. The down side with paper is firstly, I need to have my notebook on me at all time to capture what pops into my head (and good stuff can do this at the strangest moment). Secondly, I’d write stuff down to remember it and when I needed it I couldn’t find it because I’d written so many more notes since.

After a while I also started to accumulate a lot of notebooks which became painful to manage and one of the biggest problems was keeping track of stuff that I needed to do but was a lower priority. In many cases, I’d need to transfer that item to the current ‘to-do’ list on another page which is really just duplication isn’t it?

I figured that there must be a better way so I turned to technology. My first real success came with Evernote and what I liked about this digital notebook application was that it was free and worked on all platforms. What I didn’t like about it was the interface. I personally found it a little cumbersome to work around and navigate. I fully admit that perhaps I didn’t invest enough time with Evernote. However, where it really excelled was in the fact that it was supported by a web version. So if I was in front of server that had an error message I could do a screen capture and then paste that into the web version of Evernote (because of course, servers don’t have desktop apps installed on them now do they?). Now when I returned to my office and powered up Evernote on my desktop and the notebooks synced, I had a copy of the screen shot ready to do troubleshooting.

The problems with Evernote was that I needed something to manage my daily ‘to-do’ which I never really worked out how to do effectively for me. I tried apps like Remember the Milk but found they really didn’t support the Microsoft and Windows world in which I spent most of my time. That lead me to Wunderlist.

Wunderlist, which has recently been bought by Microsoft, worked wonders with my ‘to-do’ management, at least initially. It is available on all platforms, easy to use and allows a good overview of task ‘to-do’ and what has been done. Unfortunately, over time I found more and more friction using Wunderlist in the way I need to capture information. I needed something more comprehensive that just a ‘to-list’. I needed the flexibility of a paper notebook, combined with the digital advantages or Evernote but with the ‘to-do’ management of Wunderlist.

Enter OneNote. I had always been a user of OneNote but where it fell down for me was that it had no pure web version. Ah ha, Microsoft fixed that with Office Online available from OneDrive.com and Office 365. Microsoft then made OneNote available on all platforms, such as Mac, iOS and Android for free. That convinced me that I needed to revert back to OneNote as my main note taking medium. However, I still had the problem of my ‘to-do’ list to solve.

Here’s what I found works for me. You can do the same using OneDrive.com but I’m going to illustrate how to do this with Office 365 and OneDrive for Business.

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Login to your Office 365 portal and navigate to OneDrive.

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Select the New link just below the Documents heading. From the list that appears select OneNote notebook.

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Give your new notebook a name. Since I am replacing my paper notebook here I call mine ‘Daybook’. You can of course have as many separate OneNote notebooks as you want and I do for all sorts of things.

Press OK to continue.

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This will open a web version of the notebook as you can see above.

Now I will assume you already have the OneNote desktop app installed, most people do and they don;t know it and if they don’t it is a free download anyway.

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In the centre of the page at the top you will find the text Open in OneNote, select this.

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If you have multiple version of OneNote on your system you might receive a prompt like you see above asking you which version to use. Here, I’m going o use the full desktop version of OneNote that comes with Office on the desktop so I select OneNote 2016.

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You should now see your Daybook notebook open on the desktop in OneNote as shown above.

There is plenty of ways to work with OneNote but here’s how I use it to create a replacement for a paper diary.

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I create a section at the top for every month as shown above.

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I then create a new page under each section for the day of the month (do these on the actual day). Thus, I now have a page for every day into which I dump everything instead of writing it down.

Every interesting web site, to do item, phone call, etc is recorded here. For example, if someone rings, since I have the OneNote open on my desktop I flip across to it during the call and record the conversation as it happens. After, I can get back to what i was doing safe in the knowledge that I have the information recorded.

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At the top of every month I create a ‘Goals’ tab that holds things like when monthly bills are due, web sites that I find during the day that I want to file or look at in detail later. I also have my monthly ‘to-dos’ in here.

Now that I have my Daybook notebook up and running I ensure that I have it available on all my devices. That means any changes I make on any device are available immediately on every other nice. Nice.

Here’s another example of how I use it. Say I have a meeting to attend tomorrow. The night before I create a new page for that day. In there I put the address and the contact details of my meeting. I might also put a map to the exact location or whatever else I need. I’ll also record the train times I need to catch to ensure I make the meeting on time. I usually enter the preferred train but also the one before and the one after. Thus, if I am running late and miss my preferred train I know how long till the next one. Thus, when I get up the next morning I can review these notes and know what I need to do. Alternatively, if they meeting is in the middle of the day I know what time to leave.

Sure that same information is in my calendar but it is a good backup and also allows me to record a whole more information and access it faster I find.

With my Daybook notebook synced across all my device I can now attend a meeting with nothing more than my phone and know that everything I record will be available on my desktop when I return. I can record text, pictures, web clippings, audio and more directly into the page for that day as one big data dump and sort it out later, much like I did with my paper based notebook. The big advantages I now get is that firstly, everything I enter into my Daybook is searchable (can’t do that with paper) and secondly it is backed up in multiple places automatically thanks to Office 365 or OneDrive.com (again, can do that with paper).

From this basic start I now use things such as OneNote tags to categorise material to make it easier to find. I have also created a 13th section at the top called Annual where I have yearly goals or record books I want to read or movies to see. The list is endless of what you can achieve given how flexible OneNote is. That is why I like it, it is so flexible and easy to use.

However, what I have detailed here is only how to set it up for yourself. What if I told you, again thanks to OneDrive.com and Office 365, you can share you OneNote notebooks with others? You can allow them to just view or even edit in real time. How about a family OneNote where everyone can enter information about what they want at the shops for the next person who goes? What about a business OneNote where you keep track of a project with people inside and outside your business. All possible thanks to the wonders of OneNote.

And the best part for you? I’ll pretty much bet you already have OneNote on your desktop and didn’t even realise it. So what’s stopping you having a organised life? It certainly isn’t OneNote. Join me and get more done every day thanks to OneNote.