Microsoft

Leverage OneNote for better organizational collaboration

Learning how to leverage the local and cloud-based features of OneNote can give you a significant organizational edge.

With OneNote installed you'll notice a OneNote button in the Home tab on the Ribbon in Outlook 2010. With an email highlighted, you can click this button and the "Select Location in OneNote" dialog window will appear. This allows you to send important messages into the OneNote notebook of your choice. Implemented correctly - this feature is the first step in getting your inbox down to that "Inbox Zero" Holy Grail.

Likewise, Internet Explorer has OneNote integration allowing you to send a webpage to OneNote. Simply, click anywhere on the webpage and then select "Send to OneNote" in order to create and send a copy of the desired page to the page and notebook of your choice.

These features are great for organizing your important documents into a powerful, portable, cross-platform and cloud-enabled note and collaboration utility - but unless you have a system for managing those documents, you might find yourself trading one mess for another. Understanding the capabilities of OneNote 2010 as a native Windows app will help you avoid this. I'll share my techniques for managing documents, but the beauty of OneNote is that you can easily customize these tools to suit your own preference.

Notebooks, sections, and pages

The compromise you make with OneNote is a trade between powerful features and an easy to master interface. When you first start using OneNote, some of these features and how to use them effectively may be difficult to appreciate. I'm going to explain the key concepts of individual notebooks, which in turn contain individual tabbed sections, which in turn can contain multiple individual pages. You can further organize documents by adding bullets, flags, tags including ToDo checkboxes, and other formatting tools. Keep in mind that, as with most Microsoft apps, there are multiple ways to get things done. I'll tell you how I achieve these goals, but there is no reason you shouldn't do it an alternative way which is more comfortable to you.

Notebooks:

When you first enter OneNote, you'll see a list of your Notebooks down the left side of the app. Each notebook icon that is shared has a globe on its icon and the title next to the icon. An icon indicates if the notebook is currently synced or not, and an arrow points up or down to indicate if the notebook is currently expanded or collapsed. If you see a down arrow, click it and it will change to an up arrow and expand to display the tabs that are contained in that notebook. (Figure A)

Figure A

Tabbed sections:

Each tab can be titled with a subject appropriate to the particular notebook you currently have open. You can have multiple section tabs in each notebook. Each tab can in turn then have multiple pages nested under it. (Figure B)

Figure B

Pages:

A page is a single sequential document that can have multiple different types of content included in it. You can edit each page as a living document, adding, cutting, pasting and manipulating content as the page grows. Text, images, web-links and attachments can all be included in a OneNote page. Pages appear on the right hand column in your Notebook view and can be grouped in a hierarchy by indenting them up to two tabs deep. (Figure C)

Figure C

In my case - I've created a Notebook titled "Email Organization". This Notebook has eight tabs. Each tab covers a wide topic in my professional correspondence. I've got a tab that reflects my corporate communications, one that deals with my local office's DC, one that is a destination for subjects specific to client practices, another for our local regional policies, one for specific applications my team supports, a password protected Employee folder, and a folder for correspondence pertaining to Training /Education.

Tags:

Once you've added content to a page, you can then right click next to the content to add a tag. The right click actually brings up a context menu that allows you to manipulate the text font, size, bold italic, underline, format, outlook Task dates and other features. (Figure D)

Figure D

The tag I most frequently use is adding a "ToDo" checkbox. This helps quickly determine where an action item exists in a page, and allows you to quickly visually track open ARs from those that have been completed. I frequently use this in shared collaborative notebooks that are associated with specific project meetings.

Syncing and Sharing Documents:

You can sync and share your local documents through OneNote directly to SkyDrive, SharePoint, or a shared folder inside your corporate network.

Sync

In the menu area of OneNote select the File tab. The left column will contain items for Info, Open, New, Share, Save As, Send, Print, Help, Options and Exit. With Info selected the workspace will read "Notebook Information" along with a list of your Notebooks. In the right side of this pane there are two buttons, one labeled View Sync Status and the other Open Backups. Click the View Sync Status button and you'll get a new window that displays all of your notebooks and their sync status. To sync them with OneNote, click "Sync All". (Figure E)
Figure E
A Windows Live account login dialog with appear. Sign in with your account (Figure F) and your notebooks will sync. (Figure G)
Figure F
Figure G

Share

There are a couple of ways to share, and it is easy to get confused and share to the wrong place. A key concept you must remember is that the recipients of an invitation have to have access to both the file itself and the folder in which it resides. If you share a file and it is in a folder that isn't shared or that they do not have access to, they won't be able to reach the document.

From the menu select Share. The workspace will change to read "Share Notebook". Beneath this you'll see:

  • Select Notebook: Select the notebook you want to share from the pulldown menu.
  • Share On: Allows you to select between the Web and a local Network. Select the appropriate location. If you've selected Web
  • Web Location: Select from PErsonal folders (which will have an image of a lock on their icon), allowing you to make the documents remotely accessible solely to yourself, or Shared Folders, which will allow you to share the document with collaborators. You can also click the "New Shared Folder" icon here which will open up a web-browser session to SkyDrive allowing you to create and share a new folder.
Once you've completed these steps, click the "Share" button and your folder and notebook will be available online to collaborators who can access the document either through OneNote native, the SkyDrive OneNote web app, or through mobile OneNote apps on Android, iOS or Windows 8 and 8 RT. (Figure H)
Figure H

Organizing your corporate Exchange inbox

One of my great frustrations as an engineer is that employees use Exchange and Outlook as a filing system. It isn't really designed to do this, and it isn't very good at it. With OneNote's exchange integration, there is no reason to use Outlook in this manner.

I have a Notebook titled Email Organization. In it I've created tabs for the categories of email I might want to retain long-term. I've got one for my corporate organization, one for my regional office, for my DC, for clients, for IT policies, for IT application support, for my employees (password protected), and for training and education.

When I get a new email, I go to OneNote and select the most appropriate tab. I "Create a New Page" under that tab and highlight that page. Then I return to Outlook and right click on the email and send it to OneNote (Figure I), selecting "Untitled Page (current page)" from the list of pages in the pop-up menu that appears. (Figure J) This sends the email and any attachments to OneNote and brings the focus to the page in the Notebook. I then return to OneNote and enter a relevant title.
Figure I
Figure J

The entire contents of the email, including any attachments, are now stored in OneNote. If it is part of a multi-page topic or discussion, I move it and indent it under a master page. I return to Outlook, respond if necessary, and then immediately delete the email from my InBox. It may sound like a lot of steps up front, but practiced diligently, it saves me hours of time managing my InBox and allows me to better track my tasks, keep projects on schedule, follow up on important issues, and retain and find important documentation. My in-box rarely has more than twelve messages in it using this method.

The control, organization and management filing email in this manner is far superior to dumping raw email into folders in Outlook itself. OneNote also has superior and faster document searching of sections and pages within a Notebook.

I've also adopted a similar strategy for meetings. Create a notebook titled with the name of the meeting. In addition to a shared notes tab and page, each attendee has a tab, and is responsible for tracking their own ARs, deliverables, and notes. If an action request is assigned to a member and the assignor and the assignee both fail to note it, it can't really be enforced. If the AR and due date are captured, it is difficult to deny that it was assigned. Multiple individuals can be in the document at one time editing, and it is accessible through multiple platforms in any location.

I've also begun downtime reporting using OneNote. Similar to before, I have one Downtime notebook, with each downtime response getting a new tab. The page describes from start to finish each step the responding engineer takes. A second page extracts key learning and reviews what went right and what went wrong. A third page addresses how to implement that learning into improving the process in the future.

These are just three high-level examples of how OneNote can be implemented in an organization. Feel free to share any additional applications you've discovered for OneNote in your own organization in the forum.

Also read:

About

Donovan Colbert has over 16 years of experience in the IT Industry. He's worked in help-desk, enterprise software support, systems administration and engineering, IT management, and is a regular contributor for TechRepublic. Currently, his profession...

16 comments
blcole3915
blcole3915

I'm new to onenote. If I create separate to do lists - is there a way to see all my to dos on one big list? While keeping separate lists for different projects?

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Try reposting this in the 'Q&A' forum. The 'Discussion' forum is for matters of general discussion, not specific problems in search of a solution. The 'Water Cooler' is for non-technical discussions. You can submit a question to 'Q&A' here: http://www.techrepublic.com/forum/questions/post?tag=mantle_skin;content There are TR members who specifically seek out problems in need of a solution. Although there is some overlap between the forums, you'll find more of those members in 'Q&A' than in 'Discussions' or 'Water Cooler'. Be sure to use the voting buttons to provide your feedback. Voting a '+' does not necessarily mean that a given response contained the complete solution to your problem, but that it served to guide you toward it. This is intended to serve as an aid to those who may in the future have a problem similar to yours. If they have a ready source of reference available, perhaps won't need to repeat questions previously asked and answered. If a post did contain the solution to your problem, you can also close the question by marking the helpful post as "The Answer".

yyao
yyao

Can someone help me? I know how I can create a page/sub page in OneNote : click "new page" ->give a "page name" and go on. But how can I creat multipages from a list of "page name" in a bunch, instead of repeating 100x of creating single page? Thanks for responding.

ewarden1
ewarden1

Anyone wanting to keep essentially all of their emails may want to look at a product called "MessageSave" (Google it). The program is an add-in to Outlook and runs just under $50. The advantage is that it will allow you to drop an email into an Outlook folder and then it is automatically saved to a folder outside of Outlook. I have tried that using local (C drive), attached (USB drive) and networked storage on another computer and it works flawlessly. This is just one of the great things the program can do, but for some of my wifes sales people it would be the best thing since bread and butter. The transferred emails (with attachments included if desired) can be opened from the external storage area just like a regular email and can be replied to or forwarded just like a regular email that would be in Outlook. Once steup it is a simple drag and drop to the Outlook folder that has been mapped. No copy and paste, no creating a page, renaming, etc., just Drag and Drop.

sighthound
sighthound

HI Donovan, Thanks for an very useful article. I teach onenote and my clients are particularly interested in the collaborative aspects of the program. My biggest challenge with these folks is helping them actually integrate the program and it's many aspects into their daily schedules. There's a mental shift that must occur and with most busy adults, they tend to fall back on habit because that shift takes energy away from other important concerns. I'm currently working on a whitepaper that addresses this precise issue (using vs learning). Looking forward to your insights in future articles. Thanks again. All the best, Dawn Groves

sysop-dr
sysop-dr

Um, putting things into one note looks like a nice alternative to using outlook to file things but the way to do it seems complex from your description. You create the page in one note then go to outlook to send it to the new page then go back to the page and name it? I don't see the average office worker thinking this is at all the solution to just dropping the email into a folder in outlook. (drag, drop, one action no going back and forth to another application.) While one note seems like it works for you and you seem very detail oriented, most people will just be too lazy and leave it in outlook.

dcolbert
dcolbert

If you have any questions, feel free to drop me a note. You may want to follow my bio for a link to my e-mail address - as sometimes I miss questions that pop up much later on these sort of blogs. But feel free to post questions here in the forum too - if I don't answer, we have a lot of helpful people here at TR who are likely to answer you.

dcolbert
dcolbert

But you can just drag and drop an e-mail into a folder on your drive or desktop and it copies the e-mail and attachments as a .eml file onto that local file structure? I must be missing something here?

dcolbert
dcolbert

Basically the same thing I said in the response to the poster above you. You're absolutely right. The challenge isn't learning the tool, it is using it until it becomes a habit, something natural. If you don't keep on top of it, (which is work), you'll slide back into your old habits (which means MORE work). :)

dcolbert
dcolbert

The issue is if you want to be a typical procrastinating office-worker who doesn't do the things up front to give you a performance boosting advantage down the road. Seriously. This may look like more work up front, but it actually saves you tremendous time and makes you far more organized and efficient down the road. Anyone who looks at this and says, "I don't have time to do all of this," doesn't get it. If you do this, you'll gain more time back than you spend. You won't waste time searching through hard to navigate and difficult to organize folders in Outlook, you'll keep your e-mail box cleaner, meaning you won't miss important e-mails in a flooded in-box, you'll remember deliverables and ARs and be able to hold others accountable to theirs, making your projects proceed smoother and less likely to stall. It takes work, effort and discipline up front - and most people aren't willing to make that investment. The ones who do, will be the ones who outperform their peers.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I first saw it when some Toshiba tablets we purchased in the early '00s included the installation media and license. I still think if OneNote had been properly marketed then it would have been the killer app for XP Tablet, and MS would be where Apple is now in the tablet arena. It's a great 'catch all' program for those tasks that don't otherwise have specific-function programs. Thanks for giving it some attention.

ewarden1
ewarden1

Yes, you are correct, you can drag and drop. The difference is that it copies rather than move the file, also, the desktop folder needs to be visible which can be a problem if Outlook is covering it. MessageSave has a multitude of bells and whistles available also. If you have your folders where they can be seen and emails dropped on them and you have no need for the other functionality and you don't have a problem with going back and deleting the email that you just copied in order to keep your pst file under control then, yes, why spend the money. This program will not be right for many user, however for those email packrats it could be very handy.

silvergrrl
silvergrrl

I like OneNote and use it for my own projects, but haven't really used the Outlook integration much. It doesn't look like there's a way to reply to or forward these emails from OneNote once they are there. Am I missing something? Do they essentially lose their "email" nature?

dcolbert
dcolbert

I've got 3 desktop displays on my work PC and sometimes you just start to take those conveniences for granted and forget that some shops aren't as generous with hardware as others. I can see how a person with only one display and Outlook maximized could save a lot of time now that you describe your use model, and that the $50 might be an easier sell than multiple $100+ monitors and video cards to drive them. Thanks for responding.

dcolbert
dcolbert

You could always export them in various formats and attach them... Generally speaking, I'm not going to archive e-mail for later response. If there is an e-mail that comes in that needs a response eventually, I hit it with a follow-up flag in Outlook itself and leave it in my e-mail box. Which I suppose is an important case for using OneNote. The idea is if you start leaving e-mails in your inbox, pretty soon it is so full that managing with flags and category colors is futile. Too much traffic in your inbox and organization becomes unmanageable. So get the TRASH out, the long term archives into OneNote, and the ones that require ARs or follow-up responses either get an immediate reply, or get flagged so you can easily review your inbox and follow up later. Make sense? Once a flagged one is complete, click the flag and it will turn into a check, then decide if you need it archived for long term or if you want to delete it.