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...

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox