10 ways OneNote 2010 can make you more productive

Good ideas often get away from us because we don't have an easy way to record them, share them, or find them later. See how a few OneNote tricks can help you document and retrieve all the details you need.

Wouldn't it be nice to simply think great thoughts and have your computer following along behind you, automatically recording them? Well, maybe not all your thoughts, but at least your best ones. OneNote 2010 comes close to being the type of electronic assistant that helps you capture, organize, and share great ideas, whether you're writing on napkins or whiteboards, singing or doodling, browsing the Web or writing new content. Here are some ways you can put OneNote to work.

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1: Let it flow

Many of us suffered through English class early in our school careers, where a well-intentioned teacher showed us the "right" way to take notes (and then checked our notebooks to make sure we were doing it correctly). But when we get out into the real work world, we soon learned the truth: There's no one right way to take notes. The objective, of course, is to capture your good ideas in a form that makes them easy for you to find and use later. And that's one of the things OneNote 2010 is best at.

You can capture your notes in whatever form you record them -- as doodles or sketches, as audio clips or pieces of Web pages -- and just put them on the page, free-form, in any order that makes sense to you. You can create notebooks that have sections and individual pages within those sections, and you even have an unfiled category where you can store notes until you're ready to put them somewhere. The whole process is painless and flexible, and you can just relax and let your ideas flow.

2: Find your notes quickly

Of course, once you capture all this information, you need an easy way to find it later. Otherwise, what good is taking all those notes? Luckily, OneNote 2010 includes a powerful indexed search feature that enables you to search your notebooks using a word or a phrase. You can also search notes added by specific authors (when you're working with a shared notebook). Simply click in the Search All Notebooks box just below the Ribbon on the right side of the screen and begin typing your search word. The search engine will instantly locate all the notes with the letters you enter (Figure A). You can choose to search by notebook, by information type, or by topic or page.

Figure A

OneNote makes it easy to search quickly for content in your notebooks.

3: Add all kinds of content

OneNote easily accepts all sorts of notes from all sorts of places. If you prefer to brainstorm out loud, you can add an audio note to your page. If you want to capture a snippet of a PowerPoint presentation you're creating as a video, you can add that video clip to your notebook. You can also include scans of documents, attach files, link to Web pages, and add tables, pictures, screenshots, and more. All the tools you need for adding content to your pages are in the Insert tab. Oh, and of course you can simply click on the page and type or draw your ideas in that nice blank space.

4: Navigate easily

The question of whether you want to create multiple notebooks to store notes in various categories or create many sections within one or two notebooks to keep everything together in one place is often a matter of personal style. If you have several notebooks, you can manage them easily and move back and forth by using the Notebooks panel on the left side of the screen. By default, the panel is closed so that you see a vertical strip showing various notebook names. But if you click the Expand Navigation Bar arrow at the top of the panel, it expands so that you can see the names of the various notebooks and pages available to you (Figure B). Simply click the page you want to view and it appears in the work area.

Figure B

You can easily move from notebook to notebook while you work.

5: Grab notes as you go

OneNote 2010 is connected to Word and PowerPoint so that you can easily capture what you're creating in those programs and post the content directly to your notebook. This creates a link to your notes so that you always have them nearby when you're working on that particular project, making it easy to check your source information for things like spelling, statistics, and quotes. You'll find the Linked Notes feature in Word and in PowerPoint in the Review tab. When you click it, the Select Location In OneNote dialog box appears so that you can choose the notebook, section, and page you want to link to the Word page or PowerPoint slide.

6: Clip keepers from the Web

You can also grab items of interest from Web pages you browse. Begin by highlighting the information you want to keep and then right-click your selection. Choose Send To OneNote from the bottom of the list. Specify where in OneNote you want to save the information, and the program pastes the information and creates a link to the original page so that you can return there later if you choose.

7: Doodle away

I don't know about you, but sometimes I just get tired of typing. It's freeing -- and can get a creative vibe going -- when I can sketch or diagram or doodle on the page. OneNote includes a great palette of drawing tools you can use to add more free-form content to your pages (Figure C). If you have a drawing tablet, you can use these tools to fine-tune the stylus settings. But if not, you can turn the pointer into a marker, highlighter, or pen or insert shapes and connect them using the various drawing tools.

Figure C

The Drawing tools in OneNote help you be creative with doodles and diagrams.

8: View it your way

OneNote is designed to be as flexible as possible (because we think and capture our thoughts in different ways). So it's important to be able to customize how view your notes in a way that makes sense for you. The View tab offers a number of tools that give you choice about the notes you view onscreen. You can zoom in and out, create new windows, dock OneNote on your desktop, create a side note, format the note page in different ways, or elect to keep the current note page on top. The Dock To Desktop and Full Page tools are included by default on the Quick Access Toolbar so that you can move among these views easily without needing to click the View tab in the Ribbon.

9: Share your ideas

More and more, we are working in a collaborative workspace. Whether your colleagues are down the hall or around the world, you can create a shared OneNote notebook that they can access, add to, and use. In the Share tab, you'll find tools for emailing a workbook, creating a new shared workbook, reviewing page versions, and finding content based on the authors who provided it. Using tools in the Info tab of Backstage view, you can also start sharing, sync the notebook with a Web version, or stop sharing the notebook with others.

10: Keep it safe, too

Of course, sharing a notebook and perhaps emailing it to others raises the issue of security. You won't feel secure enough to be creative if you're worried about others intercepting your good ideas. You can password-protect sections to ensure that only those you want to see the content have access to your material. Choose the password settings you want to apply by clicking the File tab, clicking Options, and clicking the Advanced tab. Scroll down to the Passwords section and click the check boxes that reflect the way you want to use passwords in your notebooks. This provides the best of all worlds: a safe space for your notes, flexible tools for creating them, and easy, fast ways to capture what you create. When you add your own creative energy to the mix, good things are sure to happen.