Using OneNote instead of Evernote for Project Management

Dann Albright over at the blog wrote a great article about how to use Evernote for project management.  In the interest of equal time, I’m taking his points one by one and translating them to how to accomplish the same things in OneNote.

Clean out your notebooks

OneNote allows you to create multiple notebooks as individual files and then store them either locally or in the cloud. When it comes to managing projects, I recommend creating one notebook for each project being managed.  Doing this gives you granular control of the notebook for your project team as well as preventing accidental changes between projects.  If you have a large number of projects you are managing, you can create a notebook and use it as a “program notebook” providing connections to each of the other projects for easier management.

Create Project Notebooks and Stacks

Within OneNote’s notebooks, you can leverage sections and section groups to organize your content.  I suggest starting with defining a standard naming convention for your notebook and a basic structure for where you are storing them.  If you’re keeping your notebooks in a shared drive, OneDrive, or SharePoint is less important than being consistent and organized.

Create a Master List

The first page in your notebook’s main section should be a table of contents for all the related key information about your project.  Adding links (Ctrl-K) to sections and pages on that main page turns OneNote into a mini project website and keeps your team from having to search to find content.  I recommend including links to pages such as:

  • Team directory
  • Project Requirements
  • Schedule
  • Document Libraries
  • Reference Links

The key with the main page is it becomes the dashboard for your project. Team members can easily check the status of the project as well as connect to information they need in short order.

Organize Project Notes

Using the sections in OneNote makes it easy to group your content around common areas such as requirements gathering.  You can also use tricks such as the [[Page Name]] approach to generate new notes pages on the fly while you are working. The most important features are the searchability of all the notes from within OneNote as well as the addition of file printouts directly into OneNote for easy reference.  Keeping your notes in a common space and allowing the team to update and access the information as needed.

Add Shortcuts

Using the link keyboard shortcut (Ctrl-K) on the desktop application gives you an easy access dialog to all the content in your notebook. These links are great shortcuts to your content, making it easy to consolidate rapid access around different topics without having to duplicate content.

Create pages in your notebooks focused around specific topics or requirements and use the shortcuts to connect in relevant content. You can use this strategy to keep meetings on task and on target. The less people have to search and wander around in your notebooks the better off your project will be.

Set up reminders and due dates

Unfortunately reminders and due dates are one of the weaknesses of the OneNote solution. There is no built-in functionality for this so you’ll have to look outside the product to have this capability. The one saving grace is the ability to copy links for pages or notebooks and then paste those links into other tools for easy access.  For example, I copy links from OneNote and paste them into Todoist to manage my task list.  The same thing can be done for tools such as Trello or Toodledo, with the only requirement being the reminder tool being able to accept links to outside systems.

Develop a tag system

OneNote does not have a “natural” tagging system as per say, but you can leverage the search capability in place of dedicated tags. Add text tags to your page and then search for them to get the main listing of pages that contain that unique phrase.  Be aware though that the OneNote search ignores special characters so adding a hashtag to the beginning of a text phrase does not uniquely identify it as a tag.

You can also use the Tags capability within OneNote for easy markup of your documents, but there are several concerns with using the embedded tags you need to consider.  I reviewed some of these concerns in my article about Tags and OneNote.

Integrate your other apps

OneNote strongly integrates with other members of the Office suite including Outlook, Excel, and Visio. If you work within the Microsoft ecosystem you can leverage features such as shared meeting notes, embedded spreadsheets, and direct capture of emails into OneNote Notebooks. Unfortunately if you’re not living 100% in the Microsoft universe many of these features are not available for you.

You can also use tools such as IFTTT to tie OneNote in with other external systems for managing your information.  For example using IFTTT you can have any emails that come into your Google Mail account including a specific set of text in the subject line routed to a OneNote notebook for record keeping.


One of the biggest strengths of OneNote is collaboration WHEN the notebook is placed in a shared area such as a network file share or, even better, OneDrive / SharePoint. You can see what has been edited by whom, review previous versions, and receive visual notifications when changes are made.

One Note for Project Management

OneNote is an exceptionally powerful tool for project managers, as is Evernote. Where the success or failures of the tools come down to is the strategy, implementation, and follow through on their use. Make sure no matter what tool you choose, you have a plan and put it to work.  If you have questions about using OneNote for Project Management, feel free to let me know and I’ll be happy to chat with you about your needs. If you’re a Facebook user, you can also join the OneNote for Professionals group to find other ways to get more out of OneNote.