Posted in Strategy, Techniques

Three ways to help a college freshman succeed

Capture all the things

College freshman have stuff.  Lots of stuff. Lots of that stuff is papers, forms, and other information necessary for day to day college life outside of classes. Rather than trying to keep track of all that stuff use a cloud based tool like Google Drive, OneNote, OneDrive, or Evernote to make digital copies of things.

Each one of these supports taking photos of printed materials and then making the text in the photos searchable. Now when you get that flyer for the glee club meeting (I know, I know) you can just take a picture of it and be able to find out when and where it was at any time with a simple search.

Getting from A to B

You’ll hear suggestions about using an online calendar to track your class and activity schedules so you don’t miss your commitments while on campus. What these suggestions normally miss is allowing for how long it takes to get from here to there.  When you create entries in a calendar such as Outlook or Google Calendar, put an entry before your commitment with enough time to get from where you would be when reminded to where the commitment is.  So for example if it takes you 15 minutes to walk across campus, put an entry 15 minutes long before your class so you are reminded when you need to leave to be there on time. Some calendars allow you to adjust the timing of reminders, but I’ve found it easier to be able to see everything on the calendar as blocks rather than trying to remember to adjust the alarms one at a time.

Use Facebook to keep the parental units in the loop

One of the ways a college freshman can keep parents in the loop without dozens of text messages back and forth is the “letters home” approach with Facebook.  Yes, I know Facebook isn’t the cool thing for college students, but since Facebook has over 56 million users between 35-54 it might just be the easiest way to keep them in the know.  So how do you accomplish this without broadcasting your need for more dining hall money to the rest of the world?

You can set up custom lists of people in Facebook to limit who will receive an update when you post it.  This way you can write up an update (letter home) and then share it to the custom list. Another option is creating a private, unlisted group in Facebook and sharing information there.  It may feel like a lot to ask, but remember while you’re steeped in the day to day of college life, the people at home are always wondering how you’re doing and how college is going for you.  If you don’t tell them, they’re going to ask…and ask…and ask.

A little prep makes for less stress

Productivity on a college campus is no different than anywhere else.  It’s about doing the right things at the right times in the right ways. Take a few minutes to set yourself up for success and you can enjoy and benefit from your time at college that much more.


Know a college freshman? How are you helping them in their first big year. Tell me all about it in the comments. 

Posted in Tools

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.

Posted in Coaching

Search vs structure for organizing your notes

Most note keeping solutions offer multiple methods of organizing your notes within their tools. You’ll find search, tags, labels, folders, outlines, and a variety of other less common structures. Determining what features will work the best for you in locating your notes after you’ve captured them can be a struggle at a minimum and derail your entire system at the worst. How do you know which features work for you and which is the best to implement in your personal productivity solution?

First thing to clear out of your head is you don’t need to choose one method or the other.  Both have strengths and weaknesses so it’s more a matter of determining what feature works when. In comparing your solution to how our brains work our logical starting place is search.

When we remember something, we don’t think to ourselves “well that piece of information is in this place in my head, in this folder, with this label.” No, we just think about the topic and our brain does the best it can at finding all the memories we have stored around that topic. Unfortunately the process is far from efficient and reliable, so when we think about digital searching with personal productivity solutions we need to concentrate on how the computer will search the contents of our notes (memories) to find all the items that match our search topic.

If we are going to rely on search to locate information in our solutions we need to make sure our notes contain the content matching the terms we will be searching with. For example, if you are storing a health insurance summary, you need to think about what you would plug into the search box to locate that document. The content and titling needs to match those terms so in this case if your instinct is to look for “health insurance” remember you will find the summary we mentioned earlier but also every other document with the same terms possibly making it harder to be specific quickly.

The flip side of the search coin is folders, tags, and labels.  These are helpful if you’re a browser rather than a searcher.  If your instinct when looking for materials is to start at a top level category, then drill down further and further until you reach your content. This type of structuring can be powerful if you are comfortable designing the organizational structure and then adhering to that structure for the retention of all your notes.

Setting up a defined folder / tag structure can be a challenge, with experts in the fields of taxonomy and tagsonomy spending months defining systems to organize commercial document management systems. I doubt you have months to bring your solution to a usable state (I know I don’t) so my suggestion is to start small and build up.  Create structures that match how you think and live every day, focusing on where and when you need access to your notes. Keep in mind that in most cases when you need a note or piece of information you typically don’t have a great deal of time to go looking for it through large, complex organizational structures (hence the phrase, “Google it.”)

So which is better? There is no clear winner of one over the other and I’ll readily admit I use both in my personal productivity solution. Creating and maintaining an organizational structure in your tools of choice such as sections in OneNote, notebooks in Evernote, or folders in Google Drive can make the location of content simpler with the downside of increasing the overhead of maintaining the solution. Combine structure with search for locating content quickly and making your note management a trusted part of your solution.

Posted in Uncategorized

Five Quick Organizational Ideas and TIPs from The Idea Pump

Since this is The Idea Pump (TIP), sharing some TIPs on how to get more from your capture and collect tool (see OneNote, Evernote, and others in that class).

When working on something you need to disassemble and reassemble, take pictures of each step and what was necessary to accomplish it.  Put those images and descriptions into a note in the correct sequence and you’ll have your assembly directions available when you need them.

Listening to the Beyond the To-Do List podcast this weekend they mentioned a trick that I used recently myself: when packing away boxes take photos of their contents and label the boxes so you can look up not only their content but see the content before having to open each of the boxes.

When I visit our local big box store without my wife and see something I think we should consider getting or something she may be interested in I snap a shot and put it in a notebook with her name on it.  After we discuss the item if we decide to get it I just move the item from the review notebook to the shopping notebook for my next trip to the store.

Creating a notebook of tasks that need to be done more than once, such as chores to winterize the house and yard, can be a big benefit to make sure nothing gets left behind.  I recommend something more substantial than just a checklist since a full notebook can let you add photos as to where things are stored, items that need to be repaired/replaced, and notes about changes for the coming spring.

If you’re buying video games for kids this year, sneak a photo or two of your kid’s game collection so when you’re ordering or shopping you can know what they have and don’t have rather than guessing.

There are hundreds of more ideas and ways to apply to your capture and collection tools.  If you have some suggestions, please leave them in the comments below!

Posted in Uncategorized

Evernote2OneNote – Automating the move

Over the weekend I started exporting all my Evernote content over to OneNote prior to shutting down my Premium account.  Yes, I’m done with the big green elephant.  There’s a great tool called Evernote2OneNote for migrating the content of your notebooks that does the trick extremely well.  Here’s a couple of tips I can recommend when you sit down to use it:

  1. Condense as many of your Evernote notebooks as possible.  Evernote2OneNote migrates at the notebook level, so each notebook in Evernote needs to be done individually.  The fewer the notebooks, the fewer the runs.
  2. In my experience if I cancel a migration mid-stream I need to reboot my computer to be able to restart the process.  I think it’s a problem between the tool and OneNote, but the restart is quick enough so I’m not going to sweat the issue.
  3. Be patient. Large notebooks can take a little while to migrate but there’s an excellent progress bar including counts and actual note titles as things move forward. I’ve even found some notes this way I forgot I had.
  4. Occasionally a note will throw an error (not sure why) but I’ve been able to just continue past the error and keep migrating.  I suspect it’s something in the Evernote note, but I’ll update this as I discover more.
  5. Migrated notebooks are stored on the local hard drive of your computer (Evernote2OneNote requires desktop copies of both apps to work) rather than being pushed automatically to the cloud.  Moving them to OneDrive is easy enough but it is another step you need to do if you want your notebooks globally available.

I’m about half way done through 7500+ Evernote notes, then the cleanup begins in OneNote.  Updates as events warrant…

UPDATE – I completed the migration successfully and have not had a reason to open Evernote since.  The migration does require patience and the more cleanup you can do in advance the better, but aside from that the tool worked extremely well.

Posted in Tools

Leaving Evernote – Using Multiple Notebooks in OneNote

As part of my on-going departure from the Evernote ecosystem to OneNote one of the things I’ve been trying to identify is functionality in OneNote that corrects issues I’ve previously had with Evernote.  One of the main problems I had for years is the fact Evernote keeps everything in one big file.  No matter what the item is, no matter how old it is, it’s right there with everything else.  While this can be argued as a strength I’ve always found this an unnecessary amount of content to be immediately available.  Now, keep in mind there’s a difference between immediately available and easily accessible.


OneNote Notebooks

One of the strengths I’ve found in OneNote is the ability to have multiple notebooks.  Now I know you’re saying, “but Evernote does that!”  The difference is that OneNote notebooks are separate files.  They can be selectively opened and closed as needed.  If you’re building an informational archive you may not need access to the notes you took on a trip three years ago, but may still want to get to them at some point, the multiple notebook model makes it easy.

A practical example

One example of this is I have created notebooks for each of my previous jobs and moved to those notebooks all the emails, contacts, and other information for those companies. The benefit is that I don’t need to open these notebooks nor do I need to have them synced all the time.  They’re accessible when I need them, but not tying up storage on my mobile devices.