Posted in Tools

OneNote 2016 is back from the dead

Microsoft has finally come to realize the Windows 10 version of OneNote, no matter how much work they put in, is not a suitable replacement for the desktop version. With that in mind, they’re adding dark mode, installing it by default again, and extending support through 2025 for OneNote 2016.

Sometimes running things on the desktop instead of the web is better after all.

Posted in Chromebook, OneNote, Techniques, Tools

Living with OneNote on a Chromebook

I spend most of my non-client working time on a Chromebook. It’s turned out to be my go-to tool for creating content, managing information, and doing research. Since I also live out of OneNote, it’s important to be able to work around some of the limitations of a Chromebook when using a tool that is focused on the Microsoft suite.

Working Offline

Chromebooks thrive with an internet connection. It makes sense since it’s a browser based operating system. Unfortunately you don’t always have a connection available, so what’s there to do if you’re offline but still need to take notes or look something up? This is where I put the Android version of OneNote to use.

By running the Android app on my Chromebook, I can keep a synchronized copy of my notebooks handy and accessible. It doesn’t offer all the capabilities of the other versions, but when it comes to information access some is better than none.

The bonus of this arrangement is since I’m running on a Chromebook Pro, I can use the stylus to take handwritten notes and drawings to sync later on. It’s a great combination without pushing too far into unnecessary functionality.

Working Online

Once I get back online I can use the OneNote Online version as well as the Android application. The combination gives me a great deal of flexibility while also offering speed and interactivity. The Android application will sync it’s contents once the connection is established so any notes taken offline are safe and secure.

Once online I can also use the Chrome extensions Clip to OneNote and Send to OneNote to capture information to my notebooks for easy online, offline, and mobile access.

It’s not perfect

This setup is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination and could be duplicated by a number of other tools. For my purposes though this has turned into a productivity success for me that requires no effort to keep using day in and day out.

Posted in Tools

OneNote on Android improves search

MSPowerUser reports that OneNote on Android will be getting improved search capabilities in the near future. This is great news since finding information on the go is easiest with robust search. More than once I’ve wasted time tapping through section and page trying to find something only to wind up frustrated.

The improvement of search on Android will be a big help for me when I use OneNote. Will it help you? Let me know in the comments below.

Posted in Techniques

Deletion and better ways of managing OneNote notebooks

OneNote has an inherent issue when it comes to keeping organized…notebooks. It’s not that I’m saying notebooks are a bad way to keep things together. Quite the contrary. The problem comes in with what do you with the crabgrass-like growth of the number of notebooks you have as your time with OneNote grows. Here are the five steps I recommend when you’re ready to get rid of a notebook. (Please note these steps require OneNote 2016 to execute completely.)

Step 1 – Transfer old content

Before you delete an old notebook make sure you’ve gone through and transferred any content you need to retain to a new notebook. You could go through and move things item by item but to save time I recommend creating a section for all the pages you plan to move in the notebook, moving the pages to that section, copying the section to the new notebook, then deleting the section. That extra copy may seem counter-intuitive, but it gives you an extra bit of security in the move in case something goes wrong.

Step 2 – Export to PDF

You can export an entire notebook to a PDF file for easy storage. I recommend this over creating a OneNote package since at this time you’ve already decided to delete the notebook so you won’t need to have the content in an editable format. Exporting it as a PDF file gives you the reassurance of having access to the information in the smallest and most portable format possible.

Step 3 – Create an Archive Notebook

Sometimes we need to keep the content in OneNote format but we don’t need the content in separate notebooks. In these cases I’ll use an Archive notebook. I create a section in the Archive Notebook for the content I am archiving from the old notebook and then move that content over. Once I’m done I have an organized Archive notebook, access to the content I need, and one less extraneous notebook file to keep track of.

Step 4 – Create a link index

One of the tricks with OneNote is you can create links to notebooks, sections, pages, and even content on a page. By creating a master index notebook you can create links to all the content you may need access in a rarely used notebook, clicking on the links to access the information, while reducing your sync load and storage needs. I recommend this highly for content you may need access to while on mobile but can live without if you’re offline.

Step 5 – Leave it alone

If you’re using a system such as OneDrive to store your OneNote files, it might be best to not delete notebooks unless you absolutely need to. You can move them to other out-of-the-way folders, but by keeping the files you can leverage the OneDrive search capability without having to open the notebooks every time.

What you need is a plan

Notebooks are one of those things in OneNote that can be extremely powerful…with some planning. Without a plan as to how best to put them to use, be prepared to become your own librarian.

What do you think?  Talk about it over in the TIP Community.

Posted in Strategy, Techniques

How should I organize my notebooks in OneNote?

One of the most common complaints I hear with OneNote is the challenge people have in getting it organized.  Now, I know that seems counter-intuitive for an application designed around organizing information, but this is a case of flexibility being a foil rather than a feature.

When setting up OneNote one of the earliest things you need to grasp is the differences between notebooks, sections, and pages.  (Yes there are section groups as well but let’s leave those out for now.) Feedback number one I hear is, “How do I organize my notebooks?” If there were only an easy answer.

The notebook metaphor is a good one in OneNote because it’s connected to a physical construct making understanding its purpose fairly easy. Unfortunately understanding what a notebook is doesn’t address how best to use it. When creating notebooks in OneNote it’s easy to wind up with a bookshelf full of notebooks and no clear way to keep things straight.

This is a good time to address the one notebook / multiple notebook kerfuffle. For some, the management of all their information in one notebook makes clear, simplified sense. For others, why would you be able to create multiple notebooks if you weren’t supposed to use them?

Strategically I ask people answer a few questions before deciding how they want to proceed:

  • Do you want to share the notebook with other people who would have no interest in some of the content of the notebook

  • Is your notebook likely to become extremely large with file attachments or other content

  • Will you be accessing your notebook on a mobile device

If you want to share specific content it’s often better to create a dedicated notebook rather than giving someone access to a generalized notebook and then telling them where to find what they’re looking for. If you’re going to create big notebooks, you could be impacted by sync speed and reliability issues as well as place your content at risk if something bad happens to the notebook. Finally, if you’re going to be accessing the notebooks from mobile devices, smaller targeted notebooks can help compensate for small storage and slower connections.

Moving day

If you’re capturing content into a Quick Notes section frequently (something that happens a great deal if you’re capturing from a mobile device) you’ll want to get comfortable with the move command.  I don’t recommend trying to reorganize your notes from a mobile device (the usability is a bit suspect right now) but rather use a desktop or UWP version of OneNote for page and section moves.

TIP – If you’re doing bulk cleanup, close the notebook on any other devices you may have it open. This will prevent any sync issues as much as possible as you do your house cleaning.

Keeping Organized

Cross-linking is one of my favorite ways to deal with notebook organization.  Let’s take a simple example.  I have a photo of a receipt from my spouse’s visit to the dentist.  The question is, does it go in my Medical notebook, my Taxes notebook, or my Spouse Information notebook (no it’s not actually called that but you get the drift.) I decide on the destination based on the place I am most frequently going to need that item.  In this case it goes into the Medical notebook.  Now in the Taxes notebook I have a page for Medical Expenses and I add a link to the corresponding link page in the Medical notebook.  I do the same thing in my Spouse’s Notebook.  This way I only have one copy of the original but I can get to it from three locations depending on need.

TIP – In many versions of OneNote you can highlight a paragraph on a page, right click, and copy a link to the paragraph.  That link will take you to the page AND highlight the paragraph to make it easier to find.


With content spread across pages, sections, and notebooks, it can be a pain to keep track of all of it for specific purposes.  Let’s take a professional example.  You have a staff meeting at 10:00 a.m.  You need to be prepared with the information from the last meeting, reference notes you gathered between the sessions, emails, PowerPoint presentations, and a checklist of things to do.

Now you could move all that content in to one notebook for the meeting, but why go to all the effort of moving things around.  When I assemble a meeting agenda I create an outline of what needs to be covered and then in each section I create links to existing content. My links always go to pages because that’s where the information is rather than linking to sections and notebooks where I still have to drill down to get to what I want.

Using the outlining features also mean I can reorganize the content, change sequences, and assign to-do tags all without altering the original items.  Remembering that OneNote is a working productivity tool and not just for storage can make planning out your notebooks much more effective.

#Tags suck in OneNote

I know that sounds harsh, but they do IF you’re coming from a world where you can do text based tags such as #doctor or #email. OneNote can’t search for those specific types of delimited tags yet so it makes it difficult if you’re used to organizing that way. What options do we have as alternatives to hashtags and other text based markers?

OneNote can do a search for specific strings as long as they are alphanumeric characters. (Really Microsoft? No #? Really?). What I do is use a combination of “xTagx” to identify tagged items.  So if I need to flag something for the Dentist it’s “xDentistx” and can search for that specific phrase.  Yes it’s a bit cumbersome but it does play well with search and means I can leverage the core concepts of OneNote search with textual tags.

TIP – The same trick works with any alphanumeric character so if you’d rather use “xxTag” or “oTago” feel free.  Just try to be sure you use a combination that doesn’t result in being part of a common word.

I love it when a plan comes together

OneNote is a highly flexible and forgiving application when it comes to organizing your information.  Regardless, you will be best served by putting together a plan of how you want to organize your information and then adapt that plan as you grow and use OneNote more.

Like these ideas? Have suggestions or your own? Come share them in the TIP Community here on The Idea Pump!

Posted in Techniques, Tools

OneNote Use Case – Successful Meeting Management

A member of the OneNote for Professionals community on Facebook, Shannon D., asked:

“Does anyone have any good ideas regarding how they use OneNote for meetings, including creating and managing agendas and notes? I’d love to hear how everyone uses OneNote to better manage meetings!”

This is a great question and one of the most frequent ways I show people the benefits of using OneNote. Rather than doing the normal examples this time I thought we’d do the life of a meeting through OneNote.

Before the meeting

Getting meeting agendas together and organized can be a difficult task with juggling emails, schedules, and last minute changes. I use a OneNote notebook for recurring meetings and a page in the notebook for each meeting. On that page goes the meeting agenda, attendee list, action items from previous meetings, and reference files and links.

If you’re an Outlook user there is an option to connect a OneNote 2016 notebook to a meeting for taking meeting minutes and an option to send emails to OneNote for eassier follow up, but for now I’m sticking with the basic uses for my meeting.

By creating the agenda in a shared notebook parked on SharePoint (same can be done with OneDrive) everyone attending the meeting can see the agenda in advance and add their own items as needed. Because synchronization is automatic everyone involved knows when changes are made without having to add to our daily pile of emails.

During the meeting

While the meeting is going on everyone has a copy of the OneNote notebook open on their laptops (for those reaping the benefits that is) and can see as we work our way through the agenda. Meeting minutes are captured on the page as well as future action items and follow up reminders. Anyone can add notes to the page as needed greatly reducing the chances of things getting missed. If someone makes changes the History view shows who made the changes, when, and allows the changes to be rolled back if necessary.

I’ve used OneNote to create and deliver presentations during meetings with the added benefit of changing those presentations in real time. After the session there’s nothing to send out because everyone already has the presentation notebook in hand.

After the meeting

The shared OneNote notebook makes short order of keeping follow up items together and actionable. Since the’re all captured in one place prepping for the next meeting is no more complicated than a few copy and pastes into the next meeting agenda. Links to tracking system items are added as well as connections to project notebooks for review as needed. The cycle begins again with the prep for the next meeting being much more efficient because of the easy access to the previous meeting information.

Collaboration at it’s simplest

Organizing meetings and discussions through OneNote is one of the simplest and most effective ways to keep things on track and demonstrate the core benefits of using OneNote to improve your productivity.