Mastering OneNote: How to think about OneNote

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There are more apps and programs than ever before which are all solving different problems in different ways, but OneNote is unique. Microsoft has been developing their Office suite for decades now, so where does OneNote fit into that picture? Are you: writing a paper, use Word; working with data, use Excel; need to make some database, use Access; creating a presentation for your work or school, use PowerPoint; laying out print materials, use Publisher. These programs were created for clear tasks with obvious objectives, but what about the vague ideas, projects, data, workflows, checklists, outlines, and more; where do they fit?

[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]OneNote is digital paper[/pullquote]

I hear people say OneNote is too confusing or bloated, so they have stayed away from using it. While I am not completely sure why this is, I have guessed this stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of OneNote. So what is OneNote? The best concise description would be, OneNote is digital paper. However this description could initially raise more question than it answers, but it does frame the program in a helpful way.

Why call OneNote digital paper, because much like paper, OneNote is very flexible with how information is added and arranged. OneNote lets users add photos, files, text, ink, recordings, and tables wherever they want. While this flexibility can be nice, it can also be a drawback for many users. What do you mean I can just put stuff all over the place?? Wouldn’t that result in a disorganized mess?!? Yes, OneNote is so flexible, messes are extremely easy to make, but with a little thought and reorganization those messes can be turned into value.

There will be more posts in great detail to cover how to use OneNote and some ways to get more by doing less. For now let’s cover what to expect from OneNote and some of its best uses. Starting from the paper example, OneNote works best when you have content which needs to be saved in an amorphous way. Instead of creating a new Excel or Word document to capture some data, just drop it into OneNote. Jot down shopping lists with checkboxes easily; jot down a phone number you need to call; take meeting notes; outline your paper; brainstorm gift ideas, and so on.

If you have a device with pen support then OneNote can be a whole different kind of useful. OneNote has unparalleled support for inking: ink to text, ink to math, search for inked text, and soon shape recognition. Use OneNote to markup screenshot or share sketches with co-workers. Since OneNote is just digital paper you can sketch forever and never run out of space.

While stylus support makes OneNote great, the program has an immense amount of potential when just using a keyboard and mouse. All day we encounter tidbits of information which doesn’t fit into our standard bins. Remembering the code for a friend’s garage door; the model and serial number of new computer hardware; checklists for work procedures; writing down ideas which come at less than ideal times. All of these pieces of information can be captured and organized into OneNote.

Why spend the time collecting and organizing all this information into OneNote? As more of our life moves into the digital world we need ways to collect and organize that information. Keeping important information in emails, texts, photos, random documents, or in your head will fail you some day. Maybe not today or tomorrow but eventually the loose ends will unravel. Start now and start small but everyone using digital devices needs some plan to get a handle on their digital information footprint.

Check back for more in our “Mastering OneNote” series to learn how to be saved from ambiguous digital information.

This is the first in a multi-part series exploring Microsoft OneNote. If there is a particular topic in OneNote that you want us to cover, let us know in the comments below.

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