Mastering OneNote: Getting all your stuff in one place

The main advantage OneNote has over competing note taking solutions would be the diverse range of supported content. OneNote can handle a massive amount of data in a variety of formats. There are a range of different ways to get your stuff into OneNote; some apps, some services, some work with apps, others only supported by the desktop client. All this to say OneNote can and should be your one stop for filing, saving, and storing your information.

Insert content from all over the place from text, images, video, audio, documents, and more

Insert content from all over the place from text, images, video, audio, documents, and more

The most obvious way to get content into OneNote would be to simply type it in. OneNote does an amazing job of handling text with a huge range of different hidden functions, but more on that another time. When you are adding information to OneNote usually it can be in a nebulous format. For example, keeping a record of maintenance on your vehicle is not trivial and needs to be organized in some way. The easiest way to store these records would be with a quick table, which are easy to create and work with.

Tables can be created anywhere within OneNote by pressing the tab key after some content has been entered. Pressing tab again will create a new column, and pressing enter will add new rows. After the second row has been created, the tab will not create new columns, instead it will cycle through the cells and create a new row when the cursor is in the bottom right cell of a table. When a table is created the ‘layout tab’ appears at the end of the ribbon for more table options.

Tables help keep your pages organized

Tables help keep your pages organized

When laying out information tables can be helpful but you can put more than text inside each cell. In fact most types of content can be put inside cells of a table to make for a better organized page. Using copy and paste you can add images and files into the cells of a table. This type of functionality makes OneNote extremely powerful and capable with rich pages full of the content you want and need. If you so desire you can even place a table within the cell of another table by using the table tool under the insert tab.

Pasting content into OneNote is powerful and usually works exactly how it should. When pasting documents like PDFs, OneNote asks if you want to paste ‘printouts or attach the file.’ These two options can both be helpful, for example attaching a document to be used for reference doesn’t need to bog down the page with a printout. However if you plan to annotate over the content then a printout would be required. Attaching files in this way can be a quick and easy way to save files for reference and allows you to add some context to the document.

Files can be attached or added as printouts

Files can be attached or added as printouts

Microsoft has created a huge range of methods for filling up OneNote with your content. The Office Lens app (available on every platform) uses a phone’s camera to ‘scan’ images and send them to OneNote for filing or annotating. Another extremely useful feature would be Microsoft email forward to OneNote capability. How this works is you link your email to your OneNote so you can forward emails to the ‘[email protected]’ address and the email (along with all attachments) will be sent to your default OneNote section. Start this process by sending an email to ‘[email protected]’ and an auto reply will assist with the rest.

There are a number of browser extensions which assist in clipping web pages to OneNote. Microsoft makes a ‘bookmark’ which when activated opens a small clipping pane to assist with adding the web page to your OneNote. This feature works on all browsers and is very handy for saving entire web pages. It is worth keeping in mind that the ‘Full Page’ option will be saved as screenshots of the page and the ‘Article/Recipe/Product’ option will preserve the text. This little bookmark (found at www.onenote.com/clipper) saves so much time and makes your OneNote notebook more valuable because now your favorite recipes or references can be saved in one place, easy to access from anywhere.

Grabbing content from the web is helpful in a range of scenarios

Grabbing content from the web is helpful in a range of scenarios

There are a ton of other partners Microsoft has worked with to create connections which make getting content into OneNote easier. To name a few: Brother Web Connection, IFTTT, Nextgen Reader, WordPress, Mod Notebooks, Livescribe 3 Smartpen, and so many more. All of these different apps can be viewed and accessed via www.onenote.com/apps. Check it out and see if a service or tool you already use integrates with OneNote.

Getting your content into OneNote can be the most awkward step, but once you start collecting and organizing your information you’ll love it. Tables are a quick and easy way to make sense of important information easy to understand and quick to reference. Pasting images and documents into OneNote makes annotating easy and natural. Connecting with other apps takes OneNote to another level and makes it possible to completely digitize your life.

Using OneNote tables as your long term memory helps keep everything in order

Using OneNote tables as your long term memory helps keep everything in order

Another big hurdle which keeps many people from diving head long into OneNote is where to start. My advice is to make a small project and start putting information together. Good first projects could be: maintenance records for a vehicle, planning an upcoming trip, outline a project, etc. Like all skills in life the best way to get better is to give yourself projects and complete them. OneNote has a lot of features and capabilities but the only way to begin to master OneNote is to use it frequently.

This is the fourth post 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. Previous stories in this series:

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Do you use OneNote as a long term memory?