There are a ton of cool apps spread across Office 365 – but my favorite is OneNote. As a business owner, I am frequently in meetings. Inevitably, I come out of these meetings with lots of ideas, questions, follow ups, or to-dos.
Before OneNote, I would capture these in a regular notebook (or an index card). As someone who 1) has extremely bad hand writing and 2) has a hard time keeping up with slips of paper, I was constantly letting things slip through the cracks.
Since switching to OneNote, that has changed. I can access my notes from any location and any device (as long as I have internet access) without having to worry about keeping up with a physical notebook. Just as important - I can actually read my notes now.
Here is how I use OneNote to stay on top of my tasks:
Creating new notebooks
To create a New Notebook, go to File > New and choose where you want to save your Notebook. If you have OneDrive, OneDrive for Business, or SharePoint, I recommend saving in one of these locations so you can access them from any device. After you have saved your notebook, you can choose to invite other people to your notebook. If you don’t want to do that now, you can always share the notebook later.
OneNote notebooks are organized by sections and pages. Each notebook contains section groups. Each section group contains sections. Each section contains pages. You can organize your notebooks to suit your style of work.
For example, I have one notebook just for Leadership Team notes. I don’t actually use the section groups in this notebook – I just have three sections: weekly leadership team meeting notes (I create a new page for each meeting), company-wide meetings (again, a new page in this section for each meeting), and a section for General Notes.
I know some people who just have one large notebook and use Sections and Section Groups. Bottom line, there is no wrong answer here - just determine what works best for you and stick with it.
OneNote supports a ton of great ways to capture notes. You can obviously type your notes out using your keyboard. You can ink them if your device supports inking (like a Surface with a Surface pen). You can screen grab from other sources (such as a web page or another application on your device), or you can ‘print’ pages to OneNote.
I seldom use inking, but that’s because my handwriting is so bad and I have a hard time writing straight on my Surface Book. However, OneNote does support page templates which can help in situations like this. To insert a template, go to (1) Insert, (2) Page Templates.
In this example, I added a College Ruled page to help me keep my written notes straight. To get to the template, click “Blank” in the Templates page and select College Ruled. There is also an option for a grid if that’s more helpful for you.
There are tons of out of the box templates you can use, so explore these as you may find some that are helpful for you. Pro Tip: If you want to create a template of your own, follow these steps.
I do use inking to draw out conceptual images, such as process flows or charts. If you don’t have a steady hand and want to insert more ‘rigid’ shapes (such as circles, triangles, or straight lines), (1) Click the Draw tab then (2) choose the shape you want from the Shape selector.
On this tab, you can also use different types of ink, control the thickness of your lines.
Insert captures and information from other applications
I frequently is insert captures from other applications into my notes. For me, these are from usually from web pages – but they can also be from other applications. From the Insert tab on the Ribbon, you will see these options:
In this example, I would choose Screen Clipping, which opens up the Screen Clip dialogue box. Just drag your mouse (or pen) over the section that you want to clip, and it will drop the clip into your page. You can even ink over the top of your clipping to call out specific items on the page.
You can also “print” from other applications into OneNote. If you’ve ever printed to a PDF, it’s similar. You don’t actually print anything – You just use the print function to send a file to OneNote. Just use the print dialogue box as normal, but change your printer to OneNote.
After you press ‘Print,' you just tell OneNote where you would like to place the “printed” page.
If you are working in Outlook, you can quickly send information from Outlook by clicking “Send to OneNote.” This is great for sending email content over to OneNote (you can also send content from OneNote to Outlook – our sales team uses this to quickly send meeting notes to customers.
Customize and Use Tags
Out of the box, OneNote includes several tags. You can find these in the Home portion of the ribbon. While the out of the box tags are fine, I’ve found that there are just too many of them. You can customize the tags to fit your needs and delete the ones you don’t need.
To customize your tags, expand the tags section and choose Customize Tags.
After you click customize tags, you can select any tags you want to get rid of and click the “x” as shown in (1). To create new tags, click New Tag (2).
Chris runs our Services Teams so I need to create a tag for any items I want to discuss with him. I type in the display name, choose a symbol and font color, and then choose Ok.
Done. Now that I have customized my tags I can start using them in my notes.
To add a tag, place your cursor beside the note you want to tag and in the tag drop-down menu, select the appropriate tag.
What happens if you have lots of tags across your notes? That’s where summary pages can help you. On the Home tab of the ribbon, click Find Tags. This will find all your tags across this notebook (you can also choose all notebooks, as shown below).
If you press Create Summary page (as shown in 3, below), this will create a new page in your notebook that brings all your tags into a single page. This is especially useful if you have several pages of notes with tags spread out across multiple pages. After every meeting, I create a summary page of my to do items.
Other Tips and Tricks
Here are a few other little tips that you can use to make OneNote work for you.
Insert Meeting Notes
If you are capturing notes for a meeting, you can insert the meeting details into any page. Click the Meeting Details button on the Home tab of the ribbon and choose the meeting (your meetings are pulled from Outlook). This will drop in the details of the meeting, including any people who were invited, the meeting details, and the time of the meeting.
You can easily email a page by clicking “Email Page” from the Home tab on the ribbon.
Onetastic is a great add-in for OneNote that allows you run Macros inside OneNote. You can download the app here. My favorite is creating a table of contents.
Using OneNote on your mobile device
If your notes are saved to OneDrive, OneDrive for Business, or SharePoint, you can access them from any device. OneNote on a mobile device is great for capturing notes on the go – but I most frequently use it at conferences where I want to grab content from something the presenter may be showing on a screen. You can then insert those photos right into your notes. Just click the camera icon on any page, and you can insert a photo from your Gallery or straight from the camera.
ProTip: Consider using the Office Lens app. It is available for download from your Google Play or the iOS App Store. Office Lens can format photos to make them easier to read. The Office Lens app took this first photo (which I took at an angle) and formatted it correctly into the second photo – making it easier for me to put into my notebook.
These tips and tricks are just the tip of the iceberg. Like most Microsoft programs, OneNote has a ton of features the average user doesn't know about. Do you have a favorite we didn't cover here? Let us know in the comments!