Use Cortana Notebook and Settings Features

Access the Cortana commands that personalize her for your needs

Cortana icon or symbol - blue circle


Cortana is Microsoft’s digital assistant, like Siri is to Apple or Alexa to Amazon. Depending on your experience with Windows 10, you may already know a little about how to use Cortana. If you’re still asking yourself “Who is Cortana”, read on. You’ll learn quite a bit about her as you go through the options and settings outlined here.

What Is Cortana (in Just a Few Words)? 

Cortana is a personalized search tool, something you might have already discovered from the Windows 10 Taskbar or in the Microsoft Edge browser, but she’s so much more. She can set alarms and appointments, manage reminders, and tell you to leave early for work if there’s a lot of traffic. She can also talk to you, and you to her, if the device is equipped with the appropriate hardware.

The prompt to enable the Cortana voice feature appears the first time you type something into the Search window on the Taskbar. Once she’s enabled, you’re ready to personalize her settings. If she's not responding to you, there are a few quick things you can check.

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Enable Cortana and Allow Basic Functionality

Figure 1-2: A screen shot with Cortana's Settings available from the Search window on the Taskbar.

Window’s Cortana needs permission to do certain things. Cortana needs to know your location to give you the local weather, directions, traffic information, or information about the nearest movie theater or restaurant. If you opt not to enable Location Services, she won’t be able to provide that kind of functionality. Likewise, Cortana needs access your Calendar to manage your appointments, and access to Contacts to send you reminders about birthdays and anniversaries.

If you want to use Cortana as a real digital assistant and get the most from her you’ll want to enable these features and others.

To enable the basic settings, change search settings, and more:

  1. Click inside the Search window on the Taskbar.
  2. If you are prompted to set up Cortana, do so by following the prompts, then return to Step 1.
  3. Click the Settings cog that appears on the left side of the screen.
  4. Review the settings and move the toggles from On to Off or Off to On as desired, or, place a check mark in the appropriate box. Here are a few to consider:
    1. Turn on Let Cortana respond to “Hey, Cortana”.
    2. Check Let Cortana access my Calendar, email, messages, and other content data when my device is locked.
    3. Turn on My Device History.
    4. Change Safe Search Settings as desired (Strict, Moderate, Off).
  5.  Click anywhere outside of the menu options to close it. The settings will be saved automatically.

Once the settings are configured the way you like, Cortana will begin watching the areas she has permission to access and make virtual notes to herself regarding what she finds. Later, she will act on those notes as needed.

For example, if you’ve granted Cortana access your email when she notices an important date in one, she may well remind you of the date as the time nears. Likewise, if Cortana knows where you work, she might advise you to leave early if she discovers there’s a lot of traffic that day and “thinks” you might be late otherwise.

Some of these reminders depend on other settings, which you’ll learn about next. This is only the tip of the iceberg though; as you use Cortana she’ll learn more and more about you, and your experience will be even more personal.

You can also access the settings in the Cortana menu area from the Settings window. Click the Start button on the Taskbar, click the Settings icon, and then type "Cortana" in the Search window that appears. Click Cortana and Search Settings underneath the Search box.

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The Cortana Notebook

Figure 1-3: A screen shot with Cortana's Notebook options showing.

Cortana stores the information it learns about you and many of the preferences you've set in her Notebook. That Notebook already has several options enabled by default. One of the options is Weather. If you don’t make any changes to what’s configured for that entry, Cortana will provide the weather forecast for your city each time you click inside the Search window on the Taskbar. You'll also see the news headlines there, another default configuration.

It’s important to understand that you have complete control over what’s saved in the Notebook, and you can limit what Cortana can access or offer to you in the way of notifications. However, these settings are also what allow Cortana to provide you with a personalized virtual assistant experience, and the more leeway you let Cortana have the more productive and helpful she’ll be. Thus, it’s best to take a few moments to review how the Notebook is configured and change any settings you feel are too invasive or too lenient, if there are any.

To access the Notebook and access the default settings:

  1. Click inside the Search window on the Taskbar.
  2. Click the three lines in the top left corner of the resulting screen area.
  3. Click Notebook.
  4. Click any entry to see the options listed next; click the Back arrow or the three lines to return to the previous options.

Some of the more notable options in the Notebook include:

  • Reminders – Create your own reminders and access them here (just tell Cortana what you want to be reminded of) or review reminders Cortana has created herself, perhaps from a contact or something found in an email.
  • Connected accounts – Connect Cortana to additional services, such as, LinkedIn, Office 365, and even Uber.
  • Music – Configure connected third-party music apps. One to consider is Spotify.
  • Eat & Drink – Let Cortana offer restaurant recommendations based on cuisine, price, and travel distance, if you eat out a lot.
  • Events – Enable notifications about events near you. You can add your own events too.
  • Getting Around – Allow Cortana to keep an eye on traffic conditions and offer reminders about when to leave. Cortana can provide public transit options too.
  • News – Fine-tune the type of news Cortana offers when you click inside the Search window on the Taskbar.
  • Sports – Identify your favorite teams here and opt in to or out of sports score updates.

Spend some time here making changes as desired. Don't worry, you can’t mess up anything and you can always return to the Notebook if you change your mind.

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Explore Other Settings

Figure 1-4: A screen shot of Cortana's Notebook option, Skills.

Before you move on to something else, make sure to explore all of the available settings and options available from the two areas detailed above.

For instance, when you click inside the Search window on the Taskbar and then click the Settings cog, there’s an option at the top named Microphone. There’s a Get Started link that walks you through the process of setting up your device’s built-in mic.

Similarly, there’s a link about mid-way down that list named Learn how I say, “Hey Cortana”. Click this and another wizard appears. Work through it and Cortana will get to know your voice and your particular way of speaking. Later you can tell Cortana you want it to only respond to you if you say “Hey, Cortana”, but no one else.

Check back with the options for the Notebook, too. One is called Skills. Click this to learn more about what Cortana can do if you pair her with specific apps. There is an app for your Fitbit for example, as well as OpenTable, iHeart Radio, Domino’s Pizza, The Motley Fool, Headline News, and others.

So, spend some time getting to know Cortana, and let her get to know you. Together, you can do amazing things!