Stay Organized With Microsoft OneNote

Save your plans in the familiar tabbed notebook format of OneNote

Office OneNote 2010

Microsoft OneNote organizes both personal and professional information. It's a digital version of a multi-subject notebook that captures web information, makes handwritten or text notes, and collaborates with others.

Initially, OneNote was targeted toward students and tablet PC users. With the inclusion of OneNote to the Microsoft 365 family, professionals and home users, as well as students, now find OneNote an essential tool they didn't know they needed.

The last desktop version of OneNote—for the Office 2016 platform—carries forward with Office 2019 and Office for Microsoft 365. The company urges OneNote aficionados to migrate to the Microsoft Store version of OneNote, which is gaining feature parity with the desktop version.

The OneNote System

One Note

OneNote provides a centralized place for all kinds of data including typed or handwritten notes, web pages, images, video, and audio. The interface is conducive to planning or creating reference materials. If you've ever used a tabbed notebook before, the process is pretty intuitive.

OneNote offers several advantages over paper-based systems in that you can tag and search for information across notebooks (even search in handwritten notes and mathematical equations), collaborate with others on a notebook page, and rearrange pages.

As a capture tool, OneNote's familiar notebook-like user interface and compatibility with other Office programs make it a robust organizational tool. It consists of:

  • Notebooks: Each OneNote notebook is a separate file that contains all your pages relating to a broad subject such as Work Projects or U.S. History, or Home Improvement.
  • Sections: Within each notebook, you have tabbed sections to group information such as Meetings, Assignments, or Stuff to Buy.
  • Pages: Within each section, you can add pages for individual items like 12/1 meeting with Jeff,  Research on the Civil War, or List of kitchen gadgets to buy.

Helpful Organizational Features in OneNote

Some of the cool features OneNote offers to help you stay organized include:

  • Use context menus to send information to a OneNote page from Internet Explorer, Microsoft Edge, Microsoft Word, or PowerPoint. For example, you can highlight contact information on a website and send it to OneNote for future reference. You can even flag it to be reminded in the future to call that contact.
  • Type quick notes from the taskbar using the New Side Note feature, which is like a little notepad that pops up to capture random ideas that are easily lost if not written down.
  • Create task lists or calendar events that sync with Outlook.
  • Embed links to other Office files and create notes about them. You can create an index, for example, of project-related files.
  • Share your notebook with others and show each collaborator's input. Add an image, for example, of the latest design concept, and get feedback directly on that page.
  • Access your notebooks online or on your mobile devices.
  • The inking system works flawlessly on both touch-enabled devices like the Microsoft Surface line of computers as well as the iPad with an Apple Pencil.

Types of OneNote Notebooks

The nice thing about OneNote is its flexibility. Create as many notebooks as you need and organize them however you wish the way you would organize a typical physical notebook. Prepare a notebook for general work needs, for example, with sections for meetings, reference materials, and forms.

Build separate notebooks for each client and sections within those notebooks for individual projects. Personal notebooks for travel plans or recipes are ideal for OneNote because you can group pages into sections for Disney, for example, or Fish.

Use OneNote With GTD

If you're a fan of Getting Things Done or another productivity system, use a OneNote notebook as a basic planner. Set up a GTD notebook and create a section for each of your lists (Action lists, Someday/Maybe lists, Waiting lists, and so on) and within these sections, add pages for each topic.