How to Use OneNote as a Task Manager, Notepad, and Journal

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OneNote Bullet Journal template. Melanie Pinola

Even though there are tons of great mobile and desktop apps for tracking your to-dos, taking notes, and setting goals, many of us prefer the tactile, more memorable experience of writing with a pen and paper. What the pen-and-paper approach lacks, however, are the convenient tagging, reminders, and search capabilities of digital tools. That's where this new method comes in. Combine the best of the Bullet Journal paper method of note-taking with the digital powers of OneNote.

The Bullet Journal system, if you're not already familiar, is "For the list-makers, the note-takers, the Post-It note pilots, the track-keepers, and the dabbling doodlers." It's a way of organizing a paper notebook to capture--and quickly find--all the tasks, notes, events, and more so you can stay organized and be more productive. OneNote, because it is closest to looking and acting like a physical notebook, is ideal for this note-taking method. 

A few basics about the Bullet Journal system before we get started: In this method

  • On each page, you quickly jot down the information you're trying to capture. This is called "rapid logging."
  • You create an index page at the beginning of the notebook where you'll mark the page numbers for different topics (e.g., notes that deal with travel or your monthly task list). At the top of each page either write the date or the topic name. (The index page won't be used in our OneNote system, however)
  • Pages can include bullets, tasks, notes, and events
  • For tasks, create a page of the current month's events (e.g., meetings or birthdays) and another page for the month's to-dos. After those pages, create a daily calendar, moving your tasks from the month list to the current date. 
  • Use a checkbox to denote a task, a bullet for a regular note, an exclamation mark to note a great idea, an eye symbol for something to research, and a star to mark an item as priority.

    Now let's see how to apply that with OneNote. The tips and template below were provided by Orlando Borges Botelho. I've added a few screenshots and edited his Google+ post for more detail (the bulleted and bracketed points are my additions). 

    Step 1. Download the OneNote Template Page 

    First of all, get the A4-sized page template at http://sdrv.ms/152giJe.

    • Download the page and double-click to open it in OneNote.
    • The date is in Spanish, but if you click on the calendar to select the current date, it'll switch to English.
    • If you change any other settings/features (e.g., get rid of grid lines), click the arrow next to New Page then choose Templates. At the bottom, you can save the current page as a new template.

    My first try will be using it as default in my Quick Notes section, so I get used to it quickly. Don't forget to set is as default for any section you migrate, index or "topic" your notes.

    • To set the template as the default, again, click the arrow next to New Page, go to Templates, and at the bottom use the drop-down box to select the default for this section.

    The template uses an A4-sized small-squared page lines with landscape orientation and a division line. Ready for printing / and or using it digitally (if so, I'd recommend using automatic size page but keep the split line).

    Cheat tips are available near the title with shortcuts for the custom tags you should create.

    • For example, the template shows which symbols to use to mark text as a task, note, or event, as well as make them priority, idea, etc.

    Step 2. Create Custom Tags

    Bullets / Tasks / Notes / Events / Signifiers

    Since the source [BulletJournal.com] explains better what each tag does, I'll focus on my cheat boxes. After you set this template as the default for your section, you should create custom tags that match the shortcuts (or change them to whatever you prefer, but you should use shortcuts).

    • Click the Tags button on the ribbon in OneNote, then choose Customize tags to assign the shortcuts to the suggested icons.

      Step 3. Start Using the Template

      • Now that you're all set up, here are a few tips for recording notes, tasks, calendar events and more in OneNote...

      Topics + Entries: Use short one-line entries with the recommended notation [tags] to keep notes, events, and tasks recorded quickly.

      If they are general entries, don't bother using the date as a title, OneNote does that automatically! This works great in tandem with Onetastic's OneCalendar tool [http://www.omeratay.com/onetastic/], so you can check each day's notes instantly.

      If it's a specific topic, however, use the title space - it will help when searching for these entries. When it grows into a complex topic (i.e. with many spreads, pages, etc.), consider creating a section with its name.

      Page Numbers / Sorting: Page numbers are mostly irrelevant if you use OneNote, because it's powerful search [CTRL+E] does the sorting for you!

      You can, however, organize your pages simply by dragging them in any order you like. You could even group them in subpages to avoid creating sections for topics somewhere between simple (one-page) and complex (one-section) ones.

      Another useful thing is using OneNote's internal hyperlinks. Just right-click any entry and copy the link to it. Then, you can right-click and link [or CTRL+K] anywhere else and paste it--much better than pages and much faster also.

      Monthly / Weekly / Daily Calendar: Monthly calendar can only be emulated by using Onetastic's OneCalendar tool [http://www.omeratay.com/onetastic/], in my opinion.

      Sadly, it doesn't automatically filter your events and tasks as bullet journal method suggests. You can combine it with OneNote's Tag Summary. This is better if you want a weekly calendar by using search only this week notes, in its options.

      • To use the Tag Summary, click on Find Tags and a Tags Summary pane will appear

      Daily calendar is better achieved also with Onetastic's OneCalendar tool [http://www.omeratay.com/onetastic/] - I can't emphasize this tool enough for OneNoters.

      Migration / Irrelevant: At the beginning of each month, check last month's task entries and migrate them to the new month's page and mark them as Migrated. This will keep last month's entries checked up, so you know you didn't leave anything behind. 

      If any task is not relevant anymore, tag it so. This way, when you check past entries again, you realize that these entries will not reappear in the future because they lost meaning.

      Collections (aka Notebooks): We already took care of collections of entries into pages and topics and sections within OneNote.

      So, to keep a sense of hierarchy, you could also consider grouping your sections away into another Notebook. Since OneNote searches through every opened book, you don't need to worry about losing track of entries in different notebooks. Just keep a main one (normally the default Personal Notebook) as your regular entry journal.

      Closing Thoughts

      OneNote is a really powerful tool, and this is a smart way to use it for organizing your notes and schedule. One of the best parts of this system is you can combine OneNote with Outlook to get reminders for tasks and events.

       

      If you have a Windows tablet PC with a stylus, it gets even better, because you can "write" in your OneNote notebook just like you would with a paper one--only with the advantages of search, tagging, syncing across devices, and more.

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