Keeping on top of everything — from your to-do lists and finances, to the articles you read, and the ideas you have — can be a nightmare. All these things will often be found in different documents, or saved to entirely different apps. By default, they become too arduous to keep on top of, and quickly become outdated.
This could all be remedied with OneNote, a free note taking app from Microsoft. If you’re not familiar with OneNote, you might want to read our introductory guide to the app. Once you’ve got the basics down, you’re ready to discover the ton of additional features that make OneNote even more useful.
That’s not to say it’s perfect. The Mac version of OneNote (CA/UK) has limited features, and many people are worried that Microsoft may end up charging users to use the service (though there’s no sign of that yet). But if this doesn’t bother you, read on to learn how to run pretty much your entire life within this single app.
1. Organizing Information
Within OneNote, you can set up different notebooks for entirely different parts of your life. Within each notebook, you can set up tabs, and within those tabs, you can store individual notes. These can easily be searched based on tags and keywords.
This structure makes for a logical way to organize potentially thousands of notes within a single app, in much the same ways as you would organize a ring binder.
Exactly how you organize these notes is entirely up to you. It’s what you store in those notes that’s important.
2. A To-Do List That Works
You could choose from a number of powerful to-do list apps, but OneNote can also double up as a respectable choice.
This could simply be a master to-do list, with a long string of things you need to do. But a more useful option would be to set up something like you can see above. This is a “Kaizen” setup, where you aim to move your tasks from left to right depending on their current status. You can easily add a new table for each project you’re working on, and drag and drop these wherever you like.
I’ve also included a check-box shopping list, which is another way you can organize lists in OneNote. This could be set up as a separate note, and then shared with your partner, so they can also add to the list as necessary.
3. Tracking Your Fitness
If you track any aspect of your health, this can usually be replicated in OneNote. If you want to keep things simple, you can create a new notebook for each aspect of health and fitness you want to track, then create a basic table to track what’s important.
Alternatively, if you’re using the Windows version of OneNote, you are able to import an existing Excel spreadsheet into OneNote. This means you could find a fitness tracking Excel template and use this within OneNote instead of needing to use Excel. Note that any changes you make to the spreadsheet in OneNote will not be saved to the Excel file, or vice versa.
4. Project Management
If the simple Kaizen to-do list setup isn’t enough to help you manage your projects, OneNote can be used as a full project management tool too.
Depending on the complexity of your projects, you may want to set up a new notebook for each one. Within these notebooks, you can add detailed to-do lists, track emails, share information, create a team wiki, and record meeting notes. You can then share all or part of this notebook with your team members. If you want a step-by-step guide to all of this, the video below will help.
If many of your projects are quite similar, you can also create OneNote templates to make starting a new project extremely easy.
5. Managing Your Finances
The easiest way to track your finances in OneNote is to import a suitable Excel finance spreadsheet into your notebook and keep this up to date within the app.
If you’re a Mac user, you’ll need to create your own, simple table to combat those pesky Mac-user restrictions.
As well as this, a very useful feature here is the ability to store all of your receipts in OneNote. Download the OneNote app to your smartphone, and start taking snaps of each of your receipts. Be sure to send these to a dedicated section of OneNote. The OCR feature within the app makes each of these receipts readable, so you can search for dates or items, instead of sifting through huge piles of fading pieces of paper.
6. Goal Setting
A seemingly popular way to organize goals in OneNote is to create a new tab titled “Goals”, then create a new page for each goal. This page will then be home to everything you need to progress.
On this single page, you can create schedules, list your action items, store research (this is made a lot easier if you use OneNote’s Web Clipper), jot down notes, and keep a record of your progress. Having all of this relevant information in one place understandably helps to keep you extra-focused.
7. Daily Journal
Journaling has been shown to help improve productivity and reduce stress. Naturally, there are tons of ways you can start a journal, whether that’s a bullet journal in Evernote, or a video journal on Snapchat. OneNote is just another option to add to that list, where you can create a single note to keep adding to regularly.
- Gratitude — List one thing you’re grateful for.
- Intention — How do you want to be today? Focused? Spontaneous? Light?
- Priorities — What are the 3 most important things you want to do today?
- Progress — What progress, however small, have you already made towards your goals?
- Opportunity — Every day can be an opportunity: What’s yours today?
- Request — Ask for what you need, from yourself, your family, and the universe!
The type of journal you choose to start is up to you. This could be a gratitude journal, weekly overviews, daily snapshots, random reflections. The list goes on.
Whichever you choose, creating a quick journal template is easy. The template above was written by one of our own writers in his article looking at seven different types of journals you can keep.
This could be used simply as a way for you to clear your mind of distractions each morning, or to look back on to relive special memories.
8. Master Lists
If you’re the kind of person who loves to keep lists, you probably have a huge list of movies you want to watch, books you want to read, and bands you want to listen to. Instead of having these scattered around your hard drive, why not import them into OneNote?
This should be as easy as copy/pasting them into a single note, and maybe adding a check box next to each one. This allows you to see all your lists in one place. If you need to store more information, you might want to separate each of these master lists into different notes.
9. Your Content Repository
The amount of content we consume these days is astounding. Not surprisingly, we forget most of what we’ve consumed. To help with this, there are some useful OneNote integrations you can use to keep track of all that content.
To set any of these up, you’ll need a free IFTTT account. As a few examples of what you’ll be able to do, you can:
- Send your Instapaper items (or highlights).
- Save any articles you star in Feedly.
- Save any articles you favorite in Pocket.
- Save videos you’ve liked (or added to Watch Later) on YouTube.
For any other content you come across online, simply use OneNote’s Web Clipper to save these directly to a specific notebook. If you wanted to, you could even turn OneNote into your own RSS reader.
As you can see, it won’t take long until you have an impressive library of interesting content you can turn back to and search whenever you like.
10. Social Media Photo Backups
If you’re paranoid about losing any photos on your social media accounts, you can back these up to OneNote, again by using IFTTT.
11. Simplify Life with Checklists
If there are certain things you’re constantly forgetting, sometimes it can help to create processes or a series of checklists for these to make each step easier in future.
This could be a list of things to pack for a vacation, to leave for the babysitter, to host a party, etc. Keep these in a single OneNote tab, and they’re always just a few clicks away so you can rest more easily.
12. Brainstorming and Note Taking
And finally, you’ll want to use OneNote for what it was actually designed for: Note taking and brainstorming.
By now, you’ll probably be able to see most of what OneNote is capable of. When you’re taking notes, you can insert screenshots, lists, text, tables, and images. You can even insert drawing elements like lines and arrows, which can make brainstorming a lot more visual. Each of these notes can then be organized however you see fit.
A Base for Everything
Storing all of this information and keeping it organized is all straightforward in OneNote. As shown, the amount of things you can actually keep track of within the app pretty much means you can run a large chunk of your life from one place.
By using some of the ideas above, you could easily go a lot further. You could keep a list of contacts, a gallery of business cards, a list of online subscriptions. Basically anything to want to empty from your mind can be dumped into OneNote for you to access at a time that’s convenient to you.
And for many of the apps that you don’t want to say goodbye to, OneNote might even be able to integrate with these to make those processes even simpler.
What else would you like to be able to store in OneNote?