Updated by Tina Sieber on February 28, 2017.
OneNote is one of Microsoft’s most underrated apps. Not only can you jot down notes or keep to do lists, you can use a stylus to do it, convert handwritten notes to text, or organize your recipe collection. OneNote is available on almost every platform, making this ridiculously useful app even more relevant.
Although OneNote is available with good functionality on mobile devices, the tips below are mainly intended for running OneNote on Windows and macOS.
1. Managing Your Shopping List
Ever arrived at the supermarket and found that you forgot what you went for? Even on a paper-based list, it’s easy to forget things if you haven’t got a pen to mark them off.
Today, you can keep your shopping list on your phone. If you use OneNote, you can update it on your desktop and sync it to your phone before you head out. Thankfully, OneNote is available for Android, iOS, and Windows 10 Mobile.
Simply create a list on one device, select the items, right-click and select Tag as To Do to add check boxes. While you’re shopping, mark off items as you go – and look out for your significant other sneakily adding 12 bottles of wine to the list!
2. Managing Recipes in OneNote
If you’re a bit of a foody, then it might interest you how easy it is to manage recipes in OneNote.
You can approach this in different ways. Begin by creating a new section in your notebook and labelling it “Recipes”. You can use the camera on your mobile device to snap recipes in books and magazines or use the Print function in your browser (choosing OneNote as the printer) to add recipes to this new section, organizing them onto individual pages for each recipe, or perhaps each meal type.
For those using a device that recognizes handwriting, you can also use your finger or stylus to make notes on the recipe as you cook – perhaps a measurement has been printed incorrectly, or you need to make a temperature adjustment for your fan oven!
Remember that you can use custom tags to further organize your recipe collection.
3. OneNote as Your Newsreader
An amazing way of using OneNote is to adopt it as an extension of your newsreader app. It sounds pretty unlikely, but is made possible thanks to IFTTT, which has recently launched a OneNote channel. A number of different integrations are available, enabling many recipes, and we think that this is one of the best.
The recipe uses Feedly and enables you to set posts you enjoyed in the news reader app and set as favourite in OneNote. This is particularly useful as it saves you having to track back and find them later on, and of course OneNote will sync the content across devices, making it easy to find.
Use this button to get started:
Ryan previously wrote about another OneNote recipe for IFTTT that works with Reddit.
4. Use It as Your Media Player
Don’t have time to set up a playlist in iTunes, Xbox Music or whatever your chosen MP3 player is? Why not just play your favorite tunes through a OneNote page?
This is particularly useful if you’re working in OneNote, perhaps on a long collection of notes. All you need to do for this is find the MP3s in question by browsing Windows Explorer and drag and drop them into your OneNote page. From there, arrange them so they’re not in your way, and click play to begin listening.
Note that the MP3s will become part of the document while you work, and if you use OneDrive they’ll also be synced with the cloud, so you may want to avoid an unrealistically large file size by removing the tracks from OneNote when you’re done with the page.
5. Recording a Demo Tape
This is a variation on using OneNote for interviewing. If you’re a musician or singer songwriter and want an easy way to record tracks and keep all music, notes, chord changes and lyrics on the same screen, OneNote is a really good way to do this – and it lets you record at the same time!
After you have got everything you need to record the demo together, use Insert > Record Audio to record the song. Obviously this isn’t meant for demos intended for record companies or radio stations, rather those that you would produce to share with band mates and collaborators, or as a point of reference to develop your track further.
6. Manage an Interview with Text to Speech
For writers (or researchers) using the app’s recording facility is a must, and combined with the presence of text on the page, you can easily turn your OneNote running computer or Windows tablet into a device that will record questions as you ask them!
Prepare your interview by using OneNote to write your questions. When the interview commences, use the Insert > Record Audio (or Record Video) to begin recording the discussion. Transcribing the interview will then be much simpler as you can easily press play and pause the dialogue as you go. You might even use the Windows Speech Recognition tool to transcribe the interview as it takes place!
7. OCR: Converting Images to Text
Another of OneNote’s superb built in features is OCR, optical character recognition. This means that images (perhaps taken using your Windows Phone) are scanned and the text in the image captured and converted to text that you can edit in OneNote. What applications might there be for this?
Following on the suggestion above, you might wish to transcribe the contents of a historical document quickly so that you might share it with others researching similar records. Alternatively, you might use OCR as a quick note-taking tool – it’s particularly useful for writers who have kept press clippings about particular topics.
8. Scan & Manage Receipts
OCR can also prove useful for managing your scanned receipts. Everything that you add into OneNote is made searchable, which means that you should be able to easily find any receipt simply by entering a date, name of the item or store, or the value that was spent.
If you have a good reason to collect receipts (for expense claims, perhaps) then this functionality can help you save a lot of time looking for expenses that you wish to claim from your employer. Planning on trying this out? It’s a good idea to start a new section especially for receipts, and to group them by month-to-a-page.
9. Illustrate Your Family Tree
Whether you’re handy at using your mouse or you have a touchscreen device with an accurate stylus, a great use for OneNote is planning things out – in particular, the branches of a family tree. You might be learning about your family tree for the first time or be an experienced researcher in this field, but it’s always good to have something you can jot down and share instantly.
OneNote’s ability in taking down notes and illustrations makes it a great option for anyone wishing to create a quick outline of ancestry. However you might also go further, dedicated single pages to each individual in your tree where you can add notes and images as facts are uncovered.
10. Create an Instagram Photo Journal with IFTTT
A quick browse of the IFTTT OneNote channel (see above) will reveal a lot of useful automations, but one of the most effective is the creation of a photo journal using the images uploaded to your OneNote account. Each time you create a new photo in Instagram, it is synced to your OneNote notebook, enabling you to create a record of your images in a more accessible, browsable form.
The possibilities here are strong: you might convert the notebook into Word or PDF format (using File > Export) and then have the book printed using a POD solution such as Lulu or CreateSpace.
To do this, use the IFTTT Photo Journal recipe below:
Do You Have Unique Uses for OneNote?
We’ve given you a collection of very unusual uses for Microsoft OneNote, from using it as a newsreader to managing recipes, interviews, and receipts. The added dimension of IFTTT integration brings a lot more to the table.
Remember that using OneNote with Trello gives you even more productive ways to work.