12 Ways to Run Your Life Like a Boss With OneNote

Rob Nightingale 06-09-2016

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 By default, they become too arduous to keep on top of, and quickly become outdated.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 How to Use OneNote Like a World Famous Scientist Charles Darwin would have loved OneNote. He was an avid note-taker who recorded everything he observed. Here's how he might have used OneNote to organize his work and move his research forward. Read More 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 12 Little-Known Microsoft OneNote Features You Will Love Microsoft OneNote is free and packed with features. Here are some little features to boost your note-taking productivity! Read More .

That’s not to say it’s perfect. The Mac version of OneNote 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.

OneNote Organization Example Screenshot

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 To-Do List App Showdown: vs Todoist vs Wunderlist Some to-do list apps stand head and shoulders above the rest. But how do they compare and which one is best for you? We'll help you find out. Read More , but OneNote can also double up as a respectable choice.

To Do List Onenote Example Screenshot

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.

Fitness Log OneNote Example Screenshot

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 10 Excel Templates To Track Your Health and Fitness Read More 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 How to Use Microsoft OneNote for Project Management OneNote is the ideal collaboration tool for managing simple projects in small teams. And it's completely free. See how OneNote can help your projects take off! Read More 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 in OneNote 6 Tips for Using OneNote as Your To-Do List Are you making the most of your OneNote to-do list? Apply our tips for better OneNote checklists. Read More , 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 How to Use OneNote Templates: Everything You Need to Know OneNote templates are essential for true productivity. Here's all you need to know to edit and create your own OneNote templates. Read More 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.

Finance Tracking in OneNote Mobile App Example Screenshot

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.

Goal Setting OneNote Example Screenshot

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 Start this Simple Habit to Rocket Your Productivity: Journaling Journaling is an underrated career tool and a core habit of many successful people. From increasing productivity, to maintaining accountability, we explore why you should consider introducing journaling as a productivity tool into your workday. Read More 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 How to Use Evernote as a Bullet Journal The bullet journal is a simple productivity system that really works. Here's how to turn Evernote into a bullet journal! Read More , or a video journal on Snapchat Could Snapchat Be the Best Way to Keep a Private Journal? Thanks to a new feature called Snapchat Memories, the social media sharing app could be the best kind of private journal. If you've never found a reason to use Snapchat, this might be it. Read More . 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 How to Jumpstart a Journaling Habit with 7 Simple Templates If you have a journaling template, you have a big advantage: you don't have to figure out what to write! Templates are time-savers and they also reduce the friction of starting. Read More .

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 35 Classic Novels You Can Read for Free on Your Kindle There's a treasure trove of free, out-of-copyright books available on to download to your Kindle right now. Here are our recommendations for classic novels you should be reading... Read More , and bands you want to listen to. Instead of having these scattered around your hard drive, why not import them into OneNote?

Master Lists OneNote Example Screenshot

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 How to Easily Organize & Remember All the Life Hack Tips You Read We forget things if we don't repeat them. That's bad news for the endless words of wisdom we read every day. The good news is that forgetfulness can be beaten. Read More . To help with this, there are some useful OneNote integrations you can use to keep track of all that content.

OneNote Integrations With IFTTT Feature Example

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:

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.

Social Integrations OneNote With IFTTT Feature Example

For example, you can have all of your Instagram photos saved to OneNote, and even have all photos of you on Facebook saved to one of your notes.

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.

Checklists in Onenote Feature Example Screenshot

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.

Basic OneNote Overview Screenshot Example

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. For instance, check out ways to use OneNote with Trello for better productivity 6 Ways to Use Trello and OneNote Together for Better Productivity Want to a different way to organize your information? Try these unique ways to make Trello and Microsoft OneNote work together. Read More .

What else would you like to be able to store in OneNote?

Related topics: IFTTT, Microsoft OneNote, Note-Taking Apps, Organization Software, Project Management, To-Do List.

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  1. Don Ebberts
    September 9, 2017 at 4:09 pm

    I like OneNote and use it for a lot of things. For at least 30 years my wife and I have used a standard list for the grocery store. It has all the items we use and is laid out in the order of the store. We put a check next to items when we need them and then complete it before going on our shopping trips.
    For years this hung on our refrigerator in paper form, then we transitioned to EverNote and now ON. One annoyance and one wish.
    EverNote allowed me to clear all the checkboxes with one click. In ON this is done one check box at a time. With the structure of our list, I can't Select All and then change the boxes.
    The wish is for easy sorting within a note.
    Other than that, we have been very happy with it.
    Good article, thank you.

    • Rob Nightingale
      September 18, 2017 at 2:17 pm

      Thanks, Don! I hope they add this feature for you, soon!

  2. snalmond
    September 13, 2016 at 3:34 pm

    The layout MUO now uses for full articles that includes "interrupting links"... there are 10 in this article, I believe... make the reading experience unpleasant for me. I would much prefer to read the article through and then get to a list of links at the end. As it is, I have to consciously "jump over" the interrupting links to complete the article. Please reconsider the layout and and remove the "interruptions" to make the reading experience less laborious.

    • Rob Nightingale
      October 7, 2016 at 5:42 pm

      Thanks for the feedback, though I'm afraid I have no say over the layout of the site!

  3. Business User
    September 12, 2016 at 1:44 am

    First of all I am not affiliated with any software company.
    As a self-educated power user I have tried/used tons of note taking software. OneNote really has powerful features like "object contanier" and "formatting" options but from GUI view, I have found it having most weird GUI (user interface) ever among other rivals according my experience. Someone or specifically students can use it but not for my business needs.
    Let me shortly analyse the GUI flow;
    1- On the top of the left side selectable "Notebooks" stack,
    2- "Tabs" next to notebooks (You can call them "Main Topics"),
    3- Then "Pages" under each tab,
    A- If "one" topic goes for multi-purpose where will I put it? Will I put it under multiple "tabs"? Or in the "multiple" pages? Will I combine pages or tabs?! or something else?
    B- How convenient is for users, to browse information within tabs then under within pages?
    C- If the number of the "pages" under the "tabs" increase for some reason how will I browse the information? Will I continously scroll for "pages" list to remember the subjects?
    D- In a daily business life how will I spare some time to review/organize/tidy-up my notes according to OneNote way?
    Shouldn't it be easier just organize the information with "Tags" instead of these bulky stuff?

  4. Chris
    September 7, 2016 at 12:28 pm

    Actually it's Kanban not Kaizen.

    • Chris (another one)
      May 26, 2017 at 3:20 pm

      Kaizen means smallest steps. KANBAN means signal. Kaizen is correct.

      • Rob Nightingale
        May 28, 2017 at 5:03 pm

        I hope we don't all fall out over this :P

      • Not Chris
        March 2, 2018 at 5:24 pm

        A Kanban board moves tasks left to right. Kaizen is a process of continual improvement. I was very confused at the use of a "Kaizen" to describe a kanban board. In fact I went to Google to see what I had missed. After coming up empty, I would have to agree with the first Chris: The appropriate term for what is being described is Kanban.