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After OneNote went 100% free, a lot of people — including myself — ditched whatever note-taking app they were using and flocked over to experience what Microsoft had to offer. Most liked what they saw and never looked back.
The best thing about OneNote is that it’s packed full of features. And while alternatives like Evernote can say the same, only OneNote offers everything for free, and these features are its bread and butter. (Unless you’re on the Mac version of OneNote, which needs to catch up.)
But let’s look past the well-known aspects of OneNote — such as its wonderful to-do lists — and check out some of the deeper features you may have missed. If you aren’t on OneNote yet, these may just convince you to make the jump.
1. Quick Notes
OneNote is already pretty good when it comes to taking impromptu notes. At most, you just have to pick a notebook, pick a section, and create a new page using the provided button. But if you just need to jot a throwaway note, you should turn to the Quick Notes feature.
Quick Notes are like Post-It Notes: they’re separate, minimal note windows that act independently from the main OneNote window. They don’t belong to any particular notebook either. Instead, they just sit in a collection of Quick Notes, though you can move them if you want.
You can launch a new Quick Note even when OneNote is closed using the Windows + N keyboard shortcut. If you need to launch additional ones, use the Windows + Alt + N keyboard shortcut.
2. Page Templates
Another one of those features you should be using all the time in OneNote is the Page Template. To understand why Page Templates are so awesome, let’s look at examples of when they’d come in handy.
Maybe you’re the minute taker for your office meetings and you have a certain way you like to take those minutes. Or maybe you’re in a physics class and you like to organize your notes into text-based and equations-based. Or maybe you have a certain kind of checklist that you use for recurring project milestones.
Instead of recreating the layouts of those notes every time, you can set up a Page Template that you can invoke when creating new notes, which can save you a lot of time and energy. Check out our guide to OneNote templates for more details.
3. Custom Tags
OneNote’s system of organization is already really good with its notebook/section/page approach to notes, but you can get even more granularity by using tags. Tags are good for relating notes that exist across different sections or notebooks.
For example, I have a recipe notebook with a section for Lunches and a section for Dinner. I also have tags for Chicken, Beef, Pork, and Vegetarian which I can apply to notes in both Lunch and Dinner sections — and these tags come in handy when I need to search.
OneNote comes with a bunch of default tags (e.g. Important, To-Do, etc.) but you can create as many Custom Tags as you want. Make good use of this because it’s a lot more handy than you might first expect.
4. Internal Links
Another fantastic organizational feature of OneNote is the ability to create Internal Links, or clickable links that take you to other notebooks, sections, and pages. The larger your notebooks and the more notes you have, the more useful this feature becomes.
To create a link, just right-click on any tab — whether notebook, section, or page — and select the Copy Link option. Now all you have to do is paste it somewhere (we recommend typing out a phrase and converting it into a link afterwards).
But if you want to link a page, there’s an easier way. Just type [[, the name of the page verbatim, and then ]]. This will automatically convert it into an internal page link. Ever wanted OneNote to be more like a wiki? There you go!
5. Quick Access Toolbar
At the very top of the OneNote window along the title bar, if you look to the left, you’ll see a handful of shortcut buttons. These make up the Quick Access Toolbar, and the best part is that you can customize which buttons show up on it.
What can you add to it? Pretty much any action that you can make in OneNote. Everything from tagging notes to inserting meeting details, from changing font sizes to clearing all formatting. Seriously, it’s that useful.
If there are any actions that you frequently perform in OneNote, make your life easier by throwing them into the Quick Access Toolbar. You won’t regret it.
6. Docked Note-Taking
If there’s one thing that OneNote offers that alternatives like Evernote don’t, it’s the Docked Note-Taking feature. In short, you can dock OneNote to any side of the screen, which prevents all other windows from overlapping with it.
It’s useful because you can jot down notes while reading a PDF file or watching a video in another window without having to flip back and forth over and over. When used well, docking is one feature that can make OneNote a more productive tool than Evernote.
And to make it even easier to use, don’t forget to use the Ctrl + Alt + D keyboard shortcut to toggle the dock. In fact, while you’re at it, catch up on these useful OneNote shortcuts that everyone should know to really boost your productivity up a notch.
7. Version History
The final feature worth highlighting is the ability to view any note’s entire Version History. Indeed, every time you make changes to a note and save it, OneNote keeps track of the previous versions instead of completely overriding them.
Under the History tab in the Ribbon, you can use the Recent Edits menu to select a certain time period and see all of the changes made during that time. Unfortunately, this option only goes as far back as six months.
Or you could use the Page Versions menu to look at every single past version of the current page. Version histories take up data space, though, so OneNote allows you to delete any of them. You can also disable Page Versions on a per-notebook basis.
Which OneNote Feature Is Best?
These features are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to OneNote making your life more productive. In fact, OneNote can be useful for so many things, including simple project management and activities unrelated to note-taking.
That being said, we recognize that OneNote isn’t perfect for everybody. Check out our in-depth comparison of OneNote vs. Evernote to see which one is right for you. Either way, use the one that’s most effective for you.
Do you think these features are useful? Which one do you like best? Are there any others that we missed? Share with us in the comments below! We’d love to hear from you.