OneNote is the perfect note-taking app, available on all your devices, and even the most advanced features, like OCR and notebook sharing, are free. But when you lay all your eggs in one basket, how can you be sure they won’t get corrupted? OneNote won’t let you down.
Here we show you how OneNote handles notebooks, how backups are managed, and how you can restore even deleted notes.
How to Save OneNote Files
Like all proper “always online” applications, OneNote doesn’t feature a save button. Files are automatically cached, saved, and synced on a pre-defined schedule. Per default, OneNote saves your notebooks to OneDrive or — if you choose to create a local notebook (which is not available on OneNote for Mac) — your Windows Documents folder. You can change both the default save location and the location of individual notebooks.
To change the default location, go to File > Options > Save & Backup and Modify… the Default Notebook Location. You can also select new locations for your Quick Notes Section and the Backup Folder. Click OK in the bottom right to save your changes.
To change the location of an individual notebook, right-click the notebook name while it’s open or go to File > Info and click the Settings button next to the respective notebook. Choose Properties, click Change Location…, and Select a new folder destination. Note that Notebook Properties is also where you can rename your notebook’s Display name or change its Color.
Sync Your Notes
When you’re logged into OneNote with your Microsoft account, your notes are automatically saved and synced to OneDrive, unless you saved them locally. You can manually trigger syncing like this:
- Press SHIFT + F9 while you’re working in a notebook.
- Right-click the open notebook’s name and select Sync This Notebook Now.
- Under File > Info, click the Settings button and select Sync.
Sometimes, it can take a while for a notebook to sync, for example if you imported a multi-page document or have made many complex changes since the last synchronization. You can check the progress here:
- Click the View Sync Status button in the top right under File > Info.
- While inside a notebook, right-click the notebook name and select Notebook Sync Status…
In the Shared Notebook Synchronization window shown above, you can sync any of your other open notebooks by clicking the Sync Now button next to the respective notebook or make them sync by clicking the Sync All button.
Stop Notebook Synchronization
When you’re working on a shared notebook, you may want to work in private, without anyone seeing your draft. Previous versions of OneNote had a Work Offline feature, but this has been removed. In the latest version of OneNote (Office 2016), you can choose to Sync manually by selecting the respective option under Shared Notebook Synchronization mentioned earlier. You’ll have to remember to switch back to automatic syncing again.
Once you open a notebook stored on OneDrive, which requires synchronization to load, you can enable individual sync by clicking the respective notification.
The only way to permanently stop OneNote from syncing to OneDrive, is to store all your notebooks locally and log out of your Microsoft account. Go to File > Info > Account and click Sign out.
If you prefer working with another cloud service, like Dropbox or Google Drive, you can change the notebook’s save location to that service’s folder on your computer.
OneNote can automatically back up your notebooks in intervals between 1 minute to 6 weeks. We recommend to set the automatic backup to at least once a day. To change this setting, go to File > Options > Save & Backup and choose your preferred interval from the drop-down menu. Confirm your changes by clicking OK.
You can also use the respective buttons to Back Up Changed Files Now or Back Up All Notebooks Now.
Recover Deleted Notes & Restore Backups
Your backups are stored in individual folders for each notebook. You can browse to the storage location on your disk drive and open the .one files to access your notebook’s sections (tabs). It’s easier, though, if you use the Open Backups shortcut provided in the top right under File > Info.
When you open a section from your backups, it will reside in the temporary Open Sections notebook. Like Open Sections, you may discover a Misplaced Sections notebook, which may happen when you work on a section while someone else deletes it. From there, you can copy the section to one of your regular notebooks. Right-click the section, select Move or Copy…, pick an open notebook from the list, and click Copy.
Note that the destination notebook needs to be open and displayed in the All Notebooks list.
Delete a Notebook
OneNote wasn’t designed to let you delete any of your notebooks easily. In fact, the desktop version has no delete option for notebooks at all. Before you attempt to delete a notebook, right-click its name in OneNote and select Close This Notebook.
To delete a locally saved notebook, browse to the respective location on your computer and delete the entire notebook folder. To delete a notebook stored in OneDrive, head to your OneDrive folder on the Web, find the OneNote file (typically under Documents), right-click it, and select Delete.
Note that you can delete individual sections from your notebooks (right-click the section and click Delete), but a copy will be kept in the OneNote_RecycleBin folder for 60 days. To access those backups, open the notebook, right-click its name, and select Notebook Recycle Bin.
Once you’re done viewing those files, you can remove them; right-click a section and select Empty Recycle Bin.
May All Your Notes Always Be with You
When you aren’t afraid to store your notes online, OneNote and its multiple layers of online (=offsite) storage and local backups have you covered when disaster strikes with. For 60 days you can even go back and restore what you deleted yourself. If you diligently sync your notebooks, you should never lose a single thought you recorded in OneNote.
Have you ever accidentally deleted or lost anything in OneNote? Let us know how you were able to restore it or how you managed to break all of OneNote’s precautions.