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There’s just too much stuff on the Internet. And you need to save it somewhere.
The habit of filling a commonplace book could be a life-altering one. It could be a safe depot for your own creative ideas or those of others. It could be a stash of online clippings you come across or a cache of paperless receipts. It could be a place of learning or a place to return and remember everything. Microsoft OneNote can be all these and more.
You can be a pack-rat while collecting information, but you have to be pickier when sifting through what you need for learning or research. As Napoleon Hill said,
Knowledge, general in nature and unorganized, is not POWER; it is only potential power – the material out of which real power may be developed. Any modern library contains an unorganized record of all the knowledge of value to which the present stage of civilization is heir, but this knowledge is not power because it is not organized.
Taking better notes with OneNote starts with managing the cloudbursts of information from the far corners of the Web. So, launch Microsoft OneNote and set up a specific notebook for the topic you are researching or learning.
1. Make Pocket Your Central Hub
Read-It-Later services like Pocket can be universal capture devices. Save anything in one click with the Pocket extension on your browser or mobile. Though there is no official way to send your favorited links to OneNote from Pocket, you can fall back on a popular IFTTT recipe that does takes care of it.
Instead of saving ALL Pocket links to OneNote, use the recipe that adds “tagged” Pocket links to OneNote.
While this recipe uses a specific “onenote” tag, you can change it to any tag you want. I used “storytelling” to match it with the topic of the materials I am collecting.
Click Add and check the recipe once to make sure IFTTT saves the articles in a specific OneNote page. Like that, you can set up other OneNote IFTTT recipes to collect material from the Web automatically.
2. Collect with Feedly
RSS has been the biggest fishing net to catch information we want to read. But it is often too much of a catch-all. A better way to fight information overload is to cherry-pick the best information from your feeds and save it to OneNote.
Click the OneNote icon at the top of the article you want to save. When you sign into OneNote, the article is saved to your “Quick Notes” notebook. You can create a new section, but it does not yet show the notebooks already created as an option.
You can then move it to another notebook, edit, annotate, or share. The easy one-click feature also works in the Feedly mobile app. OneNote is cross-platform, too.
The slow syncing from OneNote Online to OneNote desktop is one of the two aggravating hiccups. The second? The inability to save the article to a notebook of your choice.
3. Use the Official OneNote Clipper
The official OneNote Clipper Chrome extension is the solution to note-taking laziness. On first use, sign-in with the account you use with Microsoft. You can clip any part of a webpage or the entire page, and file it away in a specific notebook or a section within it. Select a specific location because each capture creates a new page; so an uncontrolled clipping spree could create an organizational chaos.
You can view the capture in OneNote Online or OneNote desktop. The next time you clip something, Clipper remembers the location and clips to the same place. You can change the location anytime.
Try grabbing an image that you need to scroll down for. OneNote Clipper can grab the entire image and keep it as a single snapshot.
Alternative: There is the third-party Send to OneNote Chrome extension as well. You can clip part of a webpage or a whole page to OneNote from the right-click menu. It comes with three options:
I prefer OneNote’s own tools. There are enough options to fit into your knowledge capturing master plan.
4. Try OneNote Desktop and Screen Clipping
It’s easy to lose sight of this powerful desktop feature when we have such a variety of options. In the desktop version, trigger the screen clipper with the Windows Key + SHIFT + S keyboard shortcut. The screen grays out and a “+” pointer floats on the screen ready for your next action. Click and drag to make any section. Right-click to cancel.
The Select Location in OneNote dialog box opens up. You can send the screen clip to your desired page or copy it to the clipboard for pasting elsewhere.
Screen clippings can be a powerful tool when used with OneNote’s Optical Character Recognition feature.
5. Use the Share Sidebar with OneNote
The former Charms Bar in Windows 8.1 has given way to a new way of sharing. In Windows 10, native apps now have an action bar. Look for the “hamburger icon” at the top of the screen, which includes the Share button. Click that and the Windows 10 Share Charm tab slides into display from the right. A quicker way is to use the keyboard shortcut – Windows Key + H.
You can automatically save a screenshot in OneNote (the pre-installed Windows Store app and not the desktop version). This can then be synced to your OneNote 2016 desktop program.
Do read this Microsoft support page to understand the differences between OneNote and OneNote 2016.
6. Embed and Insert in OneNote
When everything else fails, OneNote’s own tools are the best options. And as we all have different learning styles, OneNote gives you more than one way to capture it all.
If you are trying to catch a lecture note or practicing a language, then use the Record Audio feature.
Go to the Ribbon > Insert > Record Audio. Once you’re finished recording, click Stop.
Note: OneNote Online supports audio recording in Edge, Chrome, and Firefox.
All those wonderful video learning resources on YouTube and you don’t know how to organize them into your notes? We had talked about the usefulness of Video Notes earlier. Start taking notes alongside saved videos and even involve others in collaborative learning sessions.
Use the Online Video button, to insert YouTube, Vimeo, and Office Mix content into your OneNote notebooks.
Go to the Ribbon> Insert > Online Video. In the next dialog, paste the URL of your YouTube, Vimeo, or Office Mix video, and then click OK.
Take notes next to the videos and supplement the information with other sources.
Note: OneNote Online does not support inserting online videos, yet. Microsoft says it is an expected feature.
Insert File Attachments
Where do you keep all that knowledge? Locked away in PDF files? Inside a folder? Why not insert and link to your OneNote pages where it might be needed the most?
You can store PowerPoint slides and PDF notes along with other formats with your notes. This gives you a quicker way to reference them instead of rummaging in the dark attic of your computer. Also, attached files are stored as part of their associated notebook. If you move a notebook to another location, any inserted files move with the notebook.
Go to the Ribbon> Insert > File Attachment.
If you want to keep the original formatting, inserting a File Printout places a picture of its contents on a page in OneNote. They work just like regular pictures – you can’t edit the file. You can resize them, draw to annotate on them, and move them around anywhere.
7. Save Your Kindle Notes
I read more than two-dozen books a year. Let’s say, you focus on reading specific books for a better grasp on your subject. A lot of information could get lost thanks to our problems with retention and recall.
Clippings.io has been a favorite for extracting Kindle highlights and keeping them organized somewhere. OneNote is something I am experimenting with for collecting information necessary to a topic I am learning. Clippings.io works seamlessly with Evernote, but OneNote is out-of-luck for an effortless export.
Fortunately, you can export your Kindle highlights in other formats and save them to the topic specific file. It’s just one step more.
Or, you can use the old way.
Log into your Amazon Kindle page. Click on Your Books on the top of the page.
Go to Your Highlights. Scroll down to the book whose highlights you want to capture into OneNote.
Now, you have three options: You can copy and paste the highlights into OneNote, which is more clean-cut. You can use OneNote to do a screen clipping. Or you can use the Send to OneNote printer driver to print the page to OneNote.
8. Use Quick Notes for Quick Jots
Microsoft OneNote can be used for rapid Post-It style note-taking, even if the OneNote desktop program isn’t open. You can use it to capture random thoughts from a book you are reading or a creative idea which you may want to go back to later.
Press the Windows Key + N keyboard shortcut key and type your note in the small note window. To open additional Quick Notes after OneNote running, press Windows Key + ALT + N on your keyboard.
Look through all the saved notes in the Quick Notes section of your notebook. You can then file them away to other parts of your notebooks or keep them there. To move a page, right-click the page tab, choose Move or Copy, and follow the prompts.
9. Make Pictures with Office Lens
There’s a lot of information beyond the click and grasp of your computer or browser. The hoard of riches in your public library, for instance. Dig up books on the topic you are trying to master. Also, paper notes, whiteboards, class lecture notes, or a newspaper article.
The Office Lens “pocket scanner” is one of the better ways to take notes with OneNote in such situations. Capture with a click and take advantage of OneNote’s OCR functions to organize the information from your scans neatly into your notes.
Office Lens is available for Windows Phone, Android, and iOS.
Unite All Your Insights in OneNote
The purpose of any one of these methods is to collect. But the task of collecting knowledge is too huge to leave to one single tool. It takes a combination of methods to collate and organize information neatly.
OneNote gives you an organizational structure with notebooks, sections, and pages. It behaves like a physical notebook on steroids. You can set up OneNote templates for more efficient note-taking.
For example, you can collect stuff around a customized lesson plan template. You can make a shared notebook for collective learning. You can collate everything into a neat training resource kit for yourself and others in your team.
You can use The Feynman Technique to explain things to yourself and plug the learning gaps. While you are at it, use the Record Video button to see yourself explain a concept on the screen. Record and embed audio to be guides for the lessons. You can flag specific notes with review tags.
It might not be a bad idea to take another page out of Richard Feynman’s “Notebook Method” and break down the complicated to the simpler.
As my friend Rob explained with the example of Charles Darwin, there’s a lot we can do to improve our note taking skills. There is no magic to it. Just a lot of discipline and good note taking habits.
How do you use Microsoft OneNote as an information gatherer in this data dense age? Which is the save to OneNote feature you use above all else? Do you have a special method or a routine which we can all learn from?