OneNote is one of those Microsoft products that seems completely useless when you first start using it, but it isn’t until you actually make use of the product that it’s true value starts shining through. As a task and project management tool, Microsoft OneNote is one of the best tools out there.
Why not just use the Tasks feature in Microsoft Outlook, you ask? Well, there’s really no reason you can’t use both. Each have their place in your productivity toolbox, and they each compliment each other as well.
In this article, I’ll show you how you can integrate Microsoft Outlook tasks and Microsoft OneNote to better manage the complexities of the multiple projects you have going on in your life, or at work, at any given time.
Where Outlook Tasks Falls Short
I’ve used Tasks in Microsoft Outlook for many years. As a daily overview of everything you have to accomplish, nothing beats it. You’ve got due dates, task descriptions, and priorities available at a glance, and you can even categorize them into the specific projects you’re working on.
The biggest benefit to Tasks – its simplicity – is also its biggest drawback.
Although you have the ability to write notes when you open individual tasks, the features that are available within these notes are very limited.
Text is great, but what if you want to organize the many spreadsheets, documents, meeting notes, and the many other records that go along with working on these tasks?
What you need is a sort of folder or notebook where you can store all of that information for each task, organized with tabs, and available at your fingertips when you’re reviewing your tasks and deciding what to work on next.
Adding the OneNote Add-In to Outlook
Thankfully, you can do this with OneNote, since it integrates so perfectly with Microsoft Outlook (but unfortunately not with Outlook.com aka Hotmail). To do this from within Outlook, just click on File and then Options.
Along the left navigation menu, click on the Add-Ins link.
At the bottom of this page you’ll see a “Manage” field with a dropdown box. Select “COM Add-ins” and click on the Go button.
If you have OneNote installed on your computer–which you should, because OneNote is free--then you’ll see an Add-In here titled OneNote Notes about Outlook Items. Select the checkbox next to this, and then click OK.
Now you’ll discover “OneNote” icons all throughout Microsoft Outlook, but the one we’re most interested in is the one that now appears at the top of your Outlook Tasks page.
Now that you’ve integrated Microsoft OneNote with Outlook, it’s time to put it to work to get more productive. In the following section, I’ll show you how you can create notebooks for individual projects that you’ve got going on, and then how you can create new pages for managing tasks just by clicking the Microsoft OneNote button in Outlook Tasks.
Effective Task Management With OneNote and Outlook Tasks
First, open up OneNote and create a new Notebook just dedicated to Task Management.
Now inside the Task Management notebook, you can create new sections for each individual project that you’re currently working on.
All of the tasks in your Outlook Tasks page will typically fall under one project or another. Unfortunately, in Microsoft Outlook, it’s not as easy to visually organize these tasks by project. They all simply show up in a big, long list. There is the category to work with, but that’s just a column. Visually, the list looks quite intimidating.
But by adding sections in OneNote for each project, you’re creating this nice, clean visual layout that lets you organize all of your tasks visually into projects (which we’ll get to in a moment).
So, now that you’ve got OneNote set up with projects, you can start loading it up with Tasks as they come up.
Using Your New Task-to-OneNote Integration
Whether new tasks arise from an email your boss sends you, assignments provided by a project manager, or anywhere else, the process is the same; create the task in Outlook Tasks, highlight it (by clicking on the task) and then click the OneNote icon at the top of the Tasks page.
What happens when you do this is magic.
First, OneNote will ask you what section you want to place this new “page” into. This is where you select the Project where this task belongs.
Once you do that, OneNote will automatically import the Task from Microsoft Outlook into that OneNote section as a new page.
Basically, sections are projects, and pages are tasks. So with this setup in OneNote, all of your projects will be listed along the left navigation bar. As you click on a project, you’ll see all of the related tasks along the right side navigation bar.
Once you’ve used this setup for a few days, you’ll appreciate just how intuitive and clean it is. Even if you have 4 or 5 projects all going on at once, this setup allows you to focus right in on a specific project and see only the tasks associated with it, without all of the clutter of unrelated tasks.
Remember, OneNote is great for other types of projects too. Check out how you can use OneNote to create a personal wiki.
Keeping Task Records Organized
By bringing your tasks into OneNote, you provide a central space where everything related to that task can be organized. And the things that you can organize on your Task page in OneNote is impressive.
You can insert tables of data (or insert an actual Excel spreadsheet if you like), attach any kind of file, take screen clippings, insert pictures or scanned images, make audio recordings, and of course, add all the hyperlinks you like.
You could even create another to-do list within this individual task. What you organize in this space is completely up to you, but the point is that it allows you a centralized location to focus in on your task, without wasting time hunting through your directories for related files. Link everything here, and it’s all at your fingertips.
When you feel like Outlook and OneNote don’t quite cut it anymore, check out a more comprehensive project management tool like Asana.