6 Tips for Using OneNote as Your To-Do List

Rahul Saigal Updated 30-11-2019

A to-do list 3 Types of Lists That Actually Help You Be More Productive To-do lists are the ultimate productivity weapon. These to-do lists could give you all the power you need to get things done. Read More can be a great way of ensuring you’re making progress in day-to-day tasks. Setting up a to-do list in Microsoft OneNote is straightforward and offers several advantages as compared to pen and paper.


OneNote is available on all your devices and allows you to search for important tasks quickly. If you tag the to-do’s, then OneNote compiles all the tagged notes for easy access, lookup, and printout. That’s just one basic benefit. We’ll show you some more easy tips to make an actionable list in OneNote to get your work done on time.

1. Use Shortcuts to Make OneNote Checklists a Breeze

A to-do tag adds a checkbox next to the note. You can use it to mark pending activities and check them off when they’re complete. You can also use it for making a checklist for errands or daily tasks you need to do 7 Daily Tasks You Didn't Know You Could Automate in a Few Minutes There are many things you can automate now that will save you time and allow you to focus on other things. We give you seven things you can automate right now with the right tools. Read More .

Just highlight some text and press Ctrl + 1 to pair it with a checkbox. You can combine this shortcut with some other tags too. Press Ctrl + 2 to add a star, Ctrl + 3 to add a question mark, and more.

If the preset tags don’t meet your needs, you can assign a custom tag and assign it with a keyboard shortcut. You don’t have to search or click through the lengthy tag menus.

add a tag to checklist in OneNote


In OneNote Desktop 2016, click the Home tab, and select Customize Tags. From the dialog box that appears, move your tag up in the list until it is one of the top nine. OneNote for Windows 10 lets you create custom tags but does not allow you to modify the existing tags.

customize the tag dialog box in OneNote

2. Embed Your Files in OneNote

When you’re working on a project, it’s easy to lose track of what things you should complete to finish the project. In a disorganized computer, you further waste time searching for your files. OneNote lets you embed files directly into your notes.

In OneNote for Windows 10, go to Settings > Options then toggle the Store attachments in cloud option. When you attach a file in OneNote page, it uploads the file to OneDrive and inserts a link to that file. In the case of Word document, OneNote will display a live preview of the Office document. You can also see changes made to the file in real time.


cloud attachment in OneNote for Windows 10

For all other document types, the attachment will display a link. If the document is a PDF, you can annotate your documents right in the OneDrive, and your changes will sync to OneNote.

Once you embed your files, create a to-do list and start working on your document. You’ll never forget things, and the latest copy will always be there in OneNote.

make a todo list along with attached files


3. Create a Kanban Board in OneNote

If you’re trying to handle a multitude of tasks by yourself and have trouble prioritizing them, then the Kanban method How to Manage Your Tasks Using the Japanese Kanban Technique Here's how to use the Japanese project management technique of Kanban to optimize your workflow in a group or solo. Read More should work for you. With Kanban, you can break complex tasks into smaller steps and lay them out visually. You can understand progress on your tasks, issues they’re facing, and establish the room for improvements.

At first, we’ll create three columns—Project, Task, and Priority. Think of the table as a center point for all your tasks. Design it in a way that makes sense for you. Open a new page and name it “My Board.”

Type the first column, press tab, and turn it into a table. Type the next column and repeat the steps. Perform these steps until you create three tables—To Do, This Week, and Archive.

create a Kanban board in OneNote


Once you finish a task, hover your mouse just to the left of the row to reveal an anchor. With your mouse, click and drag the row between tables. You can also add an attachment to the column cell and insert a link to different pages for more details on the task.

move your tasks in OneNote like a Kanban flow

Kanban Template by Auscomp

If you don’t want to waste time in creating and managing a Kanban template, there’s a readymade template by Auscomp. This template implements all the best practices from Kanban. The board has multiple columns—Backlog, Next, In Progress, Focus, and more.

Organize your tasks and to-do’s visually, then just drag-and-drop tasks to other columns. The pro version of this template lets you customize the columns and remove the company logo.

Kanban template by Auscomp

For other types of templates, check out these sites that let you download OneNote templates The 6 Best Sites to Download Microsoft OneNote Templates A Microsoft OneNote template can help you organize your life. Grab these ready-made OneNote templates from these websites. Read More of all kinds.

4. Turning a OneNote To-Do List Into Pages

OneNote 2016 offers a useful feature that lets you instantly turn a list of items into individual pages. Each task gets assigned to a separate page in your notebook. Create your task list, right-click and select Link to pages from the context menu.

turn todo list into different pages in OneNote

OneNote will instantly create new, empty pages in the current section. Each page will have the item’s content as its page title. At the same time, list items get converted to internal links, pointing to the corresponding pages. Note that this feature only appears on the context menu of lists.

5. Experiment With OneNote View Options

The standard OneNote view does a great job of presenting various notebooks, sections, and pages without overloading you with information. If you’re maintaining a to-do list, OneNote full-screen view does not use the display space efficiently. Even the normal view does not offer much help to keep your focus.

You can dock the OneNote window so that it sits on top of all the other apps. Click the View tab and choose Dock to Desktop. When you’re working on a task in another app, you can quickly glance back and forth between the two open windows, copy-and-paste links to your tasks, and more.

dock to desktop in OneNote

Alternatively, you could use a custom desktop shortcut to directly start OneNote in docked mode. Just add “/docked” to “ONENOTE.EXE.” The path will look like

Files (x86)\Microsoft Office\root\Office16\ONENOTE.EXE /docked

Depending on the drive and folder wherein Microsoft Office 2016 is installed, you may have to change the path. “Office 2016” becomes “Office15” if you’re using Office 2013. As of now, OneNote for Windows 10 does not have this feature.

dock to desktop shortcut in windows 10

6. Filter Your OneNote To-Do’s in Summary Page

Once you’ve tagged many items in your OneNote pages, you’ll want to use the Find Tags feature to get an overview of your to-do list. Click the Home tab, then select Find Tags. The newly created Tag Summary Page contains all tags listed on the Tags Summary task pane.

filter your todo summary in OneNote

If you wish to know which tasks are left, check Show only unchecked items. To search in specific sections, notebooks, or all notebooks, click the Search dropdown arrow and choose where you want to search for tags.

Get to Know More OneNote Tricks

We often get carried away with productivity systems and the promising features of to-do list apps. Your task management becomes an excessive activity and an excuse for procrastination. OneNote is a powerful tool. You can mold it any way you want. Of course, in a crunch, even a barebones writing app like Notepad or WordPad Notepad vs. WordPad: What's the Difference Between Text Editors? Wondering what Notepad and WordPad are for, how they differ, and if they're worth using? Find out in this overview. Read More can help you get your thoughts and tasks in order.

Although OneNote lacks certain task management features, the tips discussed in this article will help you to make your own productivity system with OneNote. If you want to know more, read this article on the best OneNote features you haven’t tried yet. And check out how to create a personal wiki with OneNote.

Should OneNote not quite cut it for you, try out another tool from the same company: Microsoft To-Do is a comprehensive task management tool 10 Tips to Turn Microsoft To-Do Into a Serious Task Manager Microsoft To-Do has improved immeasurably. Use these tips to take a second look and turn it into a powerful task manager. Read More .

Related topics: Microsoft OneNote, Note-Taking Apps, To-Do List.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. Michael
    February 9, 2019 at 1:54 am

    Love the Tag Summary in OneNote 2016, too bad they didn't implement that feature in OneNote for Windows.

  2. PowerPoint Templates
    January 25, 2019 at 5:50 am

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  3. Paul
    April 2, 2018 at 7:48 pm

    If you have bulleted list and you want to add a tag, how do you keep the list together in the "Tags Summary"? For example (assume # = the to do box and * is a first level bullet and @ is the second level) if I have the following list:
    * # Groceries
    @ # milk
    @ # apples
    Will show up in your Tags Summary list as :
    # apples
    # milk
    I understand this isn't the best example as some will say why do you need that but that isnt the point. In the Tags Summary, for To Do it should show:
    # Groceries
    @ # milk
    @ # apples

  4. Sharon Stewart
    November 24, 2016 at 5:11 am

    I apparently missed something as I could not locate how to save and backup files. I am missing notes and I must find. What is the best way to locate all notes and notebooks?

  5. Veerle Ultee
    September 24, 2016 at 10:29 am

    Is there a way to automatically collect all lines with an unchecked checkbox in front of it into a separate page/ section. To create an overall to do list across different pages, sections and even notebooks? That would really be helpful and replace my Wunderlist to-do-app. Ideally if a checkbox gets checked, whether it is in the note itself or on the overall list, it should be checked in both places and disappear from the overall todo list.

    • Tyler
      September 29, 2016 at 6:34 pm

      Just rid myself of Wunderlist by finding this exact feature :)

      On the home tab, click "Find Tags". It will create a window to the right. Select "Show only unchecked items". You can then click the "Create Summary Page" that will give you a list of all the unchecked to dos.

      Hope this helps

      • Veerle Ultee
        October 1, 2016 at 12:45 pm

        No "find tags" on my home tab I'm afraid... (not on Mac desktop app, nor on online version). The feature as you describe it sounds perfect indeed...

        • Rick Cobb
          October 19, 2016 at 3:22 am

          I too would like to have ON "sweep" my notes which contain checkboxes in order to create a consolidated to-do list. Were you able to figure out how to do this? I do not have "find tags" on my home tab either (using ON on iPad).

    • Rob
      October 20, 2016 at 3:25 pm

      Yes, from the Home Ribbon, click on find tags. You can choose to view say just "Unchecked tags". That the bottom of the Tag Summary you can search unchecked tags for all notebooks, specific notebooks or sections or by time, like yesterday , etc. The drop down mean gives multiple sorting options. For simplicity say you choose All Notebooks. Then two boxes down you simple click "Create Summary Page". A new page will be created in the current notebook you are viewing showing all unchecked tags. I suggest if you like this feature, then do your tag search in a notebook or section where you would like your tag summary stored. This way you have a To Do section and each morning you can create a summary of unchecked tags. Within the summary page, when you click to the left of each tag a One Note logo will appear when you hover the mouse just to the left of the unchecked tag, when you click the Onenote icon it will bring you to the specific note. This is a very powerful feature of One Note. If you are leaving your office you can simple print the page for quick reference your view on your mobile device. I hope this helps.

  6. Alex
    July 22, 2016 at 9:41 pm

    I am curious as to why you use bullet points for your lists... I just press tab to indent.

  7. Dubs
    July 18, 2016 at 7:02 am

    The OneNote desktop client is way, way better than the Windows Store client.

  8. corky
    June 13, 2016 at 11:30 pm

    thanks -- for this intro but i need a more precise play by play on how to make and use the to do list...argh.

  9. Noneya
    March 7, 2016 at 3:04 pm

    No use if there are not instructions on how to use features!

  10. Dave
    January 18, 2016 at 12:36 am

    Can I create an outlook task using Onenote for Android?

  11. mp
    November 27, 2015 at 1:33 pm

    I clipped this article into Evernote!

  12. Hildegerd
    May 21, 2015 at 11:28 am

    I hate OneNote.
    I want Springpad back.

    • Anonymous
      June 17, 2015 at 1:09 pm

      You should try Evernote. Its more usefull than Springpad.

      By the way, I use OneNote.

    • Anonymous
      August 25, 2015 at 4:04 am

      My poor Blue Eyes... :-(

  13. Chas
    May 21, 2015 at 4:15 am

    I use OneNote docked while attending online training. I can not only add organized pages of notes, but also make checklists of things to test later plus lists of after-action items. I also added tiles of three notebook pages on my Windows Phone start screen. One is our family weekly shopping list. I added all the normal items we buy, then check the ones we need to buy as the week goes on.

  14. Iaccobvs
    May 20, 2015 at 7:01 pm

    I would like Onenote to add a category-based tagging system, like the ones we find in wiki-like software (Connected Text comes to mind). It would make data structuring much more useful.

  15. WinDork
    May 20, 2015 at 4:32 pm

    I have to give OneNote another chance. I had issues with parent-child management that compelled me to seek alternatives. But I appreciate the features of the app, which I consider comprehensive compared to some other productivity apps.

  16. Jay
    May 20, 2015 at 3:37 pm

    The OneNote extension for Chrome has proven it's merits! It allows you to crop and save and save text from articles.

    • Anonymous
      June 17, 2015 at 1:10 pm

      Last update of this extension is very good. I like it more now.

  17. Eileen
    May 20, 2015 at 2:03 pm

    Good article. I use OneNote all the time and love it device independence via OneDrive. I manage several To-Do lists in my OneNote so your tips were [particularly relevant. BTW, there is a OneNote for Android phones, too. I use it daily.