Do you take your notes in Word and keep dozens (hundreds?) of individual documents on a network drive…or worse, your desktop? If you need to find a critical piece of information, do you find yourself opening and closing file after file until you find the right meeting notes? Please. Stop. Taking. Notes. In. Word.
Holy Grail of Organization
If your company offers Microsoft OneNote, I cannot recommend strongly enough that you use it. If they don’t offer it, do what you can to gain access to it and bookmark this post to review later. There was a very smart, experienced woman on one of my teams who had tried OneNote in the past and given up on it but, after I showed her just some of what the tool is capable of and began integrating it into our project work, she claimed that it changed her life. A week wouldn’t go by without her thanking me for showing her OneNote; she actually started using it at home. True story!
Everything in One Place
The structure of OneNote is awesome, allowing you to keep all of your notes for everything you do in one place. No more saving off individual Word documents for notes, meeting minutes, etc.! OneNote’s structure follows an outline/folder structure that allows you to organize your notes as granular as you’d like under broad topics using Notebooks → Section Groups → Sections → Pages → Sub-Pages
How you organize your OneNote will depend, of course, on your industry and role, but here is an example of how I have mine set up for team meeting agendas/notes. They are located in the shared Team notebook (more on sharing below), in the Team Meetings section of the General section group, with a blank page for each month (for organization purposes and to allow for collapsing of prior months’ notes pages) and a sub-page for each weekly team meeting agenda and notes.
Screenshots are a Snap
OneNote has functionality built in that allows you to easily take a screenshot of a particular area of your screen(s) and copy that image to the clipboard for use in OneNote, Outlook, Word, Paint, etc. There is no need to use a separate program – simply key Windows + S!
Easily Find What You’re Looking For
Keeping all of your notes in OneNote means you should never have to spend more than a minute or two looking for a particular piece of information. OneNote allows you to conduct your search within the open page, the section containing the open page, the section group containing that section, the open notebook, or through all notebooks. If you take a screenshot of some text and store it in OneNote, you can even right-click on that image to make the text in the image searchable.
How many times have you tried to open a document on a network folder, only to be told that someone else is currently has it open (whether they’re actively working on it or left it open before going home for the day is anyone’s guess)? Brace yourself: OneNote files can be stored on network drives and accessed and edited real-time by multiple people simultaneously. The only time I’ve ever seen an issue arise because of this is when two people attempt to edit text on the same line at the same time and, even then, OneNote makes the discrepancy obvious and easy address.
You can easily invite others to join a OneNote by sending them a link to the file or, if you just want to send the content of one page, you can easily do that by clicking the ‘Email Page’ button (which creates an email with the content of the page in the body of the message along with an attachment of the page itself). If you have some sensitive information in a shared OneNote, you easily password-protect notebooks, section groups, sections, or pages,.
Meeting agendas are a snap in OneNote, especially if your meetings follow a repeatable agenda. Simply create the agenda and set that page as the template for that section – whenever you create a new page, your agenda template is there for easy alterations (details here). Using the To Do Tag makes tracking meeting attendance a breeze – simply add the attendees to the page template and flag them all as To Do’s, checking the box during each meeting they attend.
Flagging Important Notes
OneNote has customizable Tags built in that allow you to easily flag follow-up questions, emails, tasks, owners, etc. Using the ‘Find Tags’ function, you can create a grouped list of everything you’ve tagged in a specific group of pages or timeframes. More detail on tags can be found here. You can also easily flag tasks within OneNote (apart from the integration with Outlook I mentioned in post #4) for easy tracking of sub-tasks among you and/or your team.
Saving and Displaying Files in OneNote
While you may still find it useful to store most of your documents in a network folder, you can store files directly in OneNote, as well. This is especially useful if you and your team are working on a draft that should not yet be widely accessible. You can also ‘print to OneNote‘ and view the content of a file (email, Word doc, etc.) directly on the page, with the text easily searchable!
Tables and Spreadsheets
OneNote has functionality built in to very easily create tables on the fly. With the 2013 version, they’ve beefed up options for these tables and incorporated integration with Excel, allowing you to save and view a spreadsheet within a page (details here). This program just keeps getting better!
Okay, enough raving about OneNote (though there are tons of other cool pieces of functionality available!) – let’s start talking about how to address the biggest productivity killer of them all…let’s talk about how to Run Effective Meetings…