Getting organized in a digital age

I’ve always been a visual learner. Couple that with a diminished capacity to remember anything other than which son likes cheese and which prefers vanilla yogurt over blueberry, and I tend to forget anything that I haven’t written down. Hearing it isn’t enough, I need to see the words to take it in. Better yet, see the words and visualize the scenario or object in my head – then it’s in the vault.

For years I carried around paper notebooks of various sizes and shapes. These helped me remember things, although having to flip through them to refer back to the details I had written was always bothersome. Oddly enough, it wasn’t until I left Microsoft and started my new job with Compugen that I fully embraced a digital solution. Sure, I had dabbled in OneNote while at Microsoft but I never gotten into it for my own personal day to day work.

However, in my new role I attend a lot of meetings. A *lot* of meetings. Many of these are customer meetings and so I quickly adopted OneNote as my go to tool for keeping track of who attended, which customer it was about and the salient points for later recall. And from there, I started adding to and organizing my digital notebook into something that makes sense and works really well for me.

So now I’m a OneNote junkie who can’t function without it. I live in it every day. However, whenever I’ve espoused the wonders of OneNote to others in the past, I’ve always been aware that there are free tools like Evernote that do an ok job too. They may not be as feature rich as OneNote, but hey they’re free – that’s hard to compete with. Until now!

This week, Microsoft made a few exciting announcements:

  1. OneNote is now a free download – yay!
  2. OneNote is now available for the Mac. So now it doesn’t matter if you are on a PC, Mac, Windows tablet, Windows phone, iPad, iPhone, Android or using a web browser. You can use OneNote and each device will always be in sync.
  3. There is a cloud API for OneNote which means that OneNote apps can be created in the cloud, compared to add-ins which are installed and used locally on each OneNote installation.

If you’re looking to try it out or you’re already using OneNote and would like some ideas of how to use it better, I’ll share how I do it. This may not be the best method for everyone but it definately keeps me sane.

I keep one notebook for work and one for personal activities (vacation planning, shopping lists, volunteer work, etc.) and save both to OneDrive so that I can access them from anywhere. I’ve organized my work one by types of meetings – customer meetings, 1:1 meetings with my manager, meetings with partners, etc., and activities – event notes, blog ideas, etc. Below is a screen shot of my Compugen notebook opened to the Blog tab, where I jot down and develop ideas to write about on the corporate blog (click for larger image).

Screenshot of my OneNote workbook

Along the right hand side are the titles of each idea, but also there is a Submitted page, with several blog idea pages as subpages under it.  I can show or hide subpages as needed. On my customer tab (which I can’t post here for obvious reasons!), this allows me to have a main page for each customer with sub-pages organized by date underneath for each meeting or conversation about that customer.

One more thing I have to show you. For any free form folks reading this, OneNote also works great with a stylus. Here is an example of an intense brainstorming team meeting I participated in. As most doodlers know, far from being distracting, doodling can help focus concentration and increase retention so every once in a while, I break out my stylus and go to town!

OneNote Doodle

Any other OneNote aficionados out there that would like to share how they use it? I’d love to hear your methods, tips or tricks.

13 Responses to Getting organized in a digital age
  1. Anne Ogletree Reply

    Wow! I love your doodling. There’s a wealth of quilting designs there! Maybe the next quilt I do will have some of them incorporated.

    • Ruth Reply

      Aw…thanks mom!! 🙂

  2. Michele Reply

    Ruth, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a beautifully organized OneNote notebook. Very inspiring! And I love your doodling!

    You probably already do this, but OneNote on a tablet with a stylus is AWESOME for mind mapping, too.

    • Ruth Reply

      Thanks Michele! I’ve done mind mapping in the past, but haven’t really stuck with it. However, I know of some people that swear by it.

  3. Keith Cockerham Reply

    Like you, I live in One Note.

    For a while I’ve been toying with the idea of going completely paperless. Earlier this week I realised that you can scan directly into One Note and anything you scan is automatically OCR’d. Now I can go truly paper free! I now scan everything from household bills to meeting hand-outs directly into One Note.

    Hope this helps!


    • Ruth Reply

      Is this the app that you’re using: I just found out about Office Lens and I can’t wait to try it out – it looks great.

      • Stanvy Reply

        Hi Ruth,

        I think that Keith mentioned the built-in ability of OneNote to recognize text in the pictures you paste into your notes. By the way, I would also add that OneNote is also capable to recognize text and search in the audio records.

        • Ruth Reply

          I believe you’re right – thanks for the additional info, Alex!

  4. tony Reply

    What laptop and stylus did you use for doodling?

    • Ruth Reply

      This is a doodle from a few years ago that I did on my corporate issued Dell convertible with the accompanying stylus.

      These days, I use a Surface Pro.

  5. Srid Reply

    That’s one fine doodle! I’m curious – which laptop/ tablet did you draw it on? Does it have an active digitizer?

    • Ruth Reply

      Hi Srid,
      It was done a few years ago on a Latitude XT2 with an electrostatic pen. These days I use my Surface Pro which has an active digitizer.

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