How do you use OneNote?

Although we have several different ways to collect information about how OneNote is used, I am always interested to hear how people use it. And this forum provides an opportunity for a dialog that our other data collection systems don’t really provide. So, let's hear it. How do you use OneNote? How is your notebook organized? What do you do with it? Would you prefer a different type of organization, or even a different concept for OneNote besides a tabbed notebook?

As a starter, I'll go first. I use OneNote for the following activities:

  1. Internet research - drag/drop or copy paste web page content into OneNote. I do this for personal reasons e.g. shopping, to compare prices or specs or models of something I want to buy - DVD player, car, lighting systems, window blinds, etc. Other things are just stuff I don’t want to forget - passwords, how to make my TiVo skip 30sec, how long does breast milk keep, etc. I also use it for work, where I collect snippets of things I read from email or the web to keep little scrapbooks about different topics (each scrapbook is a section). This is about 40-50% of what I use OneNote for, and mostly this is on a desktop PC (at home or work)
  2. Blogging - I keep my blog entries (past, present, future) in a blog section of OneNote (one entry per page), where I work on them over time. I am not the type of blogger who puts two sentences up every few hours - I am more like a columnist, keeping many different story ideas percolating until one is ready, or more usually I get excited about one and finish it, as I am doing with this one right now. (about 10% of usage). This is on my desktop PC at home.
  3. Idea scrapbook. This is a little different from web research, although I often include a snippet with the idea or thought I want to keep. I just put the idea into OneNote. This sort of thing goes into an "Inbox" section (described in a moment) since I don’t have a category/section for them when I write them. (about 10% ). I do this on all machines (I have a tablet as well)
  4. Meeting notes: my dirty secret is that I am a terribly lazy note taker - so I only write down the occasional fact or action item from meetings. For a long period last year I would do a lot of demos of pre-release OneNote (internally or externally), and if I saw a bug, I'd quickly jot the bug down (typed or written), and flag it with the note flag "bug". Later I would pull up the note flag summary for "bug", and enter these bugs into our tracking database, then check off the "bug" flag as "done" (i.e. moved to database). I also occasionally video record some meetings (e.g. focus groups) that I go to so others on my team can see what they were like and listen to the audio if they want. This is all on my tablet, although I usually use that as a laptop since I don't like my handwriting, and typing is faster. About 10-20% , changes with project "season".
  5. Review notes other send me. I receive notes via email attachment, and also in our group we have many OneNote sections stored on file shares, in shared folders, and SharePoint doc libraries. Other people on the team are periodically adding research, thoughts, etc to these sections, which include OneNote usage scenarios, feature design thoughts, usage data, etc. (about 20% ). This is on my desktop.

So overall, I use OneNote on my desktop about 80-90% of the time, and on my tablet 10-20%. Because I am lazy, I also rely heavily on others who use OneNote and send me notes from meetings/brainstorming sessions I attend (or did not attend)

My notebook looks basically like this:

Inbox (section where most stuff goes when I first write it, to be categorized within a week or too when I get around to it)

Side notes (section where my side notes go - to be categorized within a week or too when I get around to it)

Work (folder)

Word (folder)

Status meeting (section for recurring meeting notes)

Analysts (section for notes on what industry analysts have said about Word)

Word archive (folder with old sections from Word2003 project)

Publisher (folder holding sections related to the Publisher team)


OneNote (folder holding sections related to the OneNote team)

Scenarios (shared folder on a server holding many sections authored by team members collaborating on defining user scenarios)

SQM data (shared folder holding sections that contain research from the service quality monitor/customer experience improvement program, etc

RAP (shared folder holding many sections relating to the customers in our rapid adoption program, and what issues they are facing)

OneNote ideas (section with random ideas for OneNote features that I've had)

Analysts (section for notes on what industry analysts have said about OneNote)


OneNote Archive (folder that holds old sections from the first release or others sections that I don’t need to see these days)

Text Services (folder)


People (section with pages that hold things I need to raise with my direct reports or others when I meet with them)


Personal (folder)

Blog (section for past and future blog entries)

House (section to hold shopping research, punch list for remodel, etc.)

Seiko (shared section via my personal web site with my wife's two machines, work and home, and my three machines - two work, one home)


Notes emailed to Me (folder that OneNote creates to hold random stuff I get emailed)

Other notes I've Seen (folder OneNote creates to hold random stuff I open off of file shares, etc)


Stuff I don't like about my organization and the experience of using it:

  1. My inbox section keeps filling up with scraps of info that have no category, but it seems lame to clean it out and put them in a "random facts" section, so it just grows and grows.
  2. I can't easily see more than one page at a time - sort of like if I had to have all the papers on my desk in a pile at all times even when I was using them (FYI, although I am not a hard-core "paperless" guy, I actually have NO paper on my desk - I never print stuff and I throw out anything I get on paper because I never refer to it later- too hard/I'm too lazy to organize for retrieval)
  3. I can’t have items show up in two places at once without duplicating them.
  4. Can't link between items.

Hmm, I could go on but I want to hear what you folks have to say.