Posts tagged OneNote

Forever Tasks – How do *you* handle them?

Andy raised an interesting question last week commenting on my post “Bending OneNote and Outlook to Fit my GTD System“. His question relates to something I like to call “Forever Tasks”. These are basically projects that have no real end date that you have to continually track and execute. Here is an excerpt from Andy’s comments:

I’ve got a couple of very ongoing projects. But they are so big I don’t know whether they really are a project. For instance I help set up and run a design group called Coalition. I think of this as a big marketing project… but it doesn’t really have an end as such, like a project “run company” would be a bit daft! How do you think your setup should deal with this kind of thing?

I’d like to hear everyone else’s thoughts on this… How do you handle continual on-going “projects” like this? Please share your thoughts and post a comment below. To get things started, here are a few options/ideas to consider…

IDEA 1: The idea Andy suggested in his original comment was a pretty good adaptation. He suggested creating a separate tab in OneNote for this “project” instead of a page. This keeps the pages from getting too long on the bigger projects.

IDEA 2: Use a single project page, and then archive that page monthly. Basically, move the page into the completed projects section of the @DONE tab, create a new project using the template, and copy any active tasks across. If the project was “Manage the XYZ Design Team”, then you could have project pages like XYZ Management AUG’08, XYZ Management SEP’08, etc.

IDEA 3: Divide your role into major areas and track each area or zone of responsibility as a separate project. It really does help, and it forces you to focus on the critical few things that are key to your success. For an excellent instructive talk on this, I would suggest downloading the Manager-Tools podcasts on Time Management. In the first cast, Mark and Mike stress some of Peter Drucker’s principles from The Effective Executive: Ask not what you want to do, but rather what the role requires of you. Every 3-6 months re-ask yourself what the role requires of you now. Those things that the role requires of you are likely to be the same things your boss will measure you against when it comes time for your annual review. That brings up another good suggestion from the Manager-Tools podcast: Chances are that your job description is out of date. Draft a new job description for yourself and review it with your boss. There are some suggestions for how to do this effectively in the podcast. Force yourself to boil it down to 5-10 key priorities. If this seems difficult, consider Drucker’s perspective: If you are trying to juggle five priorities, you’re wrong. Effective executives and managers do one thing very well, and the other things are delegated. Few people are brilliant enough to do two things well. Trying to do three things well is a circus act. I would suggest downloading the entire Time Management series from and listening to them at your leisure. If you are not already a Manager-Tools listener, I would suggest starting with their collection of basic podcasts first to ground yourself in the Manager-Tools principles and lingo.

IDEA 4: Stir a little bit of 7 Habits into your GTD each week… I know, it’s kinda like that Reese’s commercial, “Hey you got your chocolate in my peanut butter!”. Anyway, what I’m talking about is defining your “Big Rocks” and then reviewing them each week as part of your weekly review. When I was using PlanPlus, there was a tool called the Weekly Compass for doing this. The screen shot below is my weekly compass from a few years ago. Here is what the help from PlanPlus has to say about Big Rocks:

When scheduling big rocks, remember to ask yourself, “What is the most important thing I can do in this role this week?” It’s not mandatory that you schedule big rocks for each role every week. Focus on those roles that need your attention. Maybe it’s all of them or perhaps just two or three. You’ll know.

You could follow this same process by creating a OneNote project page or a recurring Outlook task called “Big Rocks”. Check it each week during your weekly review, just as you would your GTD project list. For each role (aka Big Rock), determine the next actions for the coming week and create individual tasks for them.

IDEA 5: Make the project page as bare bones as possible. Just track major tasks on the project page, and let the notes go into your DROE page. Any emails related to the project can >> READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY >>

OneNote and Outlook Task Synchronization

I had a few questions come up related to how the task synchronization works between OneNote 2007 and Outlook. This is actually one of the best features that was added in OneNote 2007, as I noted in my post on “EverNote vs. OneNote“. The task synchronization feature, however, is still pretty new and can be easily broken. If you want to know how to synch without getting sunk, read on… (Ok, bad pun, sorry for that.)

The screenshot below shows a typical project in OneNote (from my OneNote Project Template). You can see that some tasks have a dark red flag, and some have a faded red flag. The faded red flag either means that the due date is farther out, or that OneNote hasn’t found the task in Outlook yet to determine the due date. Sometimes it just takes OneNote a minute or two to search Outlook and those pale flags turn back into dark red. Other times (such as when a task is moved to another folder or deleted in Outlook), OneNote never finds the task.

So how is OneNote finding those tasks in Outlook? Although I’m not an expert on the inner workings of OneNote, I did some snooping into >> READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY >>

OneNote GTD Project Template

After my post on “Bending OneNote and Outlook to Fit my GTD System” I got a few requests to share the actual project template file. You can download the file here: OneNote Project Template File

NOTE: I make no guarantees related to this file or its suitability for any particular purpose. If your computer implodes, or your cat dies, I won’t be able to help you.

Here are some instructions to install the template: >> READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY >>

Bending OneNote and Outlook to Fit my GTD System

I am now using Microsoft OneNote 2007 as part of my GTD (Getting Things Done) system. I talked about this a bit before in my post on EverNote vs. OneNote. My approach is a bit different than Rob describes in his 7Breaths blog. Where Rob tends to use OneNote as the hub of his system, I use the Outlook task list. I am really only using OneNote for three purposes:

  1. Capturing daily notes on the fly for future processing,
  2. managing projects, and
  3. storage of reference material.

I am not living inside OneNote throughout the day. Instead, I use Microsoft Outlook to manage my task lists (by context). Rather than pushing stuff from Outlook into OneNote, I am capturing and storing stuff in OneNote, then pushing it to Outlook during my weekly reviews. OneNote serves as an inbox and as a storage location for project information and reference material.

Here is my OneNote landscape (see screenshot below). One of the first things you’ll notice is that there is not a lot of complicated structure or oodles of tabs. It’s fairly clean and uncluttered. Everything is in a single notebook labeled “2007″. I deleted all of the sample tabs and pages that come with the OneNote install. The primary tabs/sections in my OneNote GTD system are: @DOING, @PROJECTS, @FOLLOW_UP, and @DONE.

In my world, things are either done or they’re not done. Stuff in the first three tabs is “not done”, and stuff in the “@DONE” section is “done”. My approach is >> READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY >>

EverNote vs. OneNote

UPDATE July 2008: Since writing this post in October 2007, some important things have changed on the EverNote side. I’m currently evaluating the EverNote 3 beta and will let you know how things turn out. The original post is below…

Okay, let’s have it out! What tool is best for capturing and organizing notes? For a long time I used nothing but Notepad, plus some hand-crafted AutoHotkey scripts. As I got further into my GTD implementation, I wanted something that fit that methodology better and also integrated well with Microsoft Outlook. By the way, this post probably reeks of Procrastivity, but let’s indulge for a bit.

I canvassed the field multiple multiple times. I installed and uninstalled many a tool on my poor tired laptop, probably making a mess of my registry. There were two tools that I kept coming back to: EverNote and OneNote. Eventually those were the only tools left. For several months I used both tools simultaneously, going back and forth between the two trying to find that one reason that would tip the scales. That one reason never came. Both tools had some great features, and each tool also had several painful shortcomings. To help force the decision, I did what any self-respecting anal-retentive manager would do: I made a list!

The list below represents those features that were important to me for my system along with Low/Medium/High priorities. Where there were major shortcomings, I tried my best to find a work-around as if I had already decided to select that tool and make it work.



EverNote 2.1

OneNote 2007

Text Recognition


Yes, but doesn’t allow you to copy/select text Yes, and text can be easily extracted
Handwriting Recognition (image, not digital ink)


Yes, but uses a “shotgun” word approach and doesn’t allow you to copy/extract text. No.
Auto Import


Very nice import of text and images just by dropping to folder. No. I wish OneNote had this. I even tried some of the currently available “PowerToys” and no such luck. There are some command line tricks you can do, but these are very awkward.
PDF Import/ Export


No, EverNote basically doesn’t handle PDFs. You have to just add a link to the file (as an icon). I got around this somewhat with a Ghostscript command file I wrote to extract JPEGs from the PDF and automatically send them to EverNote. Yes. You have to install the iFilter from Adobe, but after that you have options to import, export, email, etc.
Web Clipping from IE and Firefox


Yes – fast and accurate with links to original; clip and forget. Poor – Formats somewhat mangled, Firefox is via 3rd party extension, slow & distracting (you have to watch OneNote open, splash screen and all)
Easily create Outlook tasks from Notes


No, manual process Yes, very easy to create. Some issues where tasks get out of sync (if you move task to another folder)
Send note via email


Yes, although notes are more of a screen shot (not editable) format Yes, but included function is weak (sends as OneNote attachment). Can get add-on that sends via PDF.
On-Screen editing of notes


Very limited. Cannot draw or float text over images. When inserting something everything else moves around. Yes, excellent capability here. Also includes a lot of the standard editing & drawing tools ala Microsoft Word.
Easy to learn & use GUI


I know that scroll tape is their “thing”, but it’s awkward. The notes list is nice for quickly jumping to notes. You can only view one note at a time in full screen, and usually the link/source info is not available in that view. Editor and layout is very easy if you’re familiar with Office products. The layers of notebooks and sections and tabs and pages feel a bit cluttered.
Tagging/ Categories


Yes, Excellent – ability to tag notes, define rules for automatic tags, and search via tag intersection panel Very weak and poorly implemented. Only manual tags, no good tag hierarchy. The search function doesn’t filter, instead creates awkward page with copy of tagged items not linked back to original items.


FREE! As long as you don’t want handwriting recognition (which isn’t ready for primetime anyway) or sync multiple databases. Fairly expensive… $75 (standard license) on I saw some better deals on eBay ($55-60) if you’re willing to deal with smaller companies or individuals. Microsoft does, however, offer a free 60-day trial.
Built in Search


Yes, also like the fact that it starts to filter as soon as you type Yes
Support for Desktop Search


No. Big minus here. No way to quickly get to all that useful data. I think they are adding Google Desktop Search capability in v2.2 however. Yes – Works well with Windows Desktop Search. Should support Google Desktop Search too but I haven’t tested it.
Ability to link to notes from other places


Yes Yes


Generally not an issue – fairly lightweight and fast. Occasional hangs, but pretty rare. This was a big problem on my Dell Latitude D610. By the time it opened and loaded the page, I almost forgot what I was going to jot down. Not really an issue on my shiny new D630.

So which one did I finally pick? Well, I >> READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY >>