Posts tagged Tips

Handwriting Recognition in OneNote 2007? Well, kinda…

In my post on EverNote vs. OneNote, I mentioned handwriting recognition as one of the shortcomings in OneNote. I also mentioned that the implementation in EverNote is a bit disappointing as well because it uses a “shotgun” word approach. By that I mean that EverNote sets up an XML database of sorts where many possible words (most of them completely wrong) are attached to each handwritten word. If you search on any of those words, it will come up as a hit on that part of the image. You may be initially impressed when it magically finds the correct word when you search on that word, but the excitement fades when you realize lots of other words that aren’t even close will match as well. As I mentioned before, I do give the EverNote team a lot of credit for even attempting this, it’s just not quite good enough yet to be useful.

Having said that, the EverNote implementation did give me an interesting idea. Even though I capture a good percentage of my notes electronically using the DROE Tool, I still find it impossible to move away from handwritten notes entirely. There are too many situations where I either don’t have my laptop, or it’s not convenient or polite to use it. (I’m also too cheap to invest in a fancy image capture pen or tablet PC.) So here is my poor man’s solution…


I scan my hand-written Daily Record of Events (DROE) pages into a PDF file using the office copier. I then print these to OneNote, and I store them in my DROE Archive (@DONE section) as described in my post on “Bending OneNote and Outlook to Fit my GTD System“. I then add a >> READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY >>

Attach Notes to Outlook Messages

Here’s the scenario… You are quickly clearing your email inbox before going home. You open a rather lengthy message and start to read through it. A vague idea forms in your head about what your response will be, but you’ve been reading it for 5 minutes now and haven’t gotten through the entire chain yet. It’s time to go home. You move the message to your @FollowUp folder but you don’t want to lose your train of thought. Here’s where this little trick comes in.

Click the “Note…” button on the message toolbar and just start typing, then close the dialog box. Move the message to your follow-up folder, and then come back later with your “note to self” intact. Okay, I know you probably don’t have this button, but I’ll show you how to create it.

This trick utilizes the colored message flags in Outlook. As you can see below, when you click the “Note…” button it brings up a dialog box. You can start typing any message you want (up to 100 characters). When finished, just click OK or hit [Return]. Your note is automatically saved with the message. Messages with notes can quickly be found because they have flags set, and your personal note is displayed on the dark bar in the header of the message (as shown below).

You can also schedule a reminder if you like by setting a date & time in the “Due by” field after typing your note. Another nice feature is that your notes are private. When you reply or forward the message, the note stays attached to the original message but does not travel with your outgoing message.


Here are the detailed instructions for setting up the button. Note that all of this is >> READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY >>

Setting up OneNote 2007 for GTD

As I promised earlier in my post on “Bending OneNote and Outlook to Fit my GTD System“, here are the setup details for OneNote 2007 along with some screen shots. For each of the screen shots, you can click on the image to open it full-size.

The options panel is accessed from the “Tools” menu in OneNote. The options are divided up into several Categories. I’ll walk through the changes that are important for my setup, and you may find other areas that you will want to tweak as well. Experimentation is usually better than the help menu when it comes to figuring out what some of these settings do.

On the Display tab, I prefer to have the page tabs and navigation tabs appear on the left. I also like the note containers visible since it makes it easier to see when you’ve accidentally split a note, or when you’re trying to grab text to copy or move it.

On the Save tab, the main thing you want to change is the location of the Unfiled notes section. Get rid of the separate section and have it point directly at your “@DOING” section. This will also give you another quick way to jump to your @DOING section by clicking on the Unfiled notes button.

On the Outlook Integration tab, change all of these to >> READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY >>

Send PDF Files to EverNote

UPDATE: Since releasing version 3.0.0.842 in September 2008, Evernote for Windows now supports import, indexing, and preview of PDF files.  The Mac version supported this several months prior.  The work-around below is no longer needed (but still fun to try if you want to experiment with and learn more about Ghostscript).

UPDATE 2 (May 2009):  A reader pointed out to me that this macro is still useful because, even through Evernote now supports PDFs, it does not support indexing the images inside those PDFs. This has been requested many times over in the Evernote forums with no clear delivery date. So, if indexing the images inside your PDFs is important, it may still be worth tinkering with this script.

As I mentioned in my EverNote vs. OneNote post, one of the key weaknesses of EverNote is its inability to handle PDF files. To get around that, I created a script to send the content of PDF files to EverNote as JPEG images. This is in the form of an Outlook VBA macro. I used it to quickly capture hand-written notes scanned into my office copier/scanner. The notes would arrive via email in an attached PDF file.

To use the script, you must set up an Outlook rule to trigger based on the mail address of your copier/scanner. The script then saves the attachment to a folder of your choice (edit path below), then calls Ghostscript to generate a JPEG file for each page. Note that since I already had PDF995 installed, I just used the Ghostscript executables that come bundled with that tool. You can install the PDF995 tool and edit the path in the VBA script below to point to those executables… or you can probably find or compile a standalone version. By the way, PDF995 is an excellent free tool and does a fantastic job distilling content into PDF files.


The last pre-requisite is setting up the >> READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY >>

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 Manager-Tools.com 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 >>