OneNote is the hidden gem in Office, more than a decade old but still earning new converts regularly. In recent years, Microsoft has moved it from bit player to star performer. It's a completely cross-platform app now, with desktop versions for Windows and OS X, mobile versions on iOS, Android, and Windows Phone, across-the-board tablet support, and web versions when an app isn't handy.
The more you use OneNote, the more valuable it becomes, thanks to its ability to help you pull together personal and work details in a free-form way.
In this gallery, I present six of my favorite OneNote productivity secrets.
One of the best uses for OneNote is to create lists of tasks, objectives, milestones, and so on. By storing that list on a page in OneDrive, you can sync the list's contents to the OneNote app on any device, including PCs and Macs, smartphones, and tablets.
From any of those platforms, you can click in any line and add a checkbox at the front of that item. That checkbox, called a To Do Tag, lets you click or tap to mark an item as complete. This information is synced to all your device as well, so you can check the status of every item on your to-do list from anywhere.
The To Do Tag button is on the Home ribbon in OneNote for Windows and at the top of the page on iOS and Android devices.
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This is one of my favorite OneNote features, and I guarantee it will become one of your favorites as well.
Consider this scenario: You're working on a project that involves several deliverables or milestones. You want to quickly break out each of those separate items onto its own page. You could create each of those new pages individually and then link them back to your master page, but there's a much faster way, as long as you are using the desktop version of OneNote on a Windows PC or a Mac. (It works in the Windows Store, aka Metro, version on Windows 8.x devices as well.)
Start by typing two left square brackets, then the title of the new page you want to create, and finally two right square brackets. As soon as you type that last bracket, OneNote automatically creates a new page and removes the square brackets you typed, creating a hyperlink to that new page. Do that as many times as you want, and you'll quickly build a notebook full of freshly created pages with a master index that lets you jump to each page with a click or a tap.
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Whiteboards are ubiquitous in corporate conference rooms. If you've got an iPad handy with OneNote installed on it, you can preserve the notes from your whiteboard on a OneNote page, which you can then annotate, expand, and share.
To make the magic happen, create a new OneNote page (or click at an appropriate spot on an existing page) and then tap the camera icon at the top of the page. Tap to take the picture, which takes you to the screen shown here. Along the bottom (I've highlighted it with a red arrow) you'll see options to choose between a Whiteboard, Photo, or Document. The latter option is great for "scanning" a document. But the Whiteboard option tweaks the image to make your brightly colored text and drawings pop out against the white background.
Click the checkmark to finish, sending the captured image to OneNote.
(Note that the same option is available using the Office Lens app in Windows Phone.)
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If you use OneNote heavily, you'll tire quickly of the tedious task of opening the program, finding the right notebook, then opening the right section and page. For pages and notebooks you use regularly, you can pin those items directly to your home screen.
This option is available from the top menu on OneNote for Android. You can also add the OneNote widget to the home screen for easy access, as I've done here. Those are a pinned page and notebook to the left of the widget.
On the Windows 8 (Metro) version of OneNote, select any notebook, section or page by right-clicking or using the tap-and-hold gesture. That displays the Pin To Start icon in the Command bar on the bottom of the app.
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If you have a pen-enabled device, such as a Surface Pro (any edition) or a Dell Venue 8, you can use its inking capabilities to take notes or add annotations to an existing page.
In the Windows 8 (Metro) version of OneNote, using a pen displays a wheel menu like the one shown here. Normally this icon is small and subtle. Tap it to open the full circle, with additional options fanning out from the center. Tap the arrow alongside any option to see more choices. In the example shown here, the pen is in Eraser mode, but I can quickly choose a pen in four colors, and then drill down into options to change the weight of the line as well.
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In addition to To Do Tags, which I mentioned earlier, the desktop versions of OneNote (Windows PC and Mac) allow you to choose from dozens of ready-made tags and even create your own. So you can tag a photo as Important, mark a hyperlink as a website to visit later, and even (in a nod to journalists) select a name and apply the Source For Article tag.
How do you pull all those tags together? From the Windows desktop version of OneNote, click the Find Tags button (in the Tags section of the Home ribbon, identified with a bright red arrow here). That opens a Tags Summary pane on the right side of the program window, where every tagged item is listed. You can filter the result to show only selected notebooks, to remove to-do items that are checked as complete, and to refresh the pane if you've made some changes since the last time you searched.
One of the coolest options at all is a tiny button at the bottom of that pane: Create Summary Page. Click it to turn the pane's contents into a new page that neatly pulls together everything you've tagged into a single location.
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