Ok – I admit it. I am a OneNote fanboy. I have never used an app that made life so much easier. I am able to access any information that I need on any device at any time. All of this is made possible by OneNote.
Imagine if you took the best parts of Word, added in some Excel features, and crammed tools like Snipping, Optical Character Recognition, and Audio Recorder into a single application. For good measure, you add sharing, security, and mobile access. That application would be OneNote.
Why Should I Care about OneNote?
OneNote comes in many flavors. Most IT professionals will use the desktop version found in Microsoft Office. You can access a web version at OneNote.com, a modern app version on Windows 8+, or a mobile version on any major phone OS. Screenshots and steps in this article are done in the Office version of OneNote. I find that explaining the features of OneNote is more difficult than showing you how OneNote can be used. Professionally, here are the ways that I use OneNote:
- To document configurations in my environment and changes that I make. The ability to input pictures and annotate them in OneNote ensures I won’t forget important modifications.
- To store general documentation for my department. Inserting shapes, lines, and arrows allow for network diagramming. Extensive searching all
- To organize projects and maintain a ToDo list. Integration with Outlook means that I am reminded of projects when I need to be.
- To teach technical concepts. Being able to literally type anywhere and draw on a touch device makes this easier.
- To organize meetings and share notes. Sharing notes digitally saves quite a bit of time.
How to get Started with OneNote in Your IT Department?
The hardest thing about OneNote is getting in the habit of using it. Having constant visual cues to use it and ubiquitous access makes that habit a bit easier to maintain. Pin OneNote to your Taskbar, add it to your Start Screen, create a shortcut on your phone, etc. Access requires a Microsoft account. Sharing, security, and syncing are linked to this account.
When you first launch OneNote (web, app, or desktop version), you will have a single notebook for personal use. Head up to File and create a New Notebook. By default, Notebooks are stored in the OneDrive. This is allows universal access. Name this Notebook work. Creating a separate work notebook will give you some flexibility later. Rename the first section to Documentation and think about the kind of documentation that you would like to store here. You likely have documentation spread over several media types (print outs, network shares, USB drives etc). Use this section in OneNote to centralize this information. Below are some examples:
- Insert an existing spreadsheet (such as one containing static IP addresses)
- Insert a picture of a network map that you have. Or use the Draw tools to create an updated map
- Insert important PDFs that you might have (warranty agreements, server documentation, etc)
- Insert documents that details solutions in your current environment (ex: how to setup a copier, how to setup a new machine)
As you go, separate content out into new pages and organize those pages into sub-pages. In the screenshot below, you can see how we organize some of our documentation. In this one section, we document network layouts for different sites, server configurations (and planned changes), and solutions to common problems. This last one is very useful because of the OneNote mobile apps – they allow you to search your entire documentation in the field!
Taking OneNote Even Further
Liking OneNote yet? Want to make it more than a documentation hub? Create a new section in your Notebook and name it after your first name.. Create a page for a To-Do list and create subpages for projects. From here, you can outline the steps needed to complete an assignment, paste screenshots, link to articles (or send entire articles to a page). If you use Tasks in Outlook (my favorite part of Outlook), OneNote can remind you about upcoming items or projects. OneNote can be extended with different add-ins. My personal favorite is OneTastic. This add-on extends OneNote through some powerful macros (such as advanced sorting and calendars).
OneNote is the best tool that I use. It keeps me organized and allows me to tackle huge projects in small chunks. It helps me document issues and store solutions for past problems. Are you using OneNote? If not, why?