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?
I used to use IT Portal at another company but now I use OneNote because of bugeting. My issue with it is sharing/permission on different pages or subpages for other it staff? how to workaround this?
I absolutely love OneNote, but my biggest frustration is that you cannot group objects together. For example: if you paste in a screen shot and then use a shape tool to annotate the screen cap, they behave as two separate objects and there’s no way to group them together so they move as one object. Very annoying.
I completely agree Louis! I actually spoke about this to the OneNote team in Nov.
My workaround (which is still annoying) is to use the screenclip tool (in Onenote or snipping outside of Onenote) to screenshot that section. That creates a picture that contains all of the objects in the group.
Great article! I’m curious to know if a OneNote notebook can be converted into a virtual Kanban board for a visual representation of tasks to-do/in progress/done.
Thanks! I am not sure about that – were you able to find out anything on the conversion?
Great info on OneNote. I have been using for awhile now and love it, but didn’t know it was as powerful as you have shown. Will have to dig in and try some of the tasks you wrote about. Great article!
Great info, as usual!
As we’re introducing digital portfolio for our students, it is my intention to do this with Onenote.
We’re still at the first step of starting with Onenote in our schoolcommunity (although I use it already a long time).
Thanks – I am very interested in your digital portfolio idea – update me when you get further along!
Interested to hear a little more about how you use OneNote with Outlook tasks. Considering that Outlook also has a todo list feature I’m assuming you’re only using Outlook tasks for reminders and manage your todo’s in OneNote?
My problem with OneNote is that I would forget to check it – in OneNote, I select different items and create a task in Outlook. This provides that trigger that I need to follow-up on items.
Love one note but don’t forget about that other hidden windows gem, PSR. Makes great documentation that you can then store in one note.
Great idea Jeff! I’ve used Problem Step Recorder (PSR) with staff. I’ve never thought about using it to make my own documentation.
I’m using it but I haven’t convinced my coworkers to. One prints everything and the other doesn’t have any discernible organizational skills.
That is a tough situation to change! How are you using OneNote right now? Any ideas on why your coworkers are resistant to it?