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Your Guide to Using Microsoft OneNote Effectively

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    Home / User Onboarding / Your Guide to Using Microsoft OneNote Effectively

    OneNote is like a digital version of a notebook that you keep close for quick notes. You can use it to capture your ideas, remember upcoming tasks, organize your to-do lists, and more.

    What makes Microsoft OneNote perfect is it is such a versatile tool that you can use it to:

    • Embed Excel sheets in your notes,
    • Take meeting notes,
    • Pull text out of images,
    • Create and share your shopping list.

    Whether you are a manager who takes meeting notes, a software developer providing notes, a sixth-grade teacher assigning collaborative class projects, or a parent preparing a shopping list, OneNote can make things easier for you.

    In this guide, we will go through the OneNote best practices for productivity. So, what is OneNote, and how do you use it?

    What is Microsoft OneNote?

    Microsoft OneNote is a digital note-taking application for gathering information backed up to Microsoft’s Office 365 cloud. Microsoft OneNote users can log in notes, drawings, audio commentaries, and screen clippings to their notes. They can share and use notes in real-time collaboration with other users over the Internet or a network.

    OneNote is free for all users, whether you use Mac, a PC, Android, iPhone, or an iPad. Additionally, Microsoft OneNote comes built-in for the newer versions of Microsoft 365.

    What is the function of OneNote?

    OneNote functions as a note-taking app and a hub for all your notes. It allows you to organize notes into separate notebooks and sections within notebooks. You can pin multimedia documents to your notes as it is compatible with a wide range of digital formats.

    Digital formats you can add to your notes in Microsoft OneNote includes:

    • Images
    • Diagrams
    • Videos
    • Audio

    With Microsoft OneNote, users can capture texts, images, and files quickly, even on the go. Also, the app makes it easier to use with other programs in the Office Suite, both on your desktop and mobile devices.

    So these questions cover the basics of OneNote, but if you are new to it, you may also ask, “how do I use OneNote for the first time.” Fortunately, we know how to use Microsoft OneNote, and a couple of paragraphs later, you will do, too.

    How to Use Microsoft OneNote

    If you have lots of things to keep in mind, loads of tasks to remember, and ideas that come suddenly, OneNote is the perfect application to note down and organize them.

    Whether you need to use OneNote for work, project management, classes, teaching, or in teams, you can jump to the OneNote tricks that we will cover in the following part of this post.

    But bear with us for a moment.

    First, you need to understand how to use Microsoft OneNote with its basics before learning how to use OneNote effectively.

    Follow along with the tutorial below on how to use Microsoft OneNote to start off on the right foot.

    1.   Create a Quick Note

    How often have you experienced this?

    You’re out enjoying your lunch, and then you remember that you need to call a customer to arrange a meeting. Quick notes are ideal for situations like that when you need to take notes to remember your thoughts later despite your busy schedule.

    Quick notes in OneNote are like good old yellow sticky notes. Jot down your ideas and thoughts as quick notes, and OneNote will save them each as a page in the Unfiled Notes section of the Quick Notes notebook.

    2.   Create a Notebook

    Microsoft OneNote allows you to create multiple notebooks for different subjects or projects whenever you like. (Note: these instructions are for Windows, but they are similar for other operating systems and devices.)

    • Open the OneNote app.
    • Click the Show Notebooks button.
    • Then, click the “+Notebook” button, which is at the bottom of the list that opens.
    • Name your notebook from the Notebook Name box.
    • Next, click Create Notebook.

    3.   Open Your Notebooks

    Here’s another useful instruction on how to use Microsoft OneNote: Apart from creating your own notebooks and quick notes, you can also open the notebooks created by others and shared with you.

    • Click the Show Notebooks button.
    • Then, click More Notebooks when the list opens.
    • Select any notebook you wish to open and click Open Notebook.

    Tip: If you don’t see the note you are looking for, click Add Account. Sign in with the account where your notebooks are stored.

    4.   Create Sections

    This OneNote hack is for those of you who wonder how to organize OneNote. You can create topical sections for better OneNote organization and customization. Sections help you arrange notes, for example, by topic or dates.

    To create a section:

    • Click +Add Section or +Section at the bottom of the sections list on the left side of the window.

    5.   Switch Between Your Open Notebooks

    One more cool thing that OneNote allows users to do is to open several notebooks simultaneously. To switch between your open notebooks:

    • Click Show Notebooks.
    • A list of notebooks will open. Select the notebooks you want to work in.
    • Repeat these steps to switch between your notebooks.

    Why Should I use Microsoft OneNote?

    OneNote allows you to capture and organize your ideas, making it easy to work or study effectively.

    Alright, now that you have clear answers to “what is OneNote” and how to use Microsoft OneNote, let’s take a look at the reasons why you should use Microsoft OneNote in the first place.

    So if you ask, “why should I use Microsoft OneNote,” here are the reasons why:

    Great for Project Management

    OneNote organization makes the app perfect for project management.

    Instead of creating piles of documents for every meeting, such as agenda, tasks, notes, status reports, and other meeting details, you can store all the information in OneNote.

    What’s even better is that since you can organize your notes in OneNote, your project management process can run more organized.

    Instant and Real-Time Collaboration

    If you open your OneNote file to access and share it with your team or colleagues, they can instantly see your files and collaborate.

    For sensitive notes that include sensitive materials, you may password-protect the notebook partially or fully, as well.

    Better and Quick Notes in Meetings

    Many people wonder how to use OneNote for work.

    In fact, there is no single answer to that; it provides almost everything you would expect from a note-taking app and keeps you well-organized.

    Microsoft OneNote is one of the most versatile tools of its kind. As we mentioned under “What is OneNote,” the app is compatible with a range of document types, which proves useful during meetings. You can jot down quick notes, upcoming meeting times, check your agenda, and add the audio you record in the meeting.

    Familiar Interface

    If you are used to the interface of Microsoft Office tools, like Excel, Word, and PowerPoint, then you will be familiar with OneNote’s interface as well.

    Online Editing

    Like other MC Office tools, OneNote documents can be edited online in any browser.

    You don’t need to download the files or have the app installed on your device.

    Best Practices for using Microsoft OneNote

    As we stressed above, OneNote can come in handy in many cases, including when studying or working. But to make the most of this tool, you can take advantage of tried-and-approved OneNote hacks.

    1.   Digitize What You Read

    One of the OneNote best practices we suggest is to digitize what you read. Most people like to jot down notes and highlight texts when reading books, articles, and magazines. When it comes to online sources, this can be a bit hard.

    But you can simply copy and paste texts to your OneNote and then edit, add some bullet points, highlight important paragraphs, and also save the source link as you like.

    2.   Organize and Reorganize Regularly

    If you are constantly adding notes and creating new notebooks, it might become difficult to find what you are looking for at one point. That’s why you should organize your notes regularly.

    Also, sometimes you may need to use the notes you archived in a new note. In cases like that, try to reorganize and find related content that should be aligned.

    Another effective way to organize OneNote is to use tags to prioritize and categorize notes.

    Tags can help your future searches. Just click the line of text you want to tag and then select a tag from the drop-down. It’s possible to add multiple tags to a single note as well.

    3.   Use with Outlook Calendar Reminders

    Calendars are inseparable parts of busy work schedules. You can capture your tasks or simply the things you need to remember in OneNote and create an Outlook task inside the app. You can set a reminder, for example, to an hour later to blog post your new article.

    4.   Don’t Delete, Archive Completed Tasks

    You never know when you will need your old content or notes. Instead of deleting, create an “Archive” folder in OneNote and add the old notes in that folder. If you need further organization inside your archive folder, you can create sections and tags inside it.

    This way, you won’t lose any information, and OneNote will still be able to crawl those files and bring you what you need. To find your notes, just search for them across all your notebooks.

    5.   OneNote as a Team Wiki

    OneNote’s tags and search capability make it a perfect tool to use as a team wiki.

    If you plan to share your notebook with others, make sure you create your OneNote notebook on OneDrive so that other people can access it.

    If you have already created your notebook on your computer, then you need to move it to OneDrive first. The fact that it is now on OneDrive doesn't mean others can see it. Click on share to share with other people.

    To generate a link to share your note with other people:

    • File tab>Share>Get a Sharing Link.

    To change the permission settings of your shared note:

    • Go to your OneDrive and change permissions or stop sharing.

    OneNote documents become available offline when shared from OneNote or SharePoint.

    6.   Search Across Your Notes

    One of the OneNote best practices is a very basic one; using the search.

    Microsoft OneNote has a built-in search that helps you find your notes wherever they are. To search across your OneNote and find what you are looking for, select the magnifying glass or press Ctrl+F. Then type in a search word or phrase.

    OneNote searches:

    • Typed text
    • Handwritten notes
    • Words shown in pictures

    Narrowing the search is also possible. Just select the dropdown and choose an option. OneNote highlights the search word or phrase in notes and pictures.

    7.   Draw and Handwrite Your Notes

    OneNote allows you to quickly capture your ideas with drawing and handwriting. This feature is a time-saver when taking quick notes. You can capture complex ideas with a quick drawing and circle important things on a note.

    One of the plus sides of OneNote is that it can convert handwritten notes into text. To draw in OneNote, select the Draw tab in the ribbon.  Then, click the desired type of pen and start making a quick drawing in your notes.

    8.   Password-Protect Your Notes

    The password-protect option in OneNote is designed to keep your private notes safe from prying eyes. So, whether you keep your school notes, work tasks, blog content, or personal information in OneNote, you can protect them and keep them private with passwords.

    When you password-protect a OneNote notebook section, all of its pages will be locked. They won’t open until you enter the correct password.

    Note that you should be careful when choosing a password because no one will be able to open your locked note if you lose the password.

    9.   Make Use of Page Templates

    A OneNote template is a page design applicable to new pages in your notebook to give them a uniform appearance, appealing background, and consistent layout.

    OneNote comes with several built-in templates such as planners, to-do lists, and page backgrounds. You can create your own page templates or customize an existing template.

    Note: OneNote page templates can only apply to new pages without any notes because template designs have content that is to be placed on a page's specific spots.


    MS OneNote is in my opinion the perfect product for taking notes and keeping them organized.

    If you can use the product effectively, it will have dozens of benefits directly in your day-to-day life.

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