Four Steps to OneNote without Crazy

Bill’s *Trick* for using OneNote Like Evernote to GTD

In my previous review of OneNote I mentioned that Evernote’s canvas was superior to OneNote because I could just insert objects (pictures mostly) and the canvas would make space for the object. I discovered last week, that OneNote does the same thing … as long as you do not get carried away. This post is a four step tutorial on how to make a OneNote page, behave.

Step 1: Create the page

From a GTD perspective, it is SO EASY to create a OneNote “Project” page, and start new projects from there, I’ve become pretty GTD-addicted to creating pages from m project list. Start with a blank project list like this: Project_List

Then type in the project name beginning with [[ and ending with ]]:

Project_List

When you enter the 2nd ] your linked project page will be created and will look like this:

Project_List

Step 2: Go to the project page

Go to the project page and click at the end of the project name so your cursor thinks you are going to modify the end of the project name:

Put_Down_Wd_Mat_

The trick is to hit *enter* at this point. Cursor will jump down below the title of the project, and will wait for you to type something. Should look like this:

Put_Down_Wd_Mat

Step 3: Type Something

Type something like a Next Action (or my Next Action post), the text box will resize automatically. Or, you can drag the text box to be as wide as you want. Will look something like this:

Fullscreen_2014_08_31__10_13_AM

Step 4: Stay inside the text box

Now all you have to do to have an Evernote-like OneNote, is to NEVER ENTER ANY DATA OUTSIDE THE TEXT BOX. For example, maybe you want to put a picture of the weed mat after one of the next actions. Just create a new line in the list, and then drag the picture to the new line.

Put_Down_Wd_Mat

Summary:

If you use a text box inside OneNote notes, you can make the OneNote canvas behave just like Evernote’s canvas. New insertions add their own new rows, and you don’t have to use one note’s “add space” tool.

bill

GTD Time-Lapse

In the beginning, I was disorganized, no GTD, no Evernote, no OmniFocus, no Dropbox, no OneNote. My desk looked like this:

TrustedSystemgenerations01_pptx

Then I went from no GTD to GTD via Paper and Evernote:

GTD03_ppt

My desk changed to this:

TrustedSystemgenerations01_pptx 3

Then, I got really excited, and went to a 100% digital GTD system via Omnifocus:

TrustedSystemgenerations01_pptx 4

This is the first time I fell off the GTD wagon. I could not stand to sit down at my desk. The feeling of drowning by binary proxy kept me out of my organized office and away from my organized desk. Ugh! But the seeds of RestartGTD.com were born. Somewhere I’m POSITIVE I heard (via Audible copies of his books) David Allen say “If you get too organized, your brain will refuse to use your system.”

I refactored, cut back the role of Omnifocus, got a new job, Evernoted/digitized the 94,000 pages of notes I had from my Ph.D. and went to a hybrid paper and digital system that looked like this:

TrustedSystemgenerations01_pptx 5

And my four desks looked like this:

TrustedSystemgenerations01_pptx 6

Then as I experimented with my system and changed jobs I :

  • Dropped Dropbox for Google drive when I bought a ChromeBook. Google drive is not even in the same league as Dropbox as far as reliability goes, but I’ve stayed with Google drive and Google Apps for simplicity’s sake.
  • Added OneNote to keep work notes separate from home notes. This has actually facilitated manila folders as OneNote makes it *trivial* to print all my tabs (virtual manila folders) and put them into real labeled GTD manila folders.
  • Kept 3×5 cards. They are indispensable for organizing. Laying a large number of cards out on a big table, then re-arranging them into thematic clumps, is the most powerful project organization tool that I possess. *Note* to OneNote and Evernote folks, please please please add 3×5 cards and a flexible user interface for re-arranging cards to your programs!!!!!
  • Kept manila folders. In my new job, I can see my boss relax when I pull out a folder that has an updated project plan in it. And once she saw that she could look in one place for my project list and see what is going on, again, I could visibly see her relax.
  • Kept eMail.

So my system now looks like this:

TrustedSystemgenerations01_pptx 7

And my dungeon desk looks like this:

IMG_20140104_143951.jpg

Thoughts on Tools:

  • OmniFocus is an awesome tool. If you are going to implement GTD to the letter, I don’t think there is a better software package. But I learned that implementing GTD to the letter is not for my brain. But there is TREMENDOUS power in OmniFocus if it is for you.
  • Evernote has been with me since the beginning of my GTD journey. I remember listening to David Allen say “the lack of a good general-reference system can be one of the greatest obstacles to implementing a personal management system” (p. 95 Kindle L1500) and realizing “Evernote! I can use Evernote to be my reference filing system!” You see I had Evernote before I read GTD, I just did not have a use model for it, because I did not appreciate how critical reference filing is to GTD.
  • Evernote keeps adding tools. Some of them are wonky (Evernote Hello for example), but Web ClipperClearly, and Skitch have been game changers for me. Evernote has also gradually increased the kinds of files that it indexes (Word for example was a pain before Evernote started indexing it), and the handwriting recognition is slowly improving. The growth of Evernote’s tool set has kept me loyal as I know I don’t need to jump ship for the latest slick tool. Probably, this reticence kept me for too long from trying OneNote again. I was on the beta team for OneNote 1.0 and getting a change made to the program was like trying to teach a pig to sing.
  • Dropbox is also an awesome tool. But it was (a) too expensive and (b) to focused on single users, at the time I adopted it. Dropbox too is adding tools, but unlike Evernote, Dropbox has not added tools at the point of most intense need for me, and built out from there. I’m sure to Dropbox, Evernote’s file replication must look plebeian, a pale copy of Dropbox with a different user interface. But to me, Dropbox is infrastructure first, and OneNote and Evernote are tools first, with backing infrastructure.
  • OneNote has surprised me. The community of kindred minds around OneNote is much larger than Evernote. And OneNote has the same wonderful enthusiasm of Apple products and Evernote, among its users. OneNote has many of the same over-structured limits as Evernote, only 1 level of sub folders, for example. But, the user interface and the integration with Microsoft Office are freeing to my mind. And, I can’t wait to investigate OneNote add-ins. Evernote’s add-ins are a pallid picture of the promise of its API. More on OneNote as I delve deeper.
  • Google Apps and Google Drive have converted me. I’m now keeping my evolving documents (like resume) on Google drive. I’ve had to delete and re-download my stored files three times. And when I look into my Google Drive folders now, I’m often missing files, finding renamed folders that indicate Google Drive has a problem with becoming confused. Dropbox has none of these issues. So I do miss being able to have confidence in my cloud storage. But I’m careful, back up A LOT, and limp through.
  • Google Now. Another fun surprise. Google now reads my emails and then puts notifications on my phone and in my web browser automatically. This is a huge help for my absent mindedness (call me “Dr. Spaz” please).

Where GTDers are on our own.

David Allen does not recommend technology. Technology is too fad-y I suspect. So we are on our own in sharing experiences and frustrations. And, in dealign with providers like Evernote and MicroSoft and OmniGroup in advocating for GTD-helpful features.

GTDers are also on our own figuring out how to separate work and personal trusted systems. “When you’re trying to make a living there ain’t no such thing as pride.” Richard Marx – Don’t Mean Nothing Lyrics | MetroLyrics. And when you are in the middle or the bottom of a big company, keeping separate personal and work trusted system is a key survival skill.

OneNote vs. Evernote vs. Dropbox

*Update*

I’ve edited this post in light of having gone back through my GETTING THINGS DONE (GTD) history, and looking at the different trusted systems I’ve evolved over the four years of using GTD.

  1. Title graphic has been recomposed to put GTD at the center. Ouch! When I realized I missed this in the original post. Ouch I say!
  2. Last graphic has been recomposed dropping Google Drive (unreliable) and swapping back in Dropbox. This will take some work as I have to squeeze down from 30 gigabytes of storage to 20 (the most storage I can have for free on Dropbox).
  3. Last paragraph has been edited to put both OneNote and Dropbox into project management (I use them both for project files).
  4. Added a fourth like about OneNote (Read on!).

Presentation1

This is not a full on review, but I’ve been using OneNote daily for a month, so I thought I’d *reflect* a little on how I like OneNote, and how it compares with Evernote. Just rule of three likes, dislikes and reflections in this post.

What I like about OneNote:

  • The tabs. OneNote lets you have tabs on the top or right side of your notebook. This is a clear win over Evernote where notebooks (the equivalent of OneNote tabs the way I use both programs) are rigidly stuck in a list at the side of your screen, or in a rigid grid of notebooks in the main window.
  • Sub notes. If you create a tab for a project, you can insert notes underneath the project and indented from the parent tab. Again, a clean kill improvement over Evernote. From a GTD perspective this has helped me to focus more on the work, and less on the housekeeping of organizing the work.
  • Linking. You create [[aroundwhatyouwanttolink]] and the note is automatically linked to the parent project list. For GTD people this allows you to have each project on a tab that you start from the master list of all projects. Just create [[NewProject]] on your master list of projects, and *poof* you magically have a new tab named NewProject, now, get to work!
  • After a couple days, I have to add one more thing I like about OneNote … the connection between Microsoft Outlook and OneNote. I can drag an email into OneNote and choose either to have a PDF of it (printing to OneNote) or just an embedded copy of the email. This is not a clear win over Evernote as I can also capture email to Evernote from outlook. But, the thing is, because OneNote is a “family of Office” product, I intuitively knew that the link would be there. Evernote’s linking to email has to be discovered separately. My impression is that both OneNote and Evernote are improving their linking over time.

What I don’t like about OneNote

  • The canvas. Evernote’s canvas is static, text-based, and more intuitively appealing to me. In OneNote, whenever you click the mouse too far away from what you’ve already typed, you create a new text window. Which does automatically scroll down when you type something in any other text window. This is an example of too much flexibility for me. I find myself creating only one text window per note, and then being sure to add new thoughts to that single window. Static canvas, clear win for Evernote.
  • Too narrow a focus. OneNote focuses on you, your keyboard, and your projects. So it does not *feel* like a document management (or reference filing) system. Another clear kill for Evernote. I am forever adding a note to Evernote, and then much later taking that note out of my GRAPHICS or INBOXNOTEBOOK (the two big capture notebooks in my Evernote use) and either moving it to a project notebook, or copying the contents, pasting the contents into another note, and deleting the first note. OneNote is more narrowly focused than Evernote. I would not think about putting 14,000 articles and clippings into OneNote, for example.
  • Adding new text after a pasted-in graphic. I can’t figure out how to get OneNote to allow me to create new bullet lines in an outline, from clicking on the clip, hitting right arrow, and then either return or shift return as needed.

Reflections:

  • OneNote vs. Evernote, like Evernote vs. Dropbox is not a choice of one tool OR the other. They overlap in functionality. But OneNote is a lot more competition for Evernote, than it is for Dropbox. Here is what the overlap *feels* like to me. Recovered_File_1
  • Both OneNote and Evernote are (to my liking) overly rigid. I’m still looking to be able to re-arrange virtual note cards on a virtual desk top. And, to be able to arrange notebooks in relation to one another. But OneNote and Evernote allow note arranging little if at all.
  • Project focus is an area that OneNote excels in, and where Evernote is weak. I applied for a project management job at Evernote this year, and won the opportunity to work a test problem in new products. But, alas, no job was forthcoming despite my ENTHUSIASM and ranting and railing about Evernote as a platform. But, OneNote, if it shows nothing else, indicates how Evernote could up its game in the project management sphere.
  • Evernote is a platform. OneNote is an application. OneNote feels like Excel or PowerPoint, a point-focused app that captures and structures analytical thinking. Evernote with its open API, back end infrastructure, and plug ins for browsers that make ripping just the information you want out of a web page, easy, feels like a platform.

GTD-Conclusions:

In David Allen speak, OneNote lives in the land of projects and project plans. Evernote lives in the land of reference filing, and Dropbox and OneNote live in the land of project organizing infrastructure.

TrustedSystemgenerations01_pptx

Number 1 Reason GTDers Don’t Use Evernote … after installing Evernote

False Start in Swimming Competition
S
ource: Corbis

TLDR:

You can do both GTD and Evernote if:

  • You read only chapters 1-3 of GTD, then
  • implement Evernote as your reference filing system,
  • don’t forget to install three Evernote add ons,
  • be well rested when you work (don’t sleep walk) and
  • focus on doing one new GTD skill (reference filing) well, before adding others.

If you don’t do all these steps, you … will … fail and then likely stop using both GTD and Evernote. Failing does not have to happen.

/TLDR:

Reason #1: Too Many Changes At Once

The only reason for time is so everything doesn't happen at once.
- Albert Einstein

OK, you’ve picked up GETTING THINGS DONE (GTD) and you read the first three chapters. You stopped, considered my explicit instructions (see step 4) not to read the rest of the book for a year. In fact, when I give away GTD (I’ve given away over 50 copies so far) I physically cut the binding at chapter 4, and then do not give the last part of the book … until a year later. iPhoto

But most people do not buy defaced copies of GTD, or cut their books. So, they get excited in the first three chapters, and with boundless (temporary) energy, read the rest of the book. Embarking on a mission to change years of organizing habits, in three days. Prepare thine head … to be pulled off.

Even unemployed people can’t implement GTD in three days, a week, or even a month. I’ve seen them try. Changing everything at once is too much “shaking the jello.”

For example:

  • Gathering work into a reduced number of  inboxes
    =new jello … shaking.
  • pre-processing inboxes without doing the work simultaneously
    =new jello … shaking.
  • Setting up separate project and reference folders
    =new jello … shaking.
  • And in the middle of all this shaking GTD jello, you are becoming tired, overwhelmed while excited, so you are basically sleep walking, while continuing to read and continuing to decide to shake more jello because David Allen has given you hope.
  • Hope is something you have not had about organizing your work in say, 3 years. Hope at this point, inebriates.
  • So, you set up an Evernote account, downloaded Evernote, install Evernote, check that Evernote works. Evernote is (sleep walking) working!

But, implementing GTD is such an overwhelming experience, after you get Evernote installed and running, you sleep-walk back to read GTD chapters 4-13. More jello!!!

Then you take a break. Spontaneously your hope from reading GTD, begins to dissolve in guilt. Wait, what?

Trouble with the GTD editor. 

Captain Awkward calls it JerkBrain. I think of it as my internal editor. In THE WAR OF ART, Steven Pressfield calls it resistance, whatever you call it. As soon as you learn some of the tools of GTD, something inside your head will begin to fight against you implementing any of the tools of GTD. An this internal counter-GTD force, will begin piling up guilt in your mind.

A growing sense of guilt, combines with growing exhaustion from trying to reorganize all organizing tools … at once. And it is inevitable. You are going to have to stop implementing GTD and rest. And once you rest, JerkBrain, internal GTD editor, RESISTANCE, whatever you call it, sees its job, as keeping you from going back to GTD, and doing more implementing. One force in your head wants to implement, the other wants you off GTD the wagon.

And in this subconscious battle zone, enters the thought of installing Evernote. Or, … OneNote, … OmniFocus, … Dropbox, … Google Drive, … Google Apps, … maybe even buying a ChromeBook, … whatever. On the left hand side of your head, you have a list of many new GTD tools to implement: inbox, project list, project folders, 2-minute-rule. And on the right hand side, you have a list of many applications programs and systems to implement.

The key to actually implementing GTD is concentration. Concentrate efforts on fully implementing one GTD aspect, an aspect that will get you a big enough payoff, to shut down JerkBrain/GTD editor/RESISTANCE. For me, the one big thing was reference filing.

But, when you are tired, overwhelmed, and barely back to GTD after a night of sleep, or a weekend of family, or the latest big-baby-drama in your life, the automatic thought about reference filing is:

“Reference filing, no big deal.”

This.

Is.

Wrong.

Reference filing, the green box in this image, is a keystone skill of GTD.

Snapshot-10412-1030-AM-2.png

Not a mote, reference filing is a board in your eye. A board because if you are going to make the switch to GTD, Step 1 is to get (currently) useless paper out of your face. Going to paperless reference filing with GTD is a HUGE payoff. You will be able to find information in 15 seconds, that you currently are too discouraged to even try to look for.

And once you can find all the paper that your brain knows you should be able to find. JerkBrain/GTD edtior/RESISTANCE will be shut up long enough, to let you get some work done. And, the work will go faster than you are used to, because you can actually bring together ALL the key information you know you should be able to find, and get quick wins.

Did I mention that reference filing is not trivial? Hope I remembered that!

Reference filing setup requires:

Reference filing is a HUGE challenge. But if you can implement Evernote for reference filing and suddenly have all your key information available, you will:

  • Clear your desk of paper (“So there JerkBrain!”)
  • Clear your office of file cabinets (“Hah GTD editor!”)
  • Allow you to find anything in your old paper files in 15 seconds (this is HUGE it allows your subconscious to trust your change to a new system where subconscious does not need to “not-forget” all your important historical materials).
  • Give you a quick win to overcome cynicism in yourself, and in your peers (it is much better to hear “Why are you so happy?” after a week from your spouse, than “You were all diarrhea mouth about GTD, but nothing has changed. What is up with that?”).
  • And set you up to be successful implementing later pieces of shaking GTD jello.

*Note* having an Evernote account, having Evernote installed, and having Evernote running, is not having an Evernote reference filing system.

Installing Evernote while sleep-walking makes you miss three key components of Evernote’s dominant design.

  1. Evernote Web Clipper.
  2. Evernote Clearly. And
  3. Evernote Skitch.

Without all three of these tools your GTD system will leak all your internet information. As the internet is now the largest source of reference materials, this omission is sin. One byte of data about this …

A Clearly Example:

Last weekend I helped a friend who had bought Evernote Pro based on an enthusiastic Evernote demonstration two years ago. But after installing, she did not use Evernote. When I reviewed her Evernote installation, Web Clipper, Clearly, and Skitch, were not installed. So, we installed them  (2 minutes) and then I pointed her to PC Magazine (single most cluttered web site on the internet) and demonstrated Web Clipper and Clearly. When she saw that in one click:

– she could strip all clutter and advertising from web pages, and
– she could highlight passages in web pages, and
– that the web pages automatically save into Evernote, and
– that Evernote automatically put documents in folders where they are wanted,

she said:

“Clearly all by itself makes using Evernote worth it.”

Read that sentence again!

Summary:

I’ve heard that of all the people that attend the $800 GTD seminars, only about 17% actually successfully implement GTD. If there is an 83% failure rate implementing GTD, and in the middle of that failure there is this “Reference filing, no big deal!” trap where you run into:

– a ton of short term setup,
– need-for-un-wavering-attention,
– budgeting time to work while being well-rested, and
– significant costs,

There is no way you can reach Evernote critical mass. Heck, 83% of people don’t reach GTD critical mass! Changing one organizing habit at a time, is a TON of work. 83% of people succumb to JerkBrain/GTD editor/RESISTANCE.

So, if you want to implement GTD, plan on doing so part time. Budget mental resources in advance to confront JerkBrain/GTD editor/RESISTANCE. But most importantly plan to be patient. Plan to slow down.

And, did I mention, plan to slow down. Organization is a skill like personal training. You got fat over a long period of time. You will not get lean in 3 days. Your physical trainer will manage your expectations for you. But with GTD, you don’t have a personal trainer. You have to manage your own expectations.

Pick the one GTD tool that will give you the highest payoff, implement one tool well, and then move to the next tool.

GTD’s tool payoff precedence for me has been:

  1. Reference filing
  2. Getting a real desk (see Restart GTD’s best-selling-post: Perfect GTD Desk)
  3. Natural project management

Good luck! If you have questions, post them below this post. So far, this is the most read post on RestartGTD. Everyone has questions about reference filing and GTD. Everyone who starts implementing Evernote will run into a roadblock. Roadblocks are the keys to the masterpiece.

-bill

And these three tools take at least a year to master. After you implement these three, I deputize you to read chapters 4-13 in GTD. But, … not until then.

bill meade

Microsoft OneNote free for Mac Users on Apple Store

App_Store *Note* OneNote is free right now in the Mac App Store. I could not access OneNote by using Google Chrome, or even by going to the Mac App Store and searching for it. I had to use Safari, and I had to click on the external web-link to bring OneNote up in the Mac App Store.

THIS IS NOT AN ENDORSEMENT of OneNote. I seriously doubt that Evernote can be displaced by OneNote (but I’ll investigate and update this opinion after I’ve used OneNote). Evernote needs competition. Step 1: Go to Mac App Store Preview in Safari Mac_App_Store_-_Microsoft_OneNote Step 2: Click the “View in Mac App Store” button. App_Store_and_Mac_App_Store_-_Microsoft_OneNote Step 3: Click the “Install” button Applications Step 4: Go to /Applications/Microsoft OneNote.app and double click. Microsoft_OneNote Step 5: Ride the learning curve!