Microsoft OneNote has become my favorite, go-to program for staying organized. It's free and it works across all of your devices, so you can use it almost anywhere.
I don't know how I - or my company - stayed organized before we used OneNote. You and can run a better insurance agency, or business of any kind, with this tool.
In this article, I'll show you the basics of how it works and give you a few tips that my team and I use every day.
How to get Microsoft OneNote
OneNote 2016 is free, on any device. You can get it for Windows, Android, iOS, and even for your Mac.
A tablet-optimized version of the program is included on any computer with Windows 10 installed. But you can get the full version for free too. Microsoft explains the difference between the two versions here.
I prefer the full version. It includes more features and it's still incredibly easy to use. I encourage you to download it form Microsoft's site, for your PC.
Get the right version for your phone or tablet from the Google Play Store or App Store.
For best results, set up a OneDrive account
I use OneNote on my laptop, phone, and tablet. I can open my files an any device and they are synchronized across each device without any effort. How can you do this? By saving your OneNote files in the cloud - specifically, in Microsoft OneDrive.
OneDrive is a cloud storage service similar to Dropbox or Google Drive. And the good news is that the basic service is free. If you already have a personal Microsoft account, you have OneDrive already! If you have an Office365 account, you have a business version with 1TB of storage space.
If you don't have either account yet, zoom over to Microsoft and set up a free one. Click on "No account? Create one!" (I'll wait here for you . . .) If you want, you can synchronize your cloud folders and files on your computer. I love that feature, but it's entirely optional.
Now open your OneNote program, click on "Open" and log into your account. Make this your default location for OneNote accounts. Then do the same thing on any other devices you've installed OneNote on. Now each device will be able to open, edit, and synchronize your Notebooks.
What is a OneNote Notebook?
This is one of the most common questions I've gotten from employees who've started using this program. Think of it this way: Microsoft Word is a program that opens "documents." You can open each document to use it and close it when you're done. Excel opens "sheets." And in a similar way, OneNote opens "notebooks."
Think of your notebook much as you would think of a spiral notebook or three-ring binder. When you were in school or college, you probably had one notebook for each subject (math, English, accounting, etc.).
You should take a similar approach to your OneNote notebooks. In my example to the right, you can see that I have two personal notebooks, one for my own work in the IHT Agency, one for my church work, and two that I share with my board, and with my entire work team.
On any device, you can easily change from one notebook to another. The advantage of dividing your information up like this is that it makes it more manageable. It's also easier for you to share only relevant information with others.
What is a OneNote Tab?
Just as you could organize a notebook or binder with tabs, you can organize OneNote that way too. In the image above, you can see many of the tabs in my "IHT" notebook.
Each tab is a subdivision of the information I want to collect in my notebook. Unlike a paper system, the number of tabs is virtually unlimited. When you think of another area that you want to include in your notebook, just add a tab!
This makes it really easy to keep organized. You can drag and drop your tabs to put them in your preferred order. You can also password protect a tab. Just be sure you don't forget your password. If you do, that information is safe from you, too!
What is a OneNote Page?
Pages are where the magic happens. You can have multiple pages under each tab. Think of your page as a souped-up Word document, or Power Point slide. Except you can put text anywhere, go as far down the page as you want, and can include all sorts of text, links, files, images, screen captures, and more.
It starts to look like this page below, which I used to draft some thoughts for this blog article:
You can see above that I'm working in the "Team Site Notebook" under the "Shareable Content" tab. The pages under this tab are listed on the right. Note that I've created different pages for different subjects.
You can also see that this page - OneNote blog draft - has three sub-pages, which make it easy to see that they are related to this blog article.
The page area itself is the white space on the left. In practice, you have much more room to work with than you see here. I resized the window to make the image fit more neatly on this website.
As you can see, my notes include typewritten text, some hyperlinks (which I saved in OneNote so I could use them here), and also an image that I considered using in this article. You have extreme flexibility in creating, arranging, and moving information on your pages.
OneNote Tips and Tricks
You can do as much or as little as you want within OneNote, but I've grown to love using it. Here are a few of my favorite tips for you.
The magic of OneNote cloud synchronization
All of the functionality of OneNote becomes truly awesome because of the automatic synchronization.
For yourself it makes life easier because you can open any page from any notebook on any device. This includes any documents that you may have added to a page. So if you're at the store and you need to see your notes, or manual, or a scan of something, it's all there.
I create most of my content on my computer and often use it on my tablet or phone. For example, I have frequent opportunities to speak in my church. So I outline my remarks in OneNote on the computer. If I think of additional things to say while I'm waiting for my turn - or if I need to edit or shorten my remarks - I can make those changes on my tablet. Then I take my tablet up to the podium and I'm ready to go.
Your team can also benefit hugely from OneNote. The synchronization happens automatically, and usually only with a few moments delay. This makes it a wonderful replacement for a whiteboard or easel and flip chart.
At IHT, we use video conferencing a lot. We love it! And part of makes it work is that we use OneNote for our agenda and meeting notes. It doesn't matter where the participants are. As long as you've shared the notebook with everyone, they can see your notes right after you type them. You can see theirs, too. No-one has to hit "save" or "refresh" to keep up. And when the meeting is done, everyone has access to the notes and to-dos.
If you were in the Microsoft store reading the IHT Insurance Agency review of OneNote, we'd give it five stars. In fact, we'd give it more, if we could. All of this functionality, for free? We only wish we'd found it sooner.
How about you? What do you use to stay organized? What tips would you share with us?
Please comment below, or share this article if you found it helpful.
IHT is a multi-state insurance agency with dozens of branches across the eastern and central United States.