Gather Your Thoughts

Published Date
01 - Mar - 2007
| Last Updated
01 - Mar - 2007
 
Gather Your Thoughts
Now where did I save that stupid Excel file? Oh no! Here comes the boss, itching to lecture me about the importance of organisation... If you're smiling, thinking "been there, done that," you should continue reading.

Thoughts are random, hurried, and seldom recurring-that's the beauty of the creative human mind-which is fine if you're an artist or an eccentric billionaire. Chances are, you're not! So you need all the help you can get to organise your thoughts and remember those ideas-who knows, maybe your next promotion or your first million await you... Now if only you could remember what it is you thought about, and where that damn Excel file is?

A lot of people, including most of us at Digit, still carry a pen and paper to every meeting and brainstorming session. Some even have pen and paper on their night stands, just in case. A few of us use our mobiles or PDAs to jot down ideas, set reminders, take notes, etc. Then we learnt about OneNote!

For the casual user, MS OneNote is just another MS Access-something the majority of Microsoft Office users don't have a clue about, and frankly, couldn't care to learn. It's just another program in the Start Menu that we notice on our way to clicking on Word, Excel, PowerPoint or Outlook-providing you've bought the Microsoft Office Enterprise or Ultimate edition. If not, you can get OneNote for about $100 (Rs 4,500).

OneNote
Sadly, this brilliant note-taking and collaboration tool hasn't had the same publicity as its Office counterparts. In fact, it seems Microsoft considers it more of a tool for TabletPC users, because of the ability to use Ink to jot down notes in OneNote. However, we decided to leave tablet PC functionality out, and focus on what the software has to offer to regular desktop and laptop users.

Fire up OneNote 2007, and the first thing you'll notice is the lack of the new Ribbon that seems omnipresent in Office 2007. Quite frankly, it's not needed, because OneNote needs all the desktop area you can get, and the software is not complicated enough to warrant the Ribbon.

So What Is It?
OneNote is an enhanced note-taking and organisation software. Since it's made by Microsoft, it has the added advantage of being seamlessly integrated with Windows, Microsoft Office, and Internet Explorer. You can use it to jot down your thoughts, ideas, save URLs, insert files, images, take screenshots of selected areas of a Web page, or your Desktop, and basically do anything you could using paper, pen, printers, and browsers to organise yourself.

The beauty of OneNote lies in the fact that there's no right or wrong way to use it. Whether you're a teacher organising your yearly syllabus, a doctor keeping notes on patients, a manager monitoring his team's performance, or a group who want to collaborate and share ideas and research, there's no real template or procedure to follow.


 
The beauty of OneNote lies in the fact that there's no right or wrong way to use it.

Apart from professional use, OneNote can also help you organise yourself-manage your shopping lists, help you keep track of your many boyfriends/girlfriends… anything! Essentially, if there's something you want to do, and it involves remembering something or refers to something else, you can use OneNote to do it easily and better!


Getting Started...
By default, when you start OneNote 2007, it opens with the "Getting Started with OneNote" tab. This handy guide is something you just have to read through at least once, because it will answer a lot of questions you will ask later on.

That done, you should get a basic idea of how and when to use OneNote. From now on, we'll assume you've read that guide, and have no doubts about when to use this software. We'll now go on to telling you how to put it to use.

The first thing you should do, provided you have the time and inclination, is to go to File > New > Notebook and take a look at the templates of notebooks that OneNote has ready for you. You don't have to follow these templates, of course, but it will give you a fair idea of what this software is capable of.

After you open a notebook of your choice, it's time to understand the layout of the pages you will come across.

Apart from the Standard menu and Formatting buttons at the top, there are three areas to the interface. On the left you will see a thin vertical bar that displays all your Notebooks. Exactly as the name suggests, each Notebook is like a physical file folder-it can be filled with notes, scraps, cut-outs, pictures, and more. In this case, of course, these "scraps" of information are all digital. You can quickly skip from one Notebook to another by clicking on the tabs at the left of the interface.

OneNote On The Move
 If you own a PocketPC or Windows Mobile device, you can jot down and save notes into them and synchronise them later with your desktop/laptop. There's no additional software to buy or download either-all you have to do is go to Tools > Options > OneNote Mobile > Install OneNote Mobile after you've connected your device to your PC. This will install OneNote mobile to your phone, and now you can take notes wherever you go.

On the right you will find a list of "Pages", which, again, exactly as the name suggests, are digital versions of pages in a notebook. One you've filled up a page, you can just add another one and continue with your notes. Of course, you don't have to wait for a page to be filled before you move on to another, because if you really want to be organised, you can give your pages descriptive names and put different types of content together-like all Web links in a page called "Links" and images in a page called "Pictures"... or not!

As we said earlier, the beauty of this software lies in the fact that there are no rules to follow; as long as it makes sense to you and serves its purpose, there's nothing to stop you from putting images in a page called "1" and links in a page called "Hakunamatata"!
At the top, below the standard buttons and menus, you will see what is called the Section bar. Here, you can further organise your pages into sections. This is much like the drawers and compartments in a cupboard-like separating the whites from the colours before again segregating shirts and trousers!

Again, using this is completely your choice.

Get Those Notebooks Out
One you have created the notebook of your choice, you can start jotting your thoughts and research down. In order to add text, just type anywhere, then drag it to the spot you want to place it in. The same applies for images, audio/video clips, links, Web pages, anything.

You can change the way the Notebooks panel on the left is displayed by clicking the ">>" button at the top to give you a more detailed view of the Notebooks and their contents.

If you use Internet Explorer (6 or later), adding what you find online to OneNote is as simple as clicking a button. After you've used OneNote for the first time, you will find a taskbar icon appear, which will let you add elements to your notes. In Internet Explorer 7, under the Tools menu you will find "Send to OneNote", so you can easily add Web pages to your Notebook.

While you have the OneNote icon in the taskbar, you can use [Windows] [S] to take a screen clipping. This is similar to a screenshot, but you drag the mouse and make a selection box so that you only get the required area in the image. This is then automatically added to your open Notebook, and then you can set comments for it.

Search And More Cool Things
If you're putting your thoughts down in OneNote, it's obvious that you should be able to find them when you need them. This is where the search function comes in handy: not only can you search through text, you can also do so in images (or rather the text that may be in images) as well. This works in the same way OCR does, and tries to recognise characters in images. So if you have scanned business cards, just pop them into your Notebook called Contacts (for the current project) and then just search for names when you need them.

When you add documents into your Notebook, you're asked whether you want to include a link, a copy or a "printout," which is nothing but an image of the print preview of the document.

Because OneNote integrates seamlessly with Outlook as well, if there's a mail that relates to the project that your Notebook is organising, just drag it into OneNote. You can also set Outlook tasks from within OneNote, all you have to do is click on the Tasks button or go to Insert > Outlook Task.

Apart from all these basics, which you should have no problem figuring out yourself, you should know that OneNote will also let you record audio and video notes with the help of a microphone and webcam. Just start recording by right-clicking on the OneNote icon in the task bar and choosing Start Recording Audio (or Video).

You can find such audio/video clips easily by searching for "video recording started" or "audio recording started", which is the text that's added by default when you record an audio/video note.

If you're not really sure of where to put a thought, or if you haven't yet made a Notebook for a project, but there's something you need to record right away... all you need to do is press [Windows] [N], and a Side Note popup called "Untitled Page..." is seen. Add your note here and then close it. It is automatically saved in the Unfiled Notes section of OneNote, which is just below your other Notebooks. You can always categorise it later.  

The Coolest Ones
OneNote 2007 adds a lot of functionality for collaboration and teamwork, because no project is a one-man-show. When creating your Notebook, just select one of the Shared Notebook templates, or just choose Blank Notebook. When you click Next, you will see the options "I will use it on this computer", "I will use it on multiple computers", and "Multiple people will share this notebook". Select the last option, and if you have a central file server that everyone in your team can access, choose the "On a server (SharePoint document library, network share, or other shared location)", and specify the path to the folder on the server you wish to store this document on. If there's no file server facility, just select "In a shared folder on this computer". OneNote will automatically share the folder that the document resides in.

 OneNote And Math
What's 8752347 divided by 876235? This article is being typed in Microsoft Word, so to find the answer we have to go to Start > Run, type "calc", enter the numbers again, and then find the answer. In OneNote, all you need to do is put an "equals" sign at the end of the phrase and press [Spacebar]. You can even do some geometry-just type tan(15)= or sin(60), find square roots, and much more.

However, it is wise to make the share a dollar share if you're going to be giving both read and write permissions, to protect your computer against viruses and the like. In both these steps, you get an option to create an e-mail to inform the rest of the team about the location of these files.

Instead of everyone working on one file, OneNote creates a local copy for all the people sharing the file and then keeps updating the changes people have made. What this means is that when out of office, team members will still have access to the Notebook, and changes will be updated when they're back at work. VPNs and accessibility to mobile Internet means that you can hook up a laptop from virtually anywhere you are, and your Notebook can be set up to be updated online as well.


 
Because OneNote integrates seamlessly with Outlook as well, if there's a mail that relates to the project that your Notebook is organising, just drag it into OneNote

If you have multiple computers (most commonly a desktop and a laptop), you can get OneNote to synchronise your Notebooks to make sure all your computers that you work on are always up-to-date. When creating a Notebook, select "I will use it on multiple computers", set a shared directory on one of them and then create it. When you want to synchronise, just go to File > Sync and all computers are updated.

You can build you own little Web site inside OneNote by using hyperlinks to point to other Notebooks, pages within a Notebook, Web URLs… anything! One interesting feature is that you can make text on one page into a hyperlink which points to another page, just select the text, right-click and choose the "Create Linked Page" option.

When it comes to making tables or creating shapes, easy-to-use toolbars will make your life easier. One notable upgrade to the 2003 version is the fact that the Lasso tool has been included. Though this is another feature meant for Tablet PC users, the Lasso tool is quite handy for those of us who use mice instead. Very often you will find your pages in your notebook quite cluttered with different notes (images, URLs, text, etc.). Instead of trying to select shapes or notes by clicking away to glory, you can use the Lasso tool to draw a selection around them, and then move them around as you please.

Privacy
Very often you might find yourself using OneNote alone-no team, no projects, no bosses-just you trying to get your life in order. You may want to store that joke you liked, or that ridiculous, raunchy forwarded picture that's doing the rounds, and you can't have your boss see these things of course, not even by mistake. All you have to do to prevent this is to password-protect your Notebook, or just a section of it. All you have to do is select the section, then go to File > Password Protect this Section.

If you were worried about storing sensitive data or valuable data such as credit card numbers, banking pins, etc., you don't need to any more. OneNote features 3DES encryption, which is pretty much uncrackable. Just make sure your password is strong, because 3DES or not, setting your date of birth or your significant other's pet name as the password is just plain silly!

Summing It Up
We've given you a very small overview of OneNote and its capabilities, and there's tons more to learn. When it comes to organising you life, nothing we've seen before beats OneNote. It's functional, simple and powerful, which is the perfect combination for success. Why keep a million sticky notes when you can store it all in OneNote!  




Team DigitTeam Digit

All of us are better than one of us.