A Few Tips for Integrating OneNote Into Your Life

Posted on November 28, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in OneDrive, Office 365, Windows Phones, iOS, Android, Office, Windows 10 with 39 Comments

A Few Tips for Integrating OneNote Into Your Life

Microsoft OneNote is the best note-taking solution in the world, and it’s available for free on every personal tech platform. You should use it. And here are a few tips for getting started.

Note: This post is inspired by Mike Elgin’s Computerworld post, Why you should start using Google Keep right away. I love Mike, and I understand why he recommends Google Keep. But I feel that OneNote is an even better solution. Plus it’s really free, and not “free for the price of your advertising-driven soul.”

Get it for free. OneNote is free for every modern platform imaginable: the Windows desktop, Windows tablets, Windows phones, Mac, iPad, iPhone, Apple Watch, Android handsets and tablets, Android Wear, and on the web. No matter which platform choices you make, OneNote is there.

Instantly capture anything when you’re on the go with iPhone. On a 3D Touch-enabled iPhone, you can tap and hold on the OneNote icon and access OneNote features like New Note, New Photo, and New List, plus access notifications and recent notes. You can also access these features by adding the OneNote widget to your Today screen. And that New Photo option is perfect for scanning in a whiteboard or document too, just as with the separate Office Lens app.

Instantly capture anything when you’re on the go with Android. OneNote for Android let you add a OneNote badge to the home screen so you can take a note, clip, or photo anytime. Not a fan of Android badges? You can add a variety of OneNote widgets instead, including two full-featured widgets and separate icon-sized widgets for taking an audio note, starting a new note, and taking a picture.

Instantly capture anything from your browser. You can add the OneNote Clipper extension to your browser: It works with Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, or Microsoft Edge. So it works with Chromebook too.

Use it as a sketchpad. OneNote is the only note-taking solution to fully support digital ink capabilities, which can be used for handwritten notes with a pen, of course, and full transcription/search functionality, but also for sketching.

This is obviously just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to getting started with OneNote. What else should be on this list?


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Comments (39)

39 responses to “A Few Tips for Integrating OneNote Into Your Life”

  1. 5722

    Too many great uses to list!!  I record meetings and take notes while I record.  You can later jump to that section of the recording by clicking beside that line in your notes!

    Emailing links to pages and sections is a great way to share information with others.

    Being able to search everything, including words in images, allows me to find anything I'm looking for.

    OneNote is like Excel in that you can use it to do very basic things like take notes or more advanced if you take a little time to learn.  

    Office Lens and Clipper are great ways to get content into OneNote.

    Above all I use Windows Key - S (or Shift-Windows-S) to take screen shots and send to OneNote or my clipboard.

  2. 722

    I use the feature where you can email stuff to [email protected] and it will get filed into your quick notes. 

  3. 131

    Since OneNote 2003 I've been heavily reliant on it for most of my note-taking needs (including using a shared notebook with my wife), but I have to admit that sometimes I use Keep just because it's dead simple in use and quick access.  If I need to quickly jot down a note or idea that I'll likely delete later, then I use Keep.  Creating a new Page in OneNote for only a one-line string of text seems a bit much, and Keep definitely launches faster than the OneNote app.  For example, I recently had to record a Dell serial # to later input into a database; Keep was perfect for this.

    • 364

      In reply to wbhite:

      It's hard for me to think anything could be faster than starting a quick note in One Note, one note closed, and no mater what I am doing  press winkey-n and I have a brand new page created and instantly can make a note...

      • 131

        In reply to Nickel:

        I'm talking about the phone apps (Android, in particular).  Keep is definitely faster to load than OneNote on my Nexus 5X.

        • 364

          In reply to wbhite:

          Ah, On windows and on Windows Mobile One note is quick, fast and easy, syncing works great. On Mobile  just tap note in the action center and tad an instant quick note in One Note. I just charged up my dusty android device, yes keep loaded a tad faster. The quick note widget took about the same time to load as just stating the app normally.  However the One Note smart badge is kind of nice and leads to instant note taking rather than a slight delay to note taking with Keep. It does have the drawback of always  having the badge visible so one can tap it no matter what app one is using... While playing with keep and One Note, I personally can't see the need or use of Keep, One note seems a better solution, but then I have been using One note since the very first version of it was in beta so I know it well


    • 241

      In reply to wbhite:

      I use OneNote for the same thing. One line of text in one page not problem. Of course I don't like Google's way 'search solves all organization' labeling approach, like Gmail.

  4. 4827

    I forget when exactly, maybe 2014?

    I saw a ballmer interview where he said he had gone paperless. I figured "if ballmer can do it, I can too".

    I never got anywhere with OneNote. Then one day I  watched a quick Microsoft "getting started" video.

    Boom, it clicked. The newer versions are better.

  5. 8758

    I'm at the tail end of migrating from Evernote to OneNote. While I like OneNote, I wouldn't have left Evernote if not for the fact that the company changed the scope of the free service, limiting access to just two devices or a web browser.

    There are things to like about OneNote, chief among them its superior text-formatting capabilities and the fact that there's no monthly or total storage limit, or at least no limit beyond your OneDrive quota (if you're storing your ON data online).

    But OneDrive has some issues. As others have noted, the syncing can be wonky and I've also run into issues with search, where I have to close all my notebooks and then reopen them and let them to resync before search works properly.

    Also, ON lacks the extensive tagging functionality that makes organization and access much easier in Evernote. And the Android ON app is close to useless, particularly as search doesn't work quickly or reliably.

    But the biggest issue I have with OneNote is that there's no way to share a single note -- it's either the full notebook or nothing. That seems to be a really major design flaw.

    The name of the product is OneNote, not OneNotebook.  

    Until these issues are fixed, it's not credible to consider OneNote the world's best note-taking app. It could be with some effort, but the app is nearly 10 years old. 

    • 5615

      In reply to videosavant:

      Yep; agree about the Android OneNote app. I've been using OneNote on the PC almost since the beginning. The Android app is clunky, slow and really doesn't handle well large amounts of data. For me, it's virtually unusable on my 5X. It needs a major performance boost. I mainly use Keep on the phone (but mostly just for odd notes that I probably wouldn't use OneNote for anyway).

  6. 3216

    I want to like OneNote - I've tried.  But it really leaves going, "Meh".  The UWP app is very limited and the "free" Windows app is crippleware.  There's really little for me I can't do with other things I already have.

    • 124

      In reply to gsmith-plm:

      'the "free" Windows app is crippleware'

      Are you talking about the desktop OneNote?  In what way?  I really have no problems with it on any device.  The UWP is not as full blown as the Desktop OneNote.

  7. 241

    Can you use Keep offline on a Windows 10 computer?

    • 2

      In reply to mebby:

      Yes, but if you're using the desktop application, you just have to load your notebooks. It's all synced for offline automatically. 

  8. 5723

     Onetastic is a great addon for One Note.  It adds One Calendar, macros, and a number of other goodies.  I personally use both One Note and Google Keep.  One Note is where I keep stuff that I want to save.  Google Keep is where I jot down quick notes.  It feels lighter to me and I don't find myself at a grocery store trying to sync a notebook.  I have about 20 of them that I use at work and some are personal and under my MS account and others are business and under my Work Exchange account and sometimes I have to sign in to either or both at awkward times to get the right notebook to sync up.  Keep is drop dead simple, fast, and it's great for throw away notes and lists.

  9. 639

    I love OneNote.  I save travel plans and other things into it and it gets saved to OneDrive so my wife can see it.  Keeps us from having to email things to each other.  The sync happens pretty quickly as well.

  10. 8622

    I try to use OneNote, but it has a variety of behaviors/limitations which put me off it. Examples:

    1) OneNote Badge WAS a great feature until some genius decided that it was too difficult to close, and made it so that tapping anywhere on the OneNote Badge notification (in the notification shade) closes the badge. Now Onenote Badge is too easy to close. It will inevitably get closed unintentionally, and the result is that OneNote badge is never there when you need it. This defeats the whole purpose of the badge (convenience), and I don't even bother trying to use it anymore. There's a damned X on the notification, sitting there for no reason. Why not make it so that the X disables the badge to make it more difficult to do accidentally, or better yet, have an option in settings to make the notification persistent like it was before they "fixed" it?

    2) When another user shares me a read only note, half the time I end up with onenote spamming "We can't sync this section because we can't access the file. try changing the file permissions or saving a copy of the section somewhere else" error messages.

    3) Syncs are painfully slow. With Google keep I never have to open the phone app and sit there waiting for the notes to come through, the notes are always just there. This also limits the recent notes widget, because the only notes shown are the ones taken on the phone.

    4) Often the Android app is very slow to launch, and even slower after an update.

    5) The keep widget shows note content, but the OneNote widget only shows titles. They should make a widget that shows content, and let you choose which notebooks or sections to have shown per-widget.

  11. 4010

    Jealous of everyone who enjoys a flawless onenote experience. Syncing constantly flakes out for me within a week, and the Microsoft support solution when those ugly error codes creep in is create a new notebook and manually copy all your notes over. Once fine, twice hmmm, a third time - goodbye!

    • 940

      In reply to innitrichie:

      After reading this post I have just started using OneNote less than 6 hours ago. Initially syncing fine across PC/iPad/iPhone but even with a modestly sized notebook (6 tabs and less than 10 pages in total) syncing is now terrible. Slow and unreliable throwing up errors forcing me to restart.

      I've never been a OneDrive user before and I guess I won't be ever again unless the system accepts my single OneDrive document in my account. I'll give it another 48 hours and keeping my fingers crossed.

      I know Paul is biased towards Microsoft's products but this amount of problems needs a real zealot with too much time available to troubleshoot things that should "just work".

  12. 1109

    Any recommendations or websites or books on learning OneNote 2016? I am considering moving off Evernote when my subscription expires

  13. 5510

    OneNote is very good. However, the OneNote Clipper extension is far inferior to Evernote's WebClipper. For example, Evernote's WebClipper can clip more than one webpage at a time with a single click. OneNote can't do that. If an article spans 4 pages, OneNote Clipper will only capture the first page. I switched to OneNote, ever since the Evernote Policy change, but then switched back to Evernote because it failed to me my personal needs. 

    All in all, I use OneNote for professional needs; Evernote for my personal needs; and Keep....

    Keep has been really, really great for me. That's because it's so easily accessible on my phone, my personal computer, and even on desktop at work. It's great for keeping little things like lists and little tidbits of information.

    If you are an Google/Android user, Keep is a very indispensable tool because it's lite and it's very easy to get to. Evernote is great for me, when it comes to webclipping. Versus OneNote Evernote is superior in webclipping and user interface. As for OneNote, it's my professional notebook...plain and simple. When I am not at work, I don't ever ever ever want to see OneNote.  LOL...I don't need to see the stressful info, in my OneNote during afterhours, weekends, etc....

  14. 1008

    OneNote is a complete solution, no doubt. Although sometimes i wonder it is just too much for simple to-do list entries like: buy milk on way home.

  15. 1513

    Love OneNote! Use it for everything. We run our IT department from OneNote. It has now become a repository of info for all of senior management for upcoming purchase of another bank. It took a while for everyone to jump on board, and really "get it." But now, everyone loves it. We have a very mixed user group too, probably every platform in use.

  16. 670

    Hand written notes...that says it all. I have eight years of hand written notes with clients from various generations of note taking devices, and they are ALL searchable without converting to text. Every time I write "Joe Smith" in a note, OneNote (desktop) can find it through all my notes - highlighted and ready to review - just brilliant.

  17. 124

    It can be used on a Windows Phone also.

  18. 3309

    "No matter which platform choices you make"

     . . . No Linux client?

    Thankfully the web interface is not crippled. I use the free 2016 desktop version on my Windows machine, mobile version on the Android tablet and the web version while at work (cannot install any apps here).

    The browser extension for clipping was one of the few things that I liked with Evernote but the OneNote version works just as well (or better).


  19. 1517

    I tried and tried to use Onenote, but search simply will not work for me.  I can almost never find anything with it unless I stumble upon it.  Like wbhite said, Keep is just so much simpler to use.  

  20. 180

    Office lens. Handwritten notes converted to Onenote pages via the camera. It's awesome to be able to write straight onto a surface, and devices like the Yoga Book are great options for note taking too, but fundamentally you can just keep using paper if you'd prefer or can't afford a computer with a digitizer and import stuff later.


    At least that's what I'm told. I, ah, have never actually done that. Because I do own a Surface. But my understanding is you can....

    • 442

      In reply to Polycrastinator:

      Office Lens to me is clumsy.  If they'd work on the UI a little bit to make it easier to do some of the basic functions, It'd be noteworthy.  But for now, it's just another "scanner app" where there are much better apps available. 

  21. 8275

    Handwriting doesn't actually work anymore either since Windows 10 (I note that there are exceptions where people have manage to fiddle and get it working but, broadly speaking, we shouldn't consider this a feature anymore).

  22. 8741

    The problem with OneNote is that you need a Nano Science degree to figure out how to use it. Keep is "brain-dead" simple, and easy to use.

    • 8665

      In reply to mystilleef:  I agree, I have OneNote but have yet to use it as I don't have the time to figure it out.  It seems overly complicated for something that should be relatively intuitive and simple, as with most things Microsoft these days.


  23. 570

    We all have various large ticket items that we have or purchase new. I take a photo of the Model/Serial Number tag and then list the date of purchase and include a snap of the receipt. If you keep doing this and also start capturing your older stuff, you have a searchable record of all the stuff you own. If you need service or a part, you don't have to go and try to find the info you need in several different places. It is all right there in OneNote. Lawnmowers and other small engine tools. Power tools and electronic items. Nothing is off the list. It's great for home inventory.

  24. 8848

    In reply to dstrauss: I love OneNote, one of the most useful apps period...
    This is a good set of tools for OneNote created by one of the devs at Microsoft... https://getonetastic.com/