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A Place for Everything… (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this article, I discussed the information management needs for my training practice. Now I will turn to the first major component of the system – managing correspondence and applying OneNote® to the task.

Image result for puzzle

With vary rare exceptions all correspondence for my training practice is electronic – email. So the primary purpose of the system is organizing and managing email. At the same time, the system needs to allow for possible correspondence in other formats, particularly telephone calls and text messages.

Guiding Principles

In Part 1 of this article, I referred to the system’s “prime directives”

  • ease of storage
  • ease of retrieval

The system is intended to manage information

  • received from, and sent to, other people


  • about training workshops and people attending.

Dealing with training workshops and the people who attend the workshops suggests a general structure (or categories) for organizing the information:

  • Sponsors
    • Years
    • Workshops
    • Trainees
  • Information Requests

Why OneNote

Given that most of the information I am dealing with comes in the form of e-mail, it is fair to ask why go beyond my email client, Outlook®? After all, Outlook does offer custom folder, and fairly extensive search tools. Couldn’t you organize all the information in Outlook and avoid transferring information to and from another tool?

The answer is, of course, “Yes …. but….”

As good as Outlook’s folder management and search tools are, I found they weren’t quite the tool I was looking for. For one thing, my emails deal with more than just training-related information. As my training practice grew, it became increasingly time-consuming to track down all the emails related to, say, a specific workshop or a specific sponsor.

Some years ago, I discovered OneNote® and had been using it to store and manage much of the information that comes my way on a daily basis. For example, I uses a variety of computer applications. I use a OneNote notebook to keep track of the license information for these applications.

So I began thinking about using OneNote to manage my training practice information. Communication between Outlook and OneNote is relatively easy; versions of Office since 2010 or so have included an Outlook command to send the current item to OneNote. The same versions include a ‘printer’ which means you can create a OneNote entry for just about anything simply by printing the item and selecting “Send to OneNote” as the printer.

Setting it up in OneNote

Image result for notebookThe OneNote features I will be discussing here specifically refer to OneNote 2016 running on a Windows 10 desktop computer. The organization of OneNote notebooks is relatively simple.

A OneNote can have one or more sections. Each section can have one or more pages. For my purposes, the most useful structural feature of notebooks is section groups. It is this feature the is at the heart of my filing system.

When you first create a OneNote notebook, it has one section with one page in it. In my training notebook I will use that section  as a table of contents for the entire notebook. To identify the section and its purpose, I have renamed it ‘Notebook Contents.’

I should mention at this point that I use the Onetastic add-in TOC in Current Notebook macro to automate this part of the notebook. The table of contents supports the ease of retrieval prime directive. The Notebook Contents section contains a single page, ‘Table of Contents,’ generated by the Table of Contents macro. When I add new content to the notebook, I use the macro to generate a new Table of Contents page and delete its predecessor.

The notebook has a second ‘top-level’ section named, ‘Information Requests.’ This section contains one page for each training information request I receive. I use another Onetastic macro, TOC in Current Section, to generate a Table of Contents list of current requests in the section.

The meat and potatoes of the notebook is a section group I have called Sponsors. Each sponsor is represented by its own section group with an index section, and one section group for each training year.  Each training year has one section for correspondence to and from this specific sponsor during the year and a section group for workshops. Finally the Workshops section group has individual sections for each workshop.

One possibility I considered was to have two section groups for workshops, pending and completed but I decided to simply use colour coding to make the distinction.

Believe me this system is far more complicated to write or read about, so here is a chart outlining everything:


Notice that the contents are blue and underlined? Each entry in the generated table of contents is a hyperlink to the section listed. That makes it easy to get to any particular section or page.


How it Works on a Daily Basis

Here’s how the workflow goes.

I receive an email from Mary Smith asking for general information. After reading her email in Outlook, I click the Send To OneNote command and choose the Training Notebook Information Requests section as the destination.

Now, let’s skip ahead in time a bit to when Mary books a training date. Since I don’t yet have a section for the company that will be sponsoring the training, I create new section in the Sponsors section group for DEF Inc. At this point I name the section that OneNote automatically added to the DEF section group for 2016, name its first section Correspondence and create a Workshops section group.

In the Workshops section group, I name the first section Workshops and create a new section named for the Workshop that Mary has booked.

Now, if all of that sounds time consuming, it really isn’t. All it takes is a couple of minutes.

Since I’d like to keep all correspondence related to a particular sponsor together, at this point I will move Mary’s information request to the new correspondence section for this year for the sponsor. OneNote make it easy to relocate pages ‘on the fly.’

I should also note that, while the Onetastic TOC macros are a great tool, this system does require some manual work for some of the sub-indexes. Once again, OneNote makes creating links to specific pages pretty much child’s play.


So that is my correspondence management in a nutshell, albeit a somewhat large nutshell. Part 3 of this article will discuss the building data management component of my system.

A Place for Everything …

imageThe timeless proverb, sometimes attributed to Benjamin Franklin, A place for everything and everything in its place, is a simple principle, one that is at the heart of getting and staying organized. For several years now, one particular application has been at the heart of managing much of the information that I need to keep a tight rein on. That application is Microsoft OneNote®.

In this article I am going to discuss how I use OneNote to manage vital information for business. On any given day, I may wear one or more ‘hats,’ each hat representing one aspect of my business which includes, Access database development and consulting, Excel worksheet consulting, and Microsoft Office® Suite user training.


In my training practice (Sudbury Training), which I will focus on in this article, I work with companies and individuals to help the people who attend one-day workshops improve their skills in using Microsoft® applications (Word, Excel, PowerPoint,Access, Publisher, Project, Visio, OneNote, Outlook) in their daily work. From a business perspective, I am dealing with two main groups: clients (the business or individual paying for the service) and trainees (the individuals to whom I directly deliver the service.) Regardless of whether a particular workshop is ‘once-only’ or repeat business, there is a general pattern for the information I need to manage. OneNote® makes it easy to set up a system that makes sense to me in this context and  that mimics (or models) the real world setting of the information.

Before that can happen, of course, it is necessary to determine what general categories describe the information to be managed. There is really no single right way to do this. The guiding principle, at least in a ‘one-man show’ is what works best for the person who will maintain and use the information. In a larger enterprise, of course, the guiding principle has to be what will work best for the organization as a whole.


That said, the categories I came up with for my business are:

  • Clients
  • Correspondence
  • Workshops
  • Attendees
  • Scheduling

    Image result for nuts and bolts

Figuring out the System

The “prime directive” of any information management system is that recovery of any single piece of information stored in the system must be simple and efficient. If it takes a dozen commands and many minutes to find out when a workshop is running and how many people are attending, that is a pretty good clue that the system in question is not ideal.

Second only to ease of retrieval, is ease of storage, getting information into the system so that it can be retrieved as and when it is needed.

In the course of analyzing my data management needs, it quickly became apparent that what I needed was a two-pronged approach, one for storing and retrieving correspondence and one for storing, retrieving, and analyzing facts and figures.

Why the separation? From a data management point of view, correspondence is messy. The vast majority of my business correspondence is e-mail. In general, the pattern starts with a query from a client about workshop availability followed by response to the client with availability details, follow-up discussions and clarifications, formal quotation, and scheduling. Each e-mail in the sequence contains varying amounts of verbiage and significant detail.

While the full content of each email may be more or less important from a documentation point of view, the vital who, what, where, and when details are but a small part of the whole. That’s where the separation comes into play:

  • Correspondence manager for communications received and sent
  • Data manager for significant details

I will leave discussion of the data manager aspects for another article.

In part 2 of this article, I will discuss using OneNote® as the correspondence manager.

OneNote Shortcuts

A Fortunate Accident

I was writing a OneNote page when suddenly the page took on an appearance that I had never use. It had lines and a red margin, just like a ‘scribbler’ page. 



Instinct told me that I had somehow triggered a keyboard shortcut, one that might prove useful in the future. That set me to digging in to OneNote keyboard shortcuts. My search led me to this site (for OneNote 2010) and this one (for OneNote 2013).

It didn’t take long to identify the shortcut I had accidentally triggered (<shift><ctrl>R). Like many shortcuts this one is a toggle so that by keying <shift><ctrl>R again (deliberately this time) the margin and lines disappeared. Problem solved and I had added a new item to add to my personal bag of tricks. By the same token, some shortcuts apply only to a specific application.

Shortcuts – the Road Less Travelled

I didn’t used to be a shortcut fan. Until a few years ago, I quickly turned my attention to other things whenever the topic came up whether in something I was reading at the time or in personal discussions. After all, learning anything involves personal effort and time and I had more important things to do and little enough time to do them in. Happy in my ignorance, I completely missed the point that investing a tiny amount of time in learning shortcut pays a huge dividing in time saved, time that becomes available for other, more ‘important’ tasks.

I suspect that many computer users, especially those who have been using personal computers for a relatively short time take the same ‘path of least resistance’ that I allowed myself to be caught by. In their defense, the learning curve for a new user can be overwhelming. It is difficult enough to learn and remember what to do without taking on the additional burden of learning shortcuts. Besides, for a computer newcomer, there is no apparent benefit for investing the time involved.

Nevertheless, one aspects of shortcuts does help to ease the learning curve. Many shortcuts are, at least in the Windows world virtually universal. That means that you have only to learn them once to be able to use them ‘everywhere.’

A Selected Few OneNote Shortcuts

This list is by no means comprehensive. It contains a small sampling of shortcuts that I find useful on a daily basis. Some are useful throughout the Windows world; others are specific to OneNote. Shortcuts are associated with keyboard keystrokes. Some use just a single key, others a combination of two keys pressed together, still others a combination of three keys pressed together. In most case you position the cursor or select the portion of text to which you want to apply the shortcut

‘Universal Shortcuts’



Undo the last action <ctrl>z
Redo the last action <ctrl>y
Move cursor one character to the right <right arrow>
Move cursor one character to the left <left arrow>
Move to the next paragraph <ctrl><down arrow>
Move to the previous paragraph <ctrl><up arrow>
Scroll to the top of the current page <ctrl><home>
Scroll to the end of the current page <ctrl><end>
Scroll up in the current page <page up>
Scroll down in the current page <page down>
Cut the selected text or item <ctrl>c
Copy the selected text or item <ctrl>x
Paste cut or copied text or item <ctrl>v


OneNote Specific Shortcuts



Copy the formatting of selected text <ctrl><shift>c
Paste the formatting of selected text <ctrl><shift>v
Apply or remove yellow highlight from selected text <ctrl><shift>h
Apply or remove strikethrough from selected text <ctrl><shift>-
Apply or remove superscript from selected text <ctrl><shift>=
Apply or remove subscript from selected text <ctrl>=
Apply or remove bulleted list formatting from selected text <ctrl>.
Apply or remove numbered list formatting from selected text <ctrl>/
Right align a paragraph <ctrl>r
Left align a paragraph <ctrl>l
Go back to the last page visited <alt><left arrow>
Go forward to the next page visited <alt><right arrow>
Insert the current date <alt><shift>d
Insert the current time <alt><shift>t
Insert the current date and time <alt><shift>f
Apply, mark, or clear the To Do tag <ctrl>1
Apply of clear the Important tag <ctrl>2
Apply or clear the Question tag <ctrl>3
Remove all tags from the selected text <ctrl>0


This list contains but a selected few OneNote shortcuts. The best way to learn these and other shortcuts is simply to start using them

For a more comprehensive collection of OneNote shortcuts visit this page: Shortcut World.

New OneNote Videos from Microsoft


I’ve long been a fan of OneNote as a simple to use yet effective business and personal organization tool.

Check out this article to see Microsoft’s tongue in cheek depiction of the sticky note jungle that OneNote can help you solve.

See How One Note Can Enhance Your Productivity


This Blog article contains a laundry list of how one person make the most of OneNote in his business and personal life.

Good News! Microsoft Release Free OneNote

Microsoft have announced the release of OneNote for Mac, Android, and Windows platforms.What is OneNote, you ask? Take a minute and view this video.

OneNote has become an essential personal assistant for my day to day work. I have used it to create several notebooks, each dedicated to one aspect of what I do on a daily basis.

For example for my Office Applications training practice, I have a notebook with one section group for each client. When I am in contact with a new training client, the first thing I do is create a new section group for that client. Within that section group, I will create a new section for each training engagement I discuss with the client. Section contents include emails, notes on phone meetings and any other information relevant to the training session.

On a volunteer basis, I desktop publish a weekly bulletin. I receive content for the bulletin from a number of sources. With a quick click of a button, I forward the content as I receive it to the current week section of that notebook. When it comes time to put the bulletin together, all I have to do is go to the current week section of my bulletin notebook.

Those are just a couple of examples of how OneNote helps me keep my one-man show afloat. OneNote, however, is not just a tool for individuals. Large organizations also benefit from this easy to learn and use tool. Pfizer, for example, estimates that OneNote improves its effectiveness by 15%.

Potential uses for OneNote may not be infinite but its usefulness is really limited only by your imagination. Once you start to use it, the possibilities the you will realize for your own OneNote use will grow exponentially.

Manage Application Licences With OneNote

imageWhether you purchase applications on-line and download the installation files or install new software from installing disks, keeping a central record of Application Licences and Activation Codes can greatly simplify managing the applications you have and having the information you need (User Name, associated email, licence number and activation code).  OneNote provides a simple solution for individuals and small businesses who do not have ready access to Information Technology experts who specialize in such management.



Keeping the information organized simplifies the process of

  • upgrading applications
  • re-installing applications
  • transferring applications to a new computer system.

There are, of course, a number of different ways you could organize this information in OneNote. My notebook has just two sections.


The contents section has only one page which serves as a table of contents for the notebook and as a quick list of all applications. Each entry on this page is a hyperlink to the main page for each application


I have organized the Applications Section by having a Page for each application. If I have received the main information by email then I simply send the email to OneNote using the link on my Outlook Ribbon. Once I have created this page, I copy the link to it and insert it as a hyperlink on the Contents page.

Occasionally, additional information about the application may come up. For example, I called support for one application. To keep a record of the discussion and its outcome I created a subpage for the application, titling the page Support followed by the date of the discussion. Having a separate subpage for each support call, if there is more than one, makes it easy to track down and review the applications support call history

An alternative approach to organizing application information might be to create a separate OneNote section for each application with as many detail pages as necessary.

However you organize the pages, a summary of key application information at the top of the main application page can be helpful. Include in this summary as much key information as you have used in obtaining the application in the first place. For example most of the applications I have installed have the following types of information:

  • Developer/Provider Website
  • User Name
  • User Email
  • Serial Number
  • Activation Code
  • Sales Contact
  • Support Number/Address
  • Version
  • Installation Date
  • Upgrade Versions and Installation Dates


If I have created an account with the Provider that I purchased the application from, the one piece of information that I do not store in OneNote, is my password. Similarly, if the application itself requires a log-in password, for security reasons I do not store the password in the OneNote workbook.

OneNote makes it quick and easy to store and update Application “Vital Statistics.” Investing a few minutes to record this information when you install a new application can save you hours of frustration in the future trying to remember where you put that scrap of paper that scribbled the details on.

OneNote as a Workshop Planning Tool

Workshop Outline

Recently, a client asked me to facilitate a Project Management workshop. As I started to think about planning the workshop, I realized the OneNote would be an excellent tool to help with the planning.

I already had an outline of the content that this one day workshop would cover so that was my starting point for setting up the OneNote notebook. I set up the notebook with several sections:

  • Major Topics
  • Labs (Hands-on exercises)
  • Handouts
  • Background and Resource Materials

Thinking about these sections, it seemed to me that they naturally fell into two major categories, suggesting that the notebook should consist of two sections:

  • Workshop
    • Major Topics
    • Labs (Hands-on exercises)
  • Materials
    • Handouts
    • Background and Resource Materials.

Now I had the basic structure for my workshop planning notebook. There was, however, one additional requirement for the notebook. Although I wasn’t collaborating with anyone else, I did want to be able to view and edit the notebook remotely. While I do most of this sort of work on a desktop computer, from time to time I also work away from home base, so to speak. Accessing the notebook remotely would allow me to review and update the workshop plan even if I were away from home.

OneNote offers a solution tailor made to my need. Rather than creating the notebook locally, I created a OneNote Web App on my SkyDrive. Once I had the notebook set up, I was able to link to it from my Android tablet using Microsoft’s OneNote Android App. Now I had the best of both worlds, ability to work with the notebook on my desktop computer exactly as if it were a local file, and ability to access the notebook anywhere I had WiFi or 4G service.

Remote access to OneNote offers a huge advantage over making manual notes and then updating the notebook later when I am back at home base. The notebook is always current with my latest changes. Making changes directly in the notebook instead of making paper notes that have to be transcribed later, saves time and effort.

OneNote is arguably one of the most versatile personal productivity tools in the Windows world. Using it as a workshop planning tool as I have described here if but one of a seemingly endless parade of possibilities. How you use OneNote to best advantage in your world is limited only by your imagination.

OneNote to the Rescue

imageI have long been an unabashed fan of Microsoft OneNote. I recently realized that OneNote could help streamline one of my routine tasks.

In one of my other lives, I edit and publish the weekly bulletin for my parish church. The pastor sends me an email with most of the information to be included in the current week’s bulletin. The organist sends me another email about music selections for the week and occasionally other parishioners email me additional material.

Putting the bulletin together is largely a matter of copying content from the emails and pasting it into Microsoft Publisher. Because I am copying one ‘story’ (announcement, notice, or hymn selection) at a time, I need to keep track of what I have already included in the bulletin and what is not yet included.

Space in the bulletin is limited to what will comfortably fit onto six 8-1/2 x 5-1/2 pages. That means that some items have to be omitted. Often these omitted items could be used within the next week or two, space permitting. So I need to efficiently track those items as well.

Along the way, I started using a reply copy of the pastor’s email so the I could apply Outlook’s highlighting tool to each item as I finished adding it to Publisher. So, I could look through the reply email for anything to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. After I put that week’s bulletin to bed, I simply discarded the reply email.

Enter OneNote. A few weeks ago, while working on the bulletin, I thought, “There has to be a better way to do this.” That’s when Outlook’s OneNote shortcut caught my attention and a new and improved solution was born.

Now when each email arrives I use the OneNote shortcut to send the email to OneNote as an unfiled note. I move each unfiled note to my Bulletin notebook and put it in the Raw Materials section.

The first thing I do when I start to work on the bulletin is copy the contents of each of the raw materials pages to a new page for the current week. With Publisher and the OneNote Bulletin notebook open side by side, I select (highlight) each item to copy and then paste into an appropriate place in the Publisher document.

Then, when I return to the notebook, before selecting the next story, I click the highlighter shortcut while the section I had just copied to the bulletin is still shaded. I repeat the process, item by item, until every story in the original email is highlighted.

When an item has to be omitted from the current bulletin because of limited space, I change the highlight colour and copy the item to an Unpublished page in the notebook. When space becomes available in a future bulletin, I can easily find and use an unpublished item without having to wade through old emails looking for them

OneNote has helped me streamline producing the bulletin, helping me to do a better job as editor and publisher, and reducing the time it takes to do the job.


Incidentally, if you would like to see the final product of this process, visit our website at