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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

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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.

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