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Posts Tagged ‘Personal Productivity Tools’

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

and

  • 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:

image

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.

Scenario

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.

New OneNote Videos from Microsoft

Clutter

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.

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.