Living life with OneNote: Let’s get personal

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College students use OneNote to stay organized and productive with constantly demanding deadlines–it’s easy to manage an entire college career in a single notebook. But where do personal commitments fit in? California State University and OneNote intern William Devereux shares his personal notebook to show how he uses OneNote to keep track of everything from movies and games to social events and lists of what to pack for his next trip.

As a student, I use OneNote to help me manage a whirlwind of classes, assignments, group projects, and lab work, but there’s more to life than work and studying. Personal time is important, and OneNote is essential to helping me make sure I have fun too.

My personal notebook is organized into nine key sections: Important, Lists and Info, Work, Microsoft, Events, Notes, Resources, Clippings, and Quick Notes.

The first section is just what it sounds like: a repository for crucial information. In this section, I store everything from financial information such as routing numbers to product keys and gift cards. I also keep a list of PINs that I’ve used in the past, just in case I pull out an old device and discover that I no longer remember the code to unlock it. This section contains some sensitive information, so I’ve made sure to password protect it for additional security.

The Lists and Info section is probably my favorite of the bunch. I’m a very organized person, so I like to keep track of interesting games to play (games in the “Pile of Shame” are titles that I own but have yet to start), books to read, and movies or TV shows to watch. I’ve taken this a step further by also keeping track of the content that I want to download or finish at some point. This way, I won’t forget to watch that second audio commentary track on the Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn Blu-ray, for example.

I have lists for all sorts of things. Whenever I loan an item to someone, it goes on my Lent Items page. I also keep track of PC specs and essential programs that should be installed on all of my devices. Finally, I maintain a list of podcasts that I enjoy (just in case I need to wipe my media player), technical support case numbers, and my domains and their associated registrars.

The Work and Microsoft sections are very similar and were originally combined at one point. The latter, however, started to grow so large that it eventually needed its own section. Basically, anything work-related is placed into one of these two sections, from prep materials, travel plans, and interview expenses to to-do lists. The Microsoft section also contains a list of handy resources distributed during orientation, my packing list, a collection of things to do over the summer, and much more. As you can see, while these are work-related, they’re also more on the personal side. The stuff I’m actually working on is stored in team notebooks on Office 365.

It can be hard to remember everything that happens at a big event or convention, so I started using OneNote to keep track of things beginning with the event title. I’ve developed the habit of using OneNote to write the names of people I meet, making it easy to remember their names and refer back to a list of people I met months or years later. Each event has its own page with all sorts of useful information, from the room number at the hotel to cool things I saw and various other details.

The Notes section contains a hodgepodge of, well, notes, from areas of improvement for products to software bugs, app ideas, meeting notes, and anything that might happen to come to mind while writing a review. In many ways, it’s very similar to your typical Quick Notes section. I just prefer to use Quick Notes as a temporary storage location rather than a repository for random thoughts and ideas.

The Resources section is where I keep all sorts of tutorials, tips and tricks. Whenever I come across something that might be useful to reference in the future, it goes under Resources. This includes a list of star services for smartphones and wireless carriers, instructions for connecting an Xbox 360 to Xbox LIVE via a laptop, the folder locations for app data, system icons, Zune HD apps, or the Internet Explorer whitelist, voicemail numbers, and much more.

I’ll often find something funny or interesting online that I want to keep a copy of. Before I started using OneNote, I’d usually paste this information into a Word document. This is great for creating individual documents, but eventually, I switched to saving them in the Clippings section in OneNote. This way, individual snippets are out of the way and stored in one place, but they’re still instantly accessible if I never need them and much more discoverable than they were before. Some of my old blog posts can be found here as well.


Last, but certainly not least, is Quick Notes, the default section for notes which have yet to be filed, including Voice Notes on Windows Phone and notes created using OneNote 2013’s Quick Note feature. I rarely keep stuff in Quick Notes for very long, instead preferring to move the page to the relevant notebook/section or delete it when its usefulness is at an end.

All of this content can be accessed from any device (including my desktop PC, Surface, Windows Phone, and the Web App on SkyDrive), so I’m never without the information that matters most to me.

–William Devereux

How do you use OneNote in your personal life? Let us know in the comments!

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  1. CAdams1984

    I really wish OneNote was around in the form it is today when I was in college. I use OneNote every day both at work, home, and at church. I have lists of people to call in a OneNote page on my phone and then I edited that list on my phone or on the computer. Since a flood damaged our church in 2011 (due to Tropical Storm Lee) OneNote has been a great tool that I use daily to help manage the maintenance of the church and for taking minutes at church meetings. Having my webcam hooked into my laptop I am able to search for for clarification to my notes when writing up the minutes at a later date. I am really looking forward to seeing what new features OneNote comes out with. I hope more of the features from the Full Version will make there way to my Windows Phone version of OneNote in the future. Keep up the great work OneNote Team!

    • stanman21

      I agree, I would have used the living hell out of OneNote and SkyDrive if they were available back then. Actually OneNote was available to me, however I had no clue what it was, so I kept typing my notes in Word documents. Great work guys, especially integrating it with Windows Phone; writing a shopping list real fast at my desk or phone then heading to the store and having it all come together within minutes is something everyone should have.

  2. William Devereux

    Thanks! It’s always great to hear how much people enjoy using OneNote. It’s been my favorite application for many years, long before I started working on it.

    • CAdams1984

      Yes, I can tell you really enjoy OneNote. I am excited to see what new and inventive changes and modifications you will bring to the table of the OneNote team at Microsoft. Keep up the good work William.

  3. I’ve been using One Note for a while, but due to some fragmentation (based on work restrictions) I’ve been forced to create multiple OneNotes. I’ve been dreading but I am excited at the same time to consolidate the OneNotes into one.

    Although it’s still easier to go through multiple OneNotes by using search than having to go page by page on a real notebook. 🙂 Thanks for the share, I really liked the category Resources as I’ve been struggling with figuring out what I should Bundle FYI and Tutorials since they are things I want to refer to later, but not necessarily the same thing.

  4. I am in the midst of changing from the Appleverse to the Microsoft world. I was concerned that I would not be able to duplicate the utility of my synchronized Mac-iPad-iPhone setup without selling my soul to Google. This app will do it. My iPhone 5c will be replaced by (probably) a Nokia Lumia 920 and my iPad by a Windows tablet not yet determined.(oh, Dell, why did you switch from the 10.1 inch screen to the 10.8? I want the new hardware in the old package) One Note is so very like the old Franklin Planner I used decades ago, the notes part in the back.

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