Tagging in Microsoft`s OneNote enables seamless maintenance of ToDo lists

With the increasing number of mails “Personal Task Management” is becoming itself an important task for everyone. Additional complexity is created by the fact that only very rarely there is the luxury of working only on one task until it is finished. Reality is that parallel streams of “work in progress” require to switch continuously on demand between the related actionable items. In this article I will demonstrate how Microsoft’s OneNote 2007 can be leveraged for task management. The following basic aspects of task management will be addressed:

  1. Put incoming stuff into related context
  2. Identify actionable items
  3. Select from the list of actionable items what should be done next

The way of how OneNote is used to accomplish these tasks is simple and straight forward.

(1) Put incoming stuff into related context

OneNote’s main concept to group stuff is the “Notebook”. A Notebook can have Sections. For each project that I have to work for I have created a section in my Task Notebook:

Task Notebook

These Sections are the place where we can now collect incoming stuff. Think of Sections as of folders. Currently there are two projects setup in my Task Notebook (Project1 and Project2).

How to put incoming stuff into the related Project Section?

In case of a new incoming mail there is a simple way in Microsoft’s Outlook 2003 to copy mails to OneNote with one click:


In this example I am working with Mark together for Poject1. Project1 is not mentioned in the mail, but I know obviously the context that this mails belongs to.

OneNote can be configured so that whenever you press the “Send to OneNote” icon in a received mail it copies the mail with attachments to the current section in OneNote.

Outlook Integration

Let’s assume that we had opened the Section1 in OneNote before we opened the mail from Mark. Now we only have to click once in Outlook on the “Send to OneNote” button.
Then we have copied Marks mail into the project context it belongs to, in this example into our Project1.

Follow Up

While this is so far nice, I agree, it is not really exciting. It would have been much easier to do all of this in Outlook itself. The following steps 2 + 3 will show the benefits of using OneNote.

(2) Identify actionable items

In the newly inserted mail from Mark there are two actionable items included:

  1. Sent a photo
  2. Provide ROI calculation

(Side remark: I ignore his question about my new car; this is not an actionable item. I know that we are going to talk about this anyhow soon during our next flight.)

I do not have the photo that Mark is requesting in the office, so I can not take action and I have to put this item into my list of actionable items. Also the ROI calculation will take some more work; so again this is something I will defer and put into the list.

OneNote has a mechanism to tag lines of text. This works in the same way as tagging works on popular websites like del.icio.us or www.flickr.com . A tag in OneNote is associated with an icon and the user can customize tags (see the “Customize My Tags” panel on the right):

Hot Task

A tag can be attached to an object in OneNote (delicious allows to tag bookmarks; flickr allows to tag photos). Here I highlighted the line in Marks mail that contains the actionable item “Send photo” and I am just ready to click on the icon for the tag “Task”. Doing so will apply the tag “Task” to the line:


Doing the same for the actionable item “ROI” will give me the following:


Please notice that the two inserted task icons are showing me that these two lines in Marks mail have been tagged as tasks. The identification of actionable items is now already finished. This is a great usage of tags on the desktop PC. It is important to understand that no copy/paste operation is required. The tagging happens directly in the context of Marks mail.

(3) Select from list of actionable items what should be done next

Now comes the really clever bit: OneNote offers a powerful search screen for tagged items:


So basically by clicking on the “Tag Summary” icon, OneNote is executing a search across all sections of my Task Notebook (please notice that the scope of the Notebook/Sections that will be used for the search can be limited by the user). It returns all items that have been tagged in one convenient result list as shown in the “Tags Summary” panel on the right in the screenshot above.

In this result list we can now for example quickly see not only the two new actionable items from Mark but also all actionable items of Project2. This list of actionable items is integrating all actionable items across all my projects. It is providing the perfect overview to decide about what I should do next as soon as I am done with managing my tasks.

OneNote is an exciting tool for personal task management. It allows very easily to put together the stuff that belongs together (here only mails are shown, but basically you can put everything that is on your PC into the context of the Projects) and it allows in a very seamless integrated way to markup actionable items so that the tagged items can be later retrieved with one click. Microsoft’s OneNote is therefore highly recommended.

For more information please go to Microsoft or buy it directly from Amazon.com

Closing comment: There are many books available that may help you to get fresh motivation and ideas about how to get your task management process into good shape. I would like to recommend GTD “Getting Things Done” from David Allen who was a great source of inspiration for me. His methodology works very nicely with the described method of task management in OneNote. Good luck.

Microsoft is a registered trademark of The Microsoft Corporation. OneNote is a registered trademark of The Microsoft Corporation.

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Mai 9th, 2007 at 11:33 pm and is filed under Recommended Products. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

16 Responses to “Tagging in Microsoft`s OneNote enables seamless maintenance of ToDo lists”

  1. rob Says:
    Juni 19th, 2007 at 7:35 am

    I like your set up. I’ve just obtained Outlook 2007 and am trying to decide how best to use the ability to create outlook tasks etc from onenote – do you find them useful or does the loss of the tag cause too many problems.

  2. Ralf Says:
    Juni 19th, 2007 at 10:08 am

    For me it is important to have ONE place to maintain my todo list. In the ideal world Outlook and OneNote would share physically one and the same “task/todo item list” storage mechanism. Until then copy/paste (or auto-creation) from Outlook to OneNote or the other direction is the best available. I am using currently OneNote 2007 but I am still on Outlook 2003 (maybe I switch soon; but the rumors of Outlook 2007 performance issues stopped me from upgrading) therefore I have not yet tried myself how Outlook 2007 works together with OnenNote. Keep me posted if you find something new.

  3. Bryan Says:
    Juni 21st, 2007 at 2:53 am


    With OL2007 the integrations with Onenote is superior! When creating tasks in Onenote they automatically are in OL. marking them complete in one completes it in the other. Check it out. This integration is what convinced me to dive into Office 07

  4. rob Says:
    Juni 22nd, 2007 at 8:40 pm

    I am getting on nicely with Onenote / Outlook 2007. I do like the ability to flag an item in onenote as a to do and then have this show up in outlook, however the to do then looses all its contexts so I have to put them into outlook manually – this is a drag and I’m sure I’ll be stopping this soon. A power toy which could take the flags over and stick them into outlooks catagories would solve the problem but thats way beyond anything i could do.

  5. Ralf Says:
    Juni 22nd, 2007 at 9:19 pm

    Ok, Thank you Rob, it looks like I have to find the time to upgrade to Outlook 2007 too. If I find improvements in it I will let you know.

  6. Michael Harrison Says:
    Juli 16th, 2007 at 7:05 pm

    Do you find the summary page function at all useful?

  7. Ralf Scharnetzki Says:
    Juli 19th, 2007 at 3:05 pm

    Michael, the Tag Summary functionality is for me and for my method of Task Management the most important functionality of OneNote. Is this not clearly enough described in the article above? Thank you for your feedback.

  8. Michael Harrison Says:
    Juli 29th, 2007 at 2:19 pm

    While you’re using the summary pane in a way I hadn’t found useful before, you aren’t using the “Create Summary Page” functionality. That’s what I was asking about.

    I’d like an option to have ON automatically add links or some sort of additional text to show where the tag came from.

    Since posting my original comment I’ve played with the tags summary pane a bit more and found ways to make it more useful for me. Not generating a summary page but rather just searching for tags like you’ve shown.

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  13. Inge Says:
    Februar 23rd, 2009 at 4:23 am

    i have created new tags in modify tags but when i imported that notebook into another computer the list of tags is the original one.Although the tags show up in the summary page I cannot get them into the list of tags to apply and its a bore to do them all again HELP ANWNE

  14. Hugh Baker Says:
    Februar 15th, 2010 at 9:04 pm

    Does anyone know if there is a way of showing in outlook, that fact that an incoming/outgoing mail has been sent to outlook – I use Onenote to file all my mail plus other projrct relted matter from multiple locations and dont want to have to check one note to see if i had remembered to send it to be filed? Hugh

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  16. Mox Says:
    Januar 13th, 2014 at 8:51 pm

    Can’t find a better place to post this question, but figured you might be able to help; in OneNote 2013, a seemingly minor change from previous versions is a daily hassle for me and I can’t find a settings option to get around it. Using OneNote for a to-do list management is my primary use of it. If i have a line tagged to identify it as a Priority 1, 2, or 3 by using a tag, hitting return key to make a new line item automatically tags it according to whatever the line before was tagged. This means that i then have to untag it and retag it if i didn’t want the new line to be the same as the one above it. This was not how it worked in previous versions, and i cannot find a way in onenote 2013 to change that action. While it may seem inconsequential, it does mean lots of unneccesary typing or mousing frequently throughout the day for me. Is there a setting that can change the default “new line” action so that it does not include the tag from the line above? i sure hope so. thanks.

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