OneNote + OneDrive = Awesome

Without good tools to keep me organized, I’d be totally scatterbrained and lost. Well, good tools and an understanding partner who helps me keep on top of things! I have tried a bunch of different tools over the years, but two in particular have become absolutely critical: OneNote and OneDrive. This isn’t a sponsored post, I just want to share two tools that have really made a difference for me. Maybe they’ll have a positive impact on your life too!


OneNote has developed into an amazing tool since it was launched over ten years ago. I originally used it locally on my computer to keep track of typed notes. I also had a Tablet PC, so I would use it for handwriting too. OneNote supports more advanced features also, like audio or video notes, photo notes, smart tags, document scanning, screen clippings, and much more.

Here’s an overview of the new OneNote:

I use OneNote many times a day, across most of my devices. I track my computer activity with RescueTime, so I know with certainty that OneNote is consistently in the top five applications by usage. It works on my desktop, my laptop, my Surface, and my phone. I run Windows everywhere, but even if your devices are a bit more varied, OneNote can work for you. There are apps for Android, iPad, and iPhone too. There’s even a web app.

At the moment I have two high level notebooks – one for personal stuff and one for work stuff. When I’m doing research for a blog post, I store everything in OneNote. I’ll even write some of my drafts there. I keep recipes, lists, and ideas in my personal notebook. My work notebook is filled mainly with meeting notes, often captured in ink using my Surface Pro, but I also use it for UI reviews, to keep track of technologies I’m exploring, and a variety of other things.

One of the greatest things about OneNote is the search. The ability to organize notes into sections is handy, and if you use tags you can quickly find any note that has a specific tag. But most of the time I just search. The best part is that OneNote will even search my handwritten notes, without any conversion to text. It’s surprisingly accurate, and it’s this feature that I typically demo to people when I’m showing them OneNote on my Surface. Support for this was added years ago and it still never fails to amaze.


OneDrive is the new name for SkyDrive, which first launched in 2007. It’s kind of like DropBox in that it is a place in the cloud to store your files. You get 7 GB of storage space for free, and it’s pretty easy and expensive to boost that amount.

Here’s an overview of the new OneDrive:

Again, OneDrive works across all of my devices, and again, there are apps for Windows, Mac, Android, iPad, and iPhone. There’s even an Xbox app, which comes in handy when you want to show some photos (which are stored automatically on OneDrive as I take them with my phone).

I put all kinds of stuff in my OneDrive (I’ve got over 47 GB of storage total, 20 GB of which comes from my Office 365 subscription). Everything I scan using my Doxie goes into OneDrive. Documents, presentations, audio recordings, graphics, mind maps, blog post drafts in MarkDown, – you name it, I store it in OneDrive.

Using OneDrive I don’t worry as much about backups (though I still use Backblaze and a few other approaches to do regular backups). Using OneDrive means I rarely have use for USB sticks, because my files are always in sync, across all my devices. OneDrive has completely changed the way I think about file storage, for the better.

The one and only feature I desperately want for OneDrive is co-owned folders, to bring DropBox-like folder sharing to the platform (you can share and collaborate on documents now, but I want to have an entire folder that is kept in sync across multiple OneDrive accounts). The good news is that the co-owner feature is apparently coming very soon.

OneNote & OneDrive are better together

The magic happens when you store your OneNote notebooks on OneDrive. All of the new Microsoft Office apps support logging in with a Microsoft Account, so it makes it super easy to do. I think this approach is probably the default for the phone and tablet apps too.

With OneNote on OneDrive, it doesn’t matter what device I’m using, because my notebooks are kept up-to-date with changes. The sync is completely automatic and fast. So fast actually, that it fits into a 6 second Vine:

I rely on this each and every day, so I’m glad I have never run into a sync problem. I can take some notes at home, walk over to the office, and pick up right where I left off on a completely different computer. I regularly take notes on my phone when I’m at an event, and when I get back to a computer to start blogging about it, I don’t need to worry about where my notes are. They’re always there, ready for me.

These two tools have made a big difference in my life. If you want to give OneDrive a spin, use this referral link and we’ll both get an extra 0.5 GB of storage space for free. If you want to try OneNote, you can download it for free here.

Remember The Milk

rtmIt seems that no matter how hard I try, I am never as organized as I want to be. There’s always something I didn’t get around to doing, or something new inevitably comes up. I am getting better though, and there’s a few tools I use to make it easier. I use Outlook 2007 every day for my email and calendar, but I’ve never been a big fan of the tasks functionality in Outlook. For that, I’m an extremely happy user of Remember The Milk.

Remember The Milk (RTM) is a web-based task management application. Here’s what they say on their about page:

We created Remember The Milk so that you no longer have to write your to-do lists on sticky notes, whiteboards, random scraps of paper, or the back of your hand. Remember The Milk makes managing tasks an enjoyable experience.

You’ve really got to try RTM to understand why it’s so awesome, but here are three of my favorite features:

  1. Keyboard Shortcuts
    That’s right, this web application supports keyboard shortcuts! It takes some getting used to, I suppose, but once you know the shortcuts you’re set. Pressing “t” will open a text box to allow you to type a new task. Pressing “n” deselects all the tasks in the current view, etc. Very handy.
  2. Smart Due Dates
    In most applications, selecting a due date is a pain in the ass. You’ve got to open a little calendar control, navigate to the month you want, and then click on the day. With RTM, you get a text box that you can type virtually anything into. Seriously. Want to make the task due tomorrow? Simply type “tomorrow” or even “tmr”. How about next Friday? Simply type “next friday”. Once you’ve used this, you’ll wonder how calendar apps could ever have worked any differently.
  3. Twitter Support
    As a self-described Twitter addict, I was incredibly happy to see RTM add Twitter support recently. Now I don’t even have to be near a computing device to use RTM! Instead, I can simply send a text message via Twitter to add new tasks, find out what’s due today, and more. Twitter’s direct message feature is what allows this magic to happen. Once you have RTM configured and added as a friend on Twitter, you can simply send “d rtm pick up milk” to add new tasks. Makes task management on the go a cinch.

You can learn more about RTM here. RTM supports multiple languages, task list sharing, offline access, and tons of other cool stuff. Did I mention that RTM is free? Quite amazing really, though they did recently launch a “Pro” account that costs $25 per year. With the Pro account you get priority support, new features (none as of yet), and “a warm fuzzy feeling for supporting RTM”. Heh.

If you’re looking for a good task management application, I definitely recommend Remember The Milk.

Read: RTM

Complicated Technology Makes It Simple

Post ImageInteresting post written by John Zeratsky over at To-Done! about living a simple life with complicated technology:

I will concede one point – computers and their technological brethren are enormously complex. But the best-designed gadgets and systems actually go a long way toward simplifying our lives.

He then lists a number of technologies that make his life simpler. I thought about it for a couple minutes, and then I realized what my “life-simplifying” technology is – my Tablet PC.

I am terrible for losing paper. If I have something on paper, chances are it will get lost at some point in time. Unfortunately, it’s just not feasible to type everything! That’s why my Tablet PC is so handy, I can type or write or draw or do whatever I need to as if I had paper. And the best part is that I don’t lose anything AND it becomes searchable! I spend a lot of time on the computer as it is, so being able to just write something down without changing “interfaces” (read: moving eyes and focus from screen to paper) is extremely useful. My Tablet PC is a pretty complex device, but it simplifies my life.

What complex technology simplifies your life?

Read: To-Done!

How To Deal With Change

Post ImageSpeaking of change, Keith over at the wonderful To-Done! blog had this to say today:

Even small changes, like a rip-roarin’ summer, can throw us out of balance. Sometimes it’s as simple as a routine, or good habit, being broken. If enough time has passed and enough disruption has occurred, it can be hard to get back on track. Part of a maintaining a good work/life balance is taking a break now and again. The problem lies in that sometimes, a break is such a disruption you can lose momentum in various aspects of your life.

In my experience the best way to get back to normal (or what feels like normal) is to take a holistic approach as opposed on taking on one aspect of your life at a time.

He then outlines the holistic approach to handling change. Of the nine points Keith outlines, I’m currently doing three and occasionally four (clean and order your living and work areas is starting to be regular, but not yet). Looks like I have a little work to do!

Read: To-Done!