GTD with Outlook 2010 and OneNote 2010 – Processing and Organizing Your OneNote Inbox
June 18, 2010
By Michael Wheatfill
In Part 5 of the GTD with Outlook 2010 and OneNote 2010 Series, we covered how we Process and Organize our Outlook Inbox. We’re now feeling good and can move on and process/organize our OneNote Inbox. Since we setup OneNote in part Three, we are capturing and collecting everything in one section. Now we can go from top to bottom, identify and decide what we should do with all our captured information.
Let’s get started!
If it’s trash…
If there is no action…
Not all of our genius ideas and note taking need action…so we can do a couple of things.
1. File as Reference
With our reference system setup, we are giving ourselves a framework to always have a place to put things, even random things in a trusted system. In OneNote we deal with information in a couple of ways. I don’t implore any fancy OneNote techniques to organize, I’m simply moving information into the appropriate section.
- Single element or text on a page – Select the text or picture or whatever it may be and Cut it (Right click and select Cut or push the Ctrl+X shortcut key). This information could be heading to your reference system, Someday/Maybe Lists, or Project List/Project Support Material. If there is already a page that you want to paste the information on, do so. If you need to make a new page, click the New Page button.
- An entire page – If it’s an entire page, this is simple to move around in OneNote. You can click and drag the page to the desired section.
You can also right click the page and select Move or Copy… Then use the Move/Copy dialog to move the page to it’s new home. I rarely use Copy, I generally only Move. I don’t want multiple copies of things confusing me. I’m already confused enough as it is!
1. Incubate It
Some things you’ll want to put on your Someday/Maybe lists. Maybe someone suggested a book to read, you came across a web link you want to explore more at a later time, or you had a great idea on how to save the world that you may want to implement some day. Use the methods above for moving that information to your Someday Maybe list in OneNote. This could be one whole page dedicated to the Someday/Maybe item, or it’s possible it falls into one of your broad categories like “Movies I’d Like to See” or “Places I’d Like to Travel”
But what if you want to be reminded of this Someday/Maybe item sometime in the near future? Well, we keep a Someday/Maybe list over in Outlook that allows us to add reminders to, so see how this works.
After you’ve moved your Someday/Maybe item in OneNote, go to that item and place your cursor before the first character. You can do this with text on the page, or even on the page title if you want to be reminded of a page with multiple items on it. Once your cursor is in place, push the shortcut key Ctrl+Shift+5 or select No Date from the Outlook Tasks button on the Home ribbon.
Now head over to Outlook. You’ll see the tasks appear in the (none) section of your To Do bar. Categorize these in your Someday/Maybe section and add a reminder to it. If you don’t know how to do this, head back to Part Four and check out the Defer Section. If the item isn’t descriptively named, you can rename it here too. A cool thing about these items is they are linked between Outlook and OneNote. Double click the item in the Outlook To Do bar and you’ll see in icon for Link to Task in OneNote. Double click that and you’ll be taken to that page in OneNote.
You can do the same in OneNote to access the Outlook item by right clicking on the red flag and selecting Open Task in Outlook.
Don’t need the reminder any more? You can delete the task from Outlook or from OneNote. Check out the drop down menu above and you’ll see Delete Outlook Task. You can also mark these complete if you want from OneNote as well. Sweetness.
If there is an action…
Well, we’ll do it, defer it or delegate it. The trick is if we are deferring or delegating, how we get that into Outlook quickly. Let’s see how it’s done.
Usually we’ll be sending an email. If we are sending an email, and the page in OneNote has some context on what we are delegating, just email the page right from OneNote. Select the page, then go to the Home tab on the ribbon and click Email Page in the Outlook section.
If we are deferring the action, then we are adding them to our Next Actions list in Outlook. Select the text or page and hit that good ol’ shortcut key we discussed previously, Ctrl+Shift+5. Head over to Outlook and categorize the task and rename it if necessary so that it describes the “next physical action”. Ambiguity on next actions are one of the main causes of not actually completing them. If you need more info on how to do this, check out the Defer section in Part Four.
Organizing Our Projects
One of the biggest challenges I had when setting up my GTD system with Outlook and OneNote is how to keep track of all my projects, project support material, know where this information is and have an easy way of viewing and reviewing all my projects for my Weekly Review. I got frustrated with keeping my project’s in one section, and then my Project Support Material in another. OneNote 2010 has some cool new features that we can use to help us with this issue.
Whenever I’m processing and come across something that takes multiple actions (which is more often than not by the way), here’s what happens:
- I go to my Projects section in OneNote and create a new page from a project template I created. If you want more information on creating page templates, go to Part Three to see how to create them. The page name is a simple and clear name for the project.
- Depending on the project, I may or may not fill out all the sections. Sometimes I’ll just hop to the Organize section and jot down the order in which I think actions need to be accomplished. When I determine the Next Action, I put my cursor on the bullet item and press Ctrl+Shift+5 to create the task in Outlook.
- As I complete Actions for the project, I may come up with information, links, notes and so forth that are related to the project. This is Project Support Material (PSM). This information generally gets captured in my OneNote inbox. I then move these pages into the Projects folder. I then go to the Projects folder and organize this PSM as sub-pages of the main Project page. Here’s how:I start out with something that looks like this. Several pages at the bottom of the Projects list that are PSM for a particular project. I move these underneath the appropriate project. I then click and drag slightly to the right. This makes the page a sub-page of the Project page. You’ll see a slight indentation like so:
I then collapse the PSM for all my projects, and this gives me my Project List. No need to keep a separate page of a bulleted project list. No need to keep separate PSM in a different area, I can simply collapse it to get it out of the way, or expand it when I need it. You can easily see what pages have PSM by looking at the page tab. It appears as if it’s stacked on top of other pages.
- As I review my projects and see my progress, I can check the Actions as complete directly within OneNote. Simply click the red flag and it will change to a check mark. It will subsequently be removed in Outlook as well.
What about PSM that isn’t in OneNote?
Often times as we progress through our projects we gather information from various sources. This could be print material, emails, or files and documents in our file folders on our computer. Let’s see how we can organize this information so that we always know where it is. I take more of an implied approach, so I don’t need to write down where something is, or provide a link to it, I simply design the system for cohesion.
- Print Material – I create a manila folder (or multiple ones) with the project name on it. If it’s an important project I’m spending frequent amounts of time on, this is generally within arms reach in a section on my desk. If it’s less frequently accessed, I don’t hesitate to alphabetically file it in my general reference system. Since I know the project name by looking at my projects list, as long as I know my alphabet, I can find the PSM.
- Emails – If the email is a frequently used form of communication on my project, I create a separate folder in Outlook for it. If it is less frequently used, I use the Send to OneNote feature in Outlook to stick a copy of the email in my OneNote PSM.
- Electronic Documents and Files – If the files and documents are numerous, I create a separate folder for these. What makes them easy to find however, is that my file system mirrors my OneNote setup. Let me show you what I mean.
In the My Documents folder, I have a folder called @GTD, and in that folder I have a folder called Projects. If I encounter a project with multiple files, I create a new folder with the project name and store the files in there. Now I don’t need to link to these files to remember where they are, I just know my file system looks exactly like my OneNote setup.
Now, if the files and documents are less frequent, or perhaps I want to provide some notated context to them, I copy them into OneNote. Yes, OneNote can link to or even have files embedded directly within pages. If you want to know more about this, check out Part Four on Collection using OneNote.
A Note on Reference Material
David Allen suggests that with our physical file folder system that we get comfortable and avoid the hesitation to create a file folder for a single piece of paper. I use this same method in OneNote with my General Reference system. If I don’t have a specific place for it in one of my more specialized reference notebooks, I put it in the General Reference notebook, even if it’s just a page with one line on it. OneNote makes it easy to organize and re-organize as our information grows.
This wraps up the post on Processing and Organizing using OneNote. Thanks for reading and happy GTD’ing!