I’m a huge fan of the OneNote 2010 docked window feature. I hit the Dock to Desktop button on the title bar, or hit the shortcut key Ctrl+Alt+D and OneNote automagically aligns itself on the right hand side of my screen and allows me to take linked notes in IE or my Office apps.

One thing that always frustrated me about the docked window is that it’s a tad narrow for my tastes, which doesn’t leave me a lot of width to take notes. I have a wide screen display, so it would be nice if the docked window could share a bit more screen real estate with my browser window or Office app. Well, there is a solution, and it’s called click and drag. Crazy, I know.

So here’s a snapshot of my desktop and the original sizing:

To widen my OneNote window a bit, all I do is hover my mouse over the left frame of the OneNote window, then click and drag to the left. OneNote repositions itself and ensures that all other applications conform to the new size. To make it smaller again, just click and drag to the right. Here’s my new window sizing. Much better:

Do you ever have a page in OneNote that you created a while ago, but have made updates to over the course of time? OneNote automatically puts the Date and Time at the top of each new page created, but it also keeps track of each line you type and when you typed it. Cool or creepy? Definitely cool.

All you have to do is Right Click a piece of text to view the date and time you typed it, or updated it.

Here’s the original page date:

Right click a block of text lets me know when I typed it and I can get a good approximation of a timeline for my notes.

Here’s another on the same page:

Now if we are good note takers, we may want to be proactive and insert dates, times or a combination of the two into our notes. Here’s some date and time shortcuts to help you out:

Action Shortcut Key Example
Insert Date Alt+Shift+D 4/17/2012
Insert Time Alt+Shift+T 9:10 PM
Insert Date and Time Alt+Shift+F 4/17/2012 9:10 PM

Hey GTD’ers. Last year I wrote a series of articles on the Getting Things Done methodology using Outlook and OneNote 2010. Since then I haven’t written any follow-ups. So my question to you readers is…


I’d love to hear your feedback. Feel free to leave a comment or send me an email.

Thanks for reading!

Hey GTD’ers. I’ve had some feedback that it’s a bit difficult to navigate the GTD series posts on Outlook and OneNote. In an effort to simplify navigation, this post provides a table of contents for all posts in the series. Additional enhancements to each post have also been made, which give links to this table of contents post, and links to previous and next posts in the series. Ask and you shall receive!

Part 1: GTD with Outlook 2010 and OneNote 2010 – Overview
Provides an overview of Outlook and OneNote 2010 and how they fit in the Getting Things Done methodology

Part 2: GTD with Outlook 2010 and OneNote 2010 – Outlook Setup
Covers the setup and customization of Outlook 2010 for GTD

Part 3: GTD with Outlook 2010 and OneNote 2010 – OneNote Setup
Covers the setup and customization of OneNote 2010 for GTD

Part 4: GTD with Outlook 2010 and OneNote 2010 – Collection
Details the capture and collection process of GTD, and to use OneNote to be the collection bucket for all things digital

Part 5: GTD with Outlook 2010 and OneNote 2010 – Processing and Organizing Your Outlook Inbox
Applies the GTD processing and organizational principles to managing your Outlook Inbox

Part 6: GTD with Outlook 2010 and OneNote 2010 – Processing and Organizing Your OneNote Inbox
Applies the GTD processing and organizational principles to managing your OneNote Inbox

By Michael Wheatfill

Table of Contents: GTD with Outlook 2010 and OneNote 2010

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…

Select the text and push the delete key. If it’s an entire page, right click the page and click Delete.

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
    imageYou 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.

This will put a red flag to the left of the text or page title like so:
Or for an entire page:

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.

Delegate It

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.

Defer It

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.

Project Workflow

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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:

    Now that these pages are sub-pages of the Music Sharing project, you can collapse and expand them by clicking the small arrow to the right of the page tab.

    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.

  4. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
    imageIn 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!

Table of Contents: GTD with Outlook 2010 and OneNote 2010

By Michael Wheatfill

Table of Contents: GTD with Outlook 2010 and OneNote 2010

In Part 4 of the GTD with Outlook 2010 and OneNote 2010 Series, we covered how we utilize Outlook and OneNote 2010 to collect all of our digital stuff, thoughts and ideas. We didn’t worry or bother to determine what we did with that stuff, we just focused on capturing.

Now, capturing is great and our Outlook/OneNote combo empowers us to do so quite efficiently, however, all that stuff is not as useful until we look at each item and determine what we should do with it. As David Allen teaches, processing doesn’t necessarily mean we are “doing” all the actions. It simply means that we take the time to identify what each item is and what it means, then decide what we are going to “do” with each item.

In my opinion, processing and organizing goes hand-in-hand, therefore I have combined these into one post. Since we are spending the time to look at each piece of information, why not organize it into our trusted system while we are at it?

This post will focus on Processing and Organizing our Outlook 2010 Inbox. The way we interact with Outlook and OneNote in our GTD system is very integrated and we switch between the two frequently, but quite honestly the posts would be far too long to combine the two, so I’ve split them up.

With our Outlook and OneNote setup, we have a couple buckets to process. We will affectionately refer to these both as our “inboxes”. If you didn’t catch how to setup Outlook and OneNote, refer to Parts Two and Three of the series.

Before we get started, let’s get an idea of what we’ll actually be doing when we process our Outlook Inbox. The diagram below covers how we’ll be handling each item we come across once we identify what it is and what it means to us.


Now that we have a good idea of what we’ll be doing when we process, let’s get started.

Processing and Organizing Our

Outlook 2010 Inbox

The idea here is to look at each item, decide what we should do with it, then organize it appropriately. The end result is that no email should be left in your inbox. The inbox is merely just a collection bucket. An empty inbox signifies that we have looked at every single last piece of email and made a decision on what we should do with it.

If it’s trash…

Push the delete key…simple as that. 🙂

If there is no action…

Not every email that arrives in our inbox is actionable. For these items, we can do two things with them:

1. File as Reference

Simple…you can click and drag to the appropriate folder in Outlook. Or if buttons tickle your fancy, try this approach. On the Home tab of the Ribbon, select the Move button. Outlook populates the Move list with recent folders you have moved items to. One stop shopping for filing!

Anticipate a long thread of emails hitting your inbox for a particular conversation you already know you’ll just be filing for reference? Try the Always Move Messages in This Conversation… option of the Move button. How do you feel about Outlook doing all your Processing/Organizing work for you lazy bones? Feels pretty good!

Now, filing in Outlook folders is obviously contingent on the fact that you have set up a reference folder system in Outlook already. If not you’ll pretty much just have a Trash can to file things (who knows, it may work for some!) I have moved from a very complex nested folder structure to a simple system, and the reason I do this is because Outlook Search and Indexing is so dang good. Try going to any folder and typing a word or two that you think might be contained in the subject or email body, or a name of a person or persons in the To/Cc lines and watch the emails get narrowed down instantly.

Not to mention Outlook’s sorting, as well as Outlook’s Search Folders. Explore these options and you may find if you have a complex folder structure, you’ll be able to simplify it quite a bit, and still be confident you can quickly sort, filter and ultimately find a specific email or thread in an ever-growing sea of electronic conversations.

Now, sometimes you’ll want to file items as reference, but maybe you would rather keep it in OneNote, say with all your Project Support Material or it makes more sense to file this information in your OneNote reference. Simply hit the OneNote button, also found in the Move category of the Home tab.

2. Incubate It

Eventually you’ll come across an email that doesn’t call for any action now, but may call for action in the near future and we’d like to be reminded of it, or it may simply be something that we’d like to do only if we had the time. We can do a couple of things with these type of items. We can stick them on a Someday/Maybe list if someday we maybe can get around to it, or we can put them on our calendar or in a “tickler” file to be reminded of it at a later date.

I have a Someday/Maybe section in OneNote, which we covered in Part Three of the series. It looks like this and it tracks everything I’d like to accomplish someday:

That’s well and fine, but I also keep a Someday/Maybe context in Outlook. These are email items or tasks and it helps me to track these items in Outlook because they have some context already and I can set a reminder sometime in the future if I wish. For instance, let’s say I receive an email for a training event coming up in a month’s time. I don’t know if I can attend now, but I’d like to if I have time. Since all the training details are contained within the email, it makes sense to keep it on the Someday/Maybe list in Outlook and I can easily set a reminder a couple weeks before that says “hey, do you still want to take this training?”

I tend to not put things on my calendar simply for reminders, because I reserve my calendar for my “hard landscape”, in other words my actions and commitments that need to be completed on a certain date or at a specific time. Instead I use the Add Reminder feature as a “tickler” for when I need to address my incubated item in the future. I’ll cover the Add Reminder feature when we talk about Actions later on in this post…or right now!

If there is an action…

So what if this item does have an action? We basically have three options:


Do It

If it takes less than two minutes, just do it. Reply to the email, or complete the action associated with the item or task. Once completed, delete it or file it as reference.

Delegate It

This is by far my favorite. 😉 Usually when we delegate we are communicating this to a person or team via email, IM, phone or in person. The problem arises when we are tracking these multiple delegated items, their status and when we should check up on them. Here’s what I do:

  1. Once I delegate an item via email, I go into my Sent Items and flag it as a task and categorize it with the @Waiting For context.
  2. If I know I need to follow up on the status at a certain time and would like to be reminded of this, I set a Reminder for a future date/time.
  3. Once the delegated task is completed, I simply check it off my list.

Don’t worry, I’ll show you how to do this and more in the very next section

Defer It

This is probably where the bulk of our actions are going to land. Unfortunately not everything takes less than two minutes to complete, but these are actions that we want to complete “as soon as possible”. Since our goal is to get our inbox to zero, we must organize these actions appropriately.

If you haven’t done so already, head back to Part Two and set up some Categories for your Next Action contexts. Here’s how I approach flagging and organizing my Next Actions in Outlook:

  1. Flag the email as a task –  I first flag the item so it appears in my task list simply by clicking the flag icon on the email or item so that it appears red as shown below:
  2. Categorize the task – I then categorize the task with the appropriate Next Action context in the task list. It initially appears with a Category of (none). Assign it the correct category by clicking the Categories button in the Tags section of the Ribbon.
  3. Name the task – When you flag an email as a task, the default task name becomes the subject of the email. 99% of the time this doesn’t describe the next action very well. Since our purpose with defining next actions is to determine the very next physical step that needs to be taken, figure out what that is and rename that not so descriptive email subject.To do this, head to the To Do bar, right click the task and select Rename Task.

    You can also rename tasks by using this little trick. Instead of right clicking the task, click it once to select it. Then click one more time (slower than a double click) and the task will become editable and allow you to rename it. Neato!

  4. Add a Reminder – If I need to be reminded of an action sometime in the near future, or if I need to set a hard date/time for completing it, I add a reminder. In the task pane, find the task, right click it, go to Follow Up –> Add Reminder.
    imageThen make sure the Reminder check box is selected, set your date and time in the future that you want to be reminded and click OK. Now you’ll be reminded in Outlook at the specific date and time just as you would with a Calendar reminder.
  5. Move the message out of the inbox – This is critical to our inbox being empty. The only reason we shouldn’t move a message or item out of our Inbox is if we haven’t decided what to do with it yet. As long as we follow the GTD workflow for processing, and trust our system, we should be able to file it, incubate it, or if there is an action – do it, defer it, delegate it. Since the message or item is flagged and categorized, I now trust that I have a running list of the things that need to get done. I don’t care where that message is located in my reference system, all I have to do is double click the task in the To-Do bar to bring the item into view.

Using Our Calendar

I mentioned earlier I only use my calendar as my “hard landscape”. I don’t set reminders for action items or someday/maybe’s through here, because Outlook has the Add Reminder functionality so I don’t need to crowd my calendar with commitments as well as random reminders. That’d just be too confusing for my wee brain to handle.

When working with the Calendar, there are several scenarios we typically come across.

  1. Someone else scheduled a meeting – These show up in Outlook and you can accept, decline and send a tentative response.
  2. We initiate a meeting with other parties – These aren’t something you stick in your Next Actions. They have a specific time, date and location.
  3. We have a commitment that originates outside of Outlook – Stick these on your calendar as well. It often helps to change that 15 minute default reminder to an hour, a day, a week or more. For birthdays and social events, I usually set a reminder one to two weeks in advance especially if there is anything I need to purchase or prepare for in advance.
  4. We want to allocate time to work on a next action or project – Sometimes in order to get focus on a certain task or project, we need to set some hard commitments with ourselves to spend the necessary time on them. With Outlook, head to the Calendar view. Determine an appropriate day and time, and click and drag the Next Action from the To Do bar over to the calendar. To allocate more or less time, you can either edit the calendar item, or click and drag the allocation handles down to specify a larger block of time.

What if I’ve determined there are multiple actions that require a project?

Don’t fret. Add that very next action to the Outlook To Do bar, then head over to OneNote and create a project page in your Projects section. Quickly jot down other “next-next actions” and brainstorm any other ideas associated with your project. We’ll definitely cover this in more detail in an upcoming post.

Our Inbox is Empty!…Right?

Now that we have an empty inbox, we’re feeling good about organizing and identifying next actions for all our email and Outlook items. The next step is to move over to OneNote and get our Inbox section processed and organized. We’ll cover OneNote in the next post. Thanks for reading and see you there!

Continue to Part 6: GTD with Outlook 2010 and OneNote 2010 – Processing and Organizing Your OneNote Inbox