Using OneNote to Get Organized At Work

I am a kindergarten teacher and the kids in my class love to play the “raise your hand if” game. At lunchtime, I often hear them asking each other questions. “Raise your hand if you like purple,” “Raise your hand if you like aliens,” “Raise your hand if you like playing this game.”

You get the point. So here’s a question for you. Raise your hand if you think organization is fun No? No one? Just me? Since this may not be your favorite thing, let’s make it more fun by playing the game.

Raise your hand if you work somewhere where “action items” come in many forms (requests via emails, presentations and meetings, phone calls, people stopping by your desk – not to mention the tasks you assign yourself). I’m going to assume most of you have your hand up.

With so many ways to communicate, it makes sense that we often end up with “to do” items in multiple locations. I often see people jotting things down on notepads, sticking post-its in random places, scribbling notes in their day-planner, putting reminders on their phones, and feeling buried in emails. With multiple systems, it’s hard to keep track of everything.

Raise your hand if things you are supposed to do sometimes fall through the cracks.  (It’s ok – this is a safe space.)

Here are some suggestions to help you feel less like you are drowning, and more like you are one step ahead and in control.

  1. Download Microsoft OneNote (it’s free to download, and it works on Macs too!)
  2. Start a Section (Sections run across the top of the screen) and label it “To Do.”
  3. Create a Page (Pages run down the right hand side of the screen) and label it as the current month. Each month, you can add a new page.
  4. Press ‘control 1’ (or ‘command 1’) to make an empty checkbox. As you complete tasks, you can click on the box and receive a satisfying checkmark.

Now that you have explored the basics of OneNote, you can create a Template Page. This makes it easier for you to start over each month.

  1. First, you need to identify the “buckets” that constitute your job. This is the trickiest part and usually takes a few revisions. The goal is to break your job down into 4-6 components.
  2. Create a heading for each of your buckets.
  3. Add a “Completed Work” heading at the bottom. As you check off completed tasks, you can cut and paste them here.It can be helpful to keep track of completed work each month because a) your boss may someday ask you for an activity report, b) you may need to train someone to do your job in the future, c) it can provide helpful data if you are reflecting on how something went and want to revise the timeline.

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OneNote is fantastic because it is one system you can use to keep track of EVERYTHING on your radar; no need for multiple systems! Think of it as an ultra-comprehensive ‘To Do’ list.  This might sound overwhelming, but consistently when people try it, they feel more in control and less stressed than they were with everything floating around in their head.  Keeping one list requires less brain power and therefore creates more mental space.  You can trust the system.


1. Keep the OneNote program open. When an action item comes up (i.e. in a meeting, on the phone, in an email), add it to your “To Do” page. If you don’t have time to organize it, just type it into the document and sort it later. *P.S. OneNote automatically saves your work!

2. Spend time each day reviewing the list. Sort in order of priority and bold the items you need to focus on. If seeing the entire list is overwhelming, each day you can write out the bolded items on a piece of paper to keep you on track.

3. An added benefit of OneNote is that it can help you make the most out of your time. Using this system, it is easy to know what you need to be focusing on. It also helps you self-manage because you can consider how much time you have and compare it to the list of tasks. You can figure out your 30 minute tasks vs. 2 hour tasks and tackle them based on the time you have each day. This will increase efficiency and time effectiveness.

Raise your hand if you are going to go download OneNote right now. Raise your hand if you think I’m a dork, but OneNote sounds cool.

I’ll take it.

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