MS OneNote GTD Experience


I have posted several times about my experience (trying) to use Microsoft OneNote for GTD.

Initially “How do you do X using OneNote?”

Now, more along the lines of “this is the best way I have found to do X using OneNote”.

This thread to give a more central, gathered together, place for such notes.

(Really should be a wiki, not a forum thread.)
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I persist in using OneNote “just because” - mainly because I have been using OneNote as a time based log for many years (circa 10). It’s good enough for that. Perhaps not great for GTD, but easier to keep everything in one place than scattered all over in different apps.


As mentioned elsewhere, I have been using and writing OneTastic macros for OneNote. These have made OneNote much more GTD friendly.

My main complaint is about speed: my OneTastic macros could be very slow. Eg 15 minutes to scan multiple notebooks looking for recently added items. Almost as long - 5-10 minutes - just to scan my personal Log, which often contained several thousand items. Often more than 10 per day, x100 or more days. From time to time I would move old items out into a separate historical log - but I like being able to see circa 3 months at a time.

Recently I have changed my workflow. In addition to separate work and personal life, I have started using a unified “Raw Log”, where I record stuff as quickly as possible. Both work and personal stuff lands in my Raw Log. I separate them as part of my review.

I started creating the Raw Log for work and personal mainly because there is only a single standard OneNote Quuck Notes shortcut.

Also because it is easier to ensure that I have separated work and personal stuff by driving my Raw Log to empty, moving stuff to my separate Personal and Work Logs, rather than to collect everything in my personal log, and move stuff that should not be there out. Rather like driving my email Inbox to Zero.


An extra benefit of having my Raw Log is that it is much smaller than my work or personal logs - and my OneTastic macros run much faster. The French less than a minute. Fast enough that more and more I can use them on the fly, rather than trying to defer them to when I can leave OneNote alone for 15 minutes.

Still not fast enough that way can freely use them while taking notes in a meeting. Often OneNote freezes for more than a minute when a macro is running. But almost.


The macros I use most often:

Create Link Page to Paragraph
- creates a link page whose title links to paragraph
- cross link metadata so can go back and forth
- I often use this to create a item that I can put into a GTD list
- or to create a GTD project or reference page
- this runs very fast

Create Link
- creates cross linked pages
- I often leave the stub link page in my log, and move the original page that has actual content to my GTD action, Project, or Reference storage
- I actually prefer this to Create Link Page to Paragraph - but this is much slower, since the macro gas to scan all pages in the current section looking for those selected. OneTastic does not seem to have a “currently selected pages in section” method/enumerator.
- this has sped up greatly since I started using the smaller Raw Log

- creates a table of contents
- but I mostly use it to create placeholder pages in my log whose name is the date.
- really slow if run on a large section or all noteboooks
- much faster when run in smaller Raw Log section

Where am I ++
- embeds path to a page in page
- big endian or little endian
- also records file path or URL - helps in getting rid of old crap
- not affected much by Raw Log

New Log Page with Date
- Log page with names like "** Wednesday, October 3, 2018"
- I used to use this a lot
- but now I mostly use TOC++ to automatically insert pages.
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I wasted a lot of time trying to use OneNote’s tags as my GTD next action lists. Problems like them not working uniformly OneNote 2016 / Tablet / web / iPhone.

Now, I still use them - but not so much for GTD.

Mostly, I will use pages created by my macro
Create Link Page to Paragraph
as my GTD action items.

This is actually what the “GTD Guide” for OneNote recommends:

OneNote sections <=> GTD lists


OneNote has a big limitation: sections cannot contain other sections. There are special section groups for that.

This sucks. It is really stupid,

The best thing I have found is to do things like:

create a Section Group “Agendas”.

People I work with a lot each have their own section in that section group: Boss<Agendas<Work, Personal>Agendas>Wife.

People I work with less often are given pages in a single section Agendas>OtherPeople. A limited amount of page / subpage.

(Note Little<Endian and Bug>Endian path notation. More and more I prefer LE)

This sucks. It means I have to look in two places If a section could hold both pages and subsections it would be easier. But this workaround makes thus OneNote deficiency almost tolerable.


Big reasons why I may want to abandon OneNote:

Sections cannot hold subsections as well as pages. Section groups suck.

Page/subpage/subsubpage - only 3 levels. Wish was interchangeable with sections.

ENCRYPTION: OneNote only encrypts sections. Cannot encrypt a page within a section, or a paragraph within a page.

Because of this, to properly use encryption need to add more annoying Section Groups.

I might like to use OneNote for stuff like medical and taxes. But OneNote encryption at section granularity gets in the way.
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I really need to come up with a good workflow for encryption in OneNote. Not having it is a real obstacle to using OneNote for things like medical and taxes.

Perhaps I need to encrypt my Raw Log - my main capture area, eg for Quick Notes. But then I would nearly always need to have it unlocked on both my PC and iPhone. Defeats purpose of using encryption to protect against malware on my PC. But at least would protect against bad guys looking at sensitive stuff on cloud drives not via my PC or phone.


If I capture something sensitive to my (encrypted) Raw Log, and then move it away, eg to my unencrypted personal log, or perhaps to encrypted sections in medical or tax notebooks ... are there “turds” left behind using the original encryption key?

Similarly, if I capture sensitive stuff unencrypted, and then realize that I need to move it to encrypted storage, are there unencrypted turds left behind?

Relying on encryption for security means that there needs to be ways to garbage collect unencrypted data, and/or data encrypted with old, weak, keys,


It is good that OneNote automatically backs up data.

But if those backups contain data that should be encrypted more strongly - ouch!!!

Is there a way of scrubbing old backups?


I suspect that OneNote is based on an RDBMS like SqlLite, with a transaction log. Is there a way to scrub the log?

Not just scrubbing on a logical basis - filesystem or logical disk blocks. But also at flash SSD wear leveling layers.


In general, must capture data in must secure possible, strongly encrypted, form. It is hard to guarantee that old un or less encrypted stuff has been scrubbed.


One nice thing about my “Link Page” approach:

I can put a link page in my log, linked to sensitive data in a more securely encrypted section.

Somewhat makes up for for OneNote only having section granular encryption.
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More and more I am capturing emails that I want to process using an Outlook AHK macro “Copy as if Reply”, and placing that copy in OneNote.

However, this has high overhead, especially for active conversations.

Unfortunately, I seem to need to have my GTD stuff spread across OneNote and Outlook (and also Gmail)

Outlook is not good enough to do GTD for much of what I do. I want OneNote OCR. I want to write notes to myself on emails I have received.

OneNote is good enough to GTD all of my email - but moving stuff from Outlook or Gmail to OneNote is a hassle.


I wish that Windows and iPhone email apps had “send to OneNote” share handlers.
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I wish that Apple Message items could be “shared via Send To OneNote”.

Currently I take screenshots, for both iMessage and email on my iPhone, since those can be easily sent to OneNote. Because I use so many screenshots, I depend on OCR.

(On my PC I can usually copy text, sometimes with formatting preserved. So I only need to fall back to Send To or Print To OneNote when there TD lots of graphics.


I capture a lot of stuff on my iPhone to OneNote.

Syncing between different OneNote instances eventually works. But there are often long delays. Manually synching on iPhone where I captured something to PC Outlook 2016 where I want to manage it doesn’t work right away. Sometimes must wait overnight.

Synching between the Win10 new version of OneNote and Classic OneNote 2016 has even worse delays!!!!


When I am working in a plane - I wish that I could synch IPhone OneNote to PC OneNote 2016 without going through cloud across slow and buggy airplane WiFi.


There’s an Apple Watch app for OneNote. Good enough for simple lists.

But there is no Apple Watch complication for OneNote. So cannot easily open from a “button”’on a watch face.

I can use voice input to capture something to OneNote on my watch. Usual problem of requiring cell phone connectivity. So I often use Just Press Record.

No “finger writing”. voice only.


I only see “Recent Notes” for OneNote in my watch. Hard to get a checklist from PC OneNote to watch OneNote


I usually use OneNote\iPhone only to capture stuff, not edit. My main way to capture is to do a screen shot, and then "Send To" or "Share Via" Outlook of the bitmap. One reason why I like OneNote's OCR.


This morning I tried to actually write a page on my iPhone.

Big mistake.

OneNote \ iPhone crashed every 2-3 minutes for 15 minutes. Requiring 15-30sec to restart each time.

The "Send To" interface seems to be a lot more stable than the "use app interactively" interface.


Kelly | GTD expert
Hi @AFG. In response to your comment "(Really should be a wiki, not a forum thread.)", have you considered posting all of this to your personal Wiki or blog and just linking here as FYI? It doesn't seem like you're asking for discussion.


Actually, I welcome discussion. I always hope that somebody will tell me a better way to do things.

Yes, I may move to my wiki.


I am posting these

a) hoping that I may get feedback

b) because I hope that they may be useful to others.

That others trying to use OneNote may find my these things, see that some of the showstopping problems in so many of the recommendations about how to use OneNote can be worked around. And maybe start developing a community of people who use OneNote for GTD. Oftentimes it feels like I am the only one doing so, at least in this public forum. I suspect that I am one of only a few power users trying to use OneNote for GTD. (By Power User I mean hacker - somebody who writes code to automate and extend things that the app cannot easily do out of the box. There should be a different word for users who happen have memorized every keyboard shortcut, but who don't automate stuff.)

---+ Every Level of Indirection Reduces Usability

If I put things in my wiki, I suspect that it will make it harder for others to find them. Even if there is a link from the GTD Forum to my wiki. It has been my experience that every time you have to traverse a link, people are less likely to find stuff. It's not just me thinking that - I am pretty sure that I have seen much research about this wrt hypertext systems

Search like Google helps. But if, e.g. somebody did a search "OneNote" they would find the link, but not mostly other pages. Not my wiki pages. Worse for "OneNote tags". Yes, my wiki pages might show up in ""OneNote tags GTD", but so does a lot of other stuff. More and more I fond that I narrow my google searches to increase the chance of useful stuff.

(AFAIK there is no search for "OneNote tags GTD" that are referred to by stuff on

In fact, much of the discussion in these GTD Forums, not just about OneNote, implies this "increased indirection makes things harder to find" observation.

RELATED SIMILAR: one of the things that OneNote and many other GTD tools lack, but which wikis like TWiki and Confluence have, is transclusion: page A may not only link to page B, but can actually include the text of page B. This is a hypertext BKM to get around the problem, of levels of indirection, without replicating content - leaving stuff in one and only one place to make editing easy.

---+ Incremental vs Current Status

Forums like this are incremental. Historical. New pages get added. New replies accumulate on threads. But never (hardly ever) is the content cleaned up to organize it. Email is similarly incremental, historical, accumulative.

Wikis are all about editing. It is supposed to be easy for a community to edit text in a wiki, to reflect current status, best practices, etc.

Many wikis have sections which are blindly added to like threads, and other sections which are organized, reference material.

Wikis that don't ... tend to accumulate cruft and die.

Both approaches are valuable.

As GTD says - capture stuff as quickly as possible. Reorganize it (into projects, reference, next action lists) during reviews

Anyway, I am using this forum as the incremental way of capturing these notes on OneNote and sharing them as quickly as possible. Or at least making them shareable. If there is anyone else out there trying to use OneNote for GTD.


I just learned that the newer "OneNote for Windows 10" now supports custom tags, like old "OneNote 2016"

When last I looked at it, it did not.

Slowly, "OneNote for Windows 10" is getting the features that I need.

Still lacking:

Features currently available only in OneNote 2016

While the new OneNote app is the best experience for Windows users, you might need to continue using OneNote 2016 for the time being if your work or school relies on any of these features:
  • Create Outlook Tasks in your notes
  • Pin your favorite commands to the Quick Access Toolbar
  • Apply a template to pages to maintain a specific look or layout
  • Record video
  • Link your notes to webpages in Internet Explorer and Office files
  • Store notebooks on your local hard drive instead of in the cloud, including backups
  • Support for third-party COM add-ins
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Now if only they would allow sections to contain other sections (and eliminate section groups), add page granular encryption, and provide better automation/macros/...

At the very least this should reassure some folks who started the rumor that OneNote was being discontinued. Not so: OneNote2016 will eventually be discontinued, OneNote for Windows 10 (and further) will go on.