MS OneNote GTD Experience

Discussion in 'PUBLIC: Discuss Tools & Software for GTD' started by AFG, Feb 20, 2019.

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  1. Gardener

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    Would you mind telling/reminding us why you're not using Evernote? It's the software that I hear about more often.

    I'm still using Scrivener to store information, but I assume it would lack the vast majority of the scriptable capabilities that you're seeking. (It is, however, extremely stable for writing on the iPhone--I write/edit in Scrivener on the iPhone several hours a week.)
     
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  2. AFG

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    In something like historical order ... not necessarily priority order, although history becomes a priority once you have legacy, making it a pain to switch over.

    I started using OneNote in late 2009 / early 2010. New job, required much more web "research" than previous jobs. I tried copy/pasting selected stuff on web pages into (a) EMACS text files, with image support, (b) Word, (c) wikis like Mediawiki, Trax, Confluence, etc. - Unsatisfactory. Copying stuff off web pages into other tools has so many problems with formatting. Eventually figured out a workflow using OneNote, falling back to using screen snipped bitmaps [*] if simply selecting text was not working well. If it is iomportant to see the formatting and pretty pictures, screen snipping is basic truth. Because of this, I grew to depend on OneNote's ability to OCR text & search in bitmaps, etc.

    I have since switched back to a job much like my previous job - computer architect. But now my web.research skills are much improved.

    I compare OneNote and EverNote regulurly - when I started and every few years since. I WANTED to use EverNote, since I had heard so much about it --- and, I must admit, as a longtime UNIX and then Linux user, I was somewhat prejudiced against Microsoft.

    But... it is possible that OneNote seemed more familiar to me. Many years earlier, circa 1994, I used a tool called Aha!Inkwriter to capture, in conjunction with a database called InfoCentral. This was on my first pen computer. Aha!Inkwriter was a free-form notetaking app, with OCR of handwriting. I can't remember if it also OCR'ed screen snips - I wasn't using them as much back then. InfoCentral allowed Aha!Inkwriter files (pages) to be organized in a very flexible manner, with typed links between them. In particular, I remember that you could "shake the graph" so that your current node, which might have been many levels deep as you originally traversed it, now appeared at the top of the graph. Also, InfoCentral allowed all links to have metadata and be timespans - e.g. I (Andy Glew) might have owned a house at address 100_Harmony_Lane from 2002-2004, but Joe_Seller owned it before me from 1995-2002 (as I learned from unpaid bill collectors).

    Anyway - Microsoft bought Aha!Inkwriter. I am not sure that OneNote is derived from Aha!Inkwriter, but it certainly seemed familiar to me. My biggest complaint is that OneNote's notebook/section-group/section/page/subpage structure is much more limited than what InfoCentral used to provide.

    --

    Apart from UI issues mentioned below, IIRC in 2009/10 when I started Evernote was much more cloud dependent than OneNote. My employer at the time forbid us from putting possibly sensitive company data on most cloud storage - certainly not Google, but also EverNote. That employer trusted Microsoft cloud storage, likely because the founders came from Microsoft, and Microsoft weas an investor.

    ---

    Every so often I get frustrated by OneNote's limitations, and look around for other ships to jump to.

    BIG CONCERN: Evernote's future. Google a bit, and you will see news items and articles like
    • Evernote the Company Seems to Be Floundering
    • Evernote might be in trouble, so here's how to get your notes out of it completely and safe

    For many years it was hard to get data out of EverNote. That does not seem to be the case any more. But it was.

    If I jump away from OneNote, I would really rather jump to something open source. Proble, there is, there are so many, none seemimng to have most of the featurwes tghat I want.

    In fact, I oftem think that EMACS' org-mode would be better than either EverNote or OneNote for my needs. If it had better image support.

    Certainly more programmable.

    ---

    Which brings us to a big issue for me: if amn app doesn;'t do what I want, I want to be able to fix it, extend it, or otherwise program it.

    Evernote extensibility AFAICT is a no go.

    OneNote isn't great. No VBA. But you can write COM extensions... the OneTastic macros I use seem to have been written this way. And the OneTastic macros were good enough for many years.

    The biggest thing that prevents me from doing much more OneNote code is that OneNote seems to be evolving in a way that might result in old code breaking.
     
  3. AFG

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    TL;DR --------------------

    More stuff, much of it clipped from random pages, and then annotated or rephrased by me to emphasize what matters to me, what I agree with, and sometimes what I do not agree with.

    From <https://lifehacker.com/note-taking-showdown-evernote-vs-onenote-2016-editio-1765707423>
    The Bottom Line: Evernote Is Still the Best Web-Clipping Tool, OneNote Is Becoming a Better Digital Notebook for All

    As similar in purpose as these two apps are, they’re distinct enough that you can use both in tandem, or one will speak more to you. Evernote is better for collecting and organizing information and mobile note-taking (though you’ll need to pay to access your notes offline).


    OneNote is better for creative note-taking and includes many of the features of Evernote Premium for free, such as offline access to notes on mobile, searching within attachments, and annotating PDFs.




    As I have mentioned may times, offline access, e.g. on plane or train, was and still is a deal breaker for me.

    ---

    Compare from <https://lifehacker.com/note-taking-showdown-evernote-vs-onenote-2016-editio-1765707423>
    • User interface: OneNote looks and feels like a digital version of a paper notebook, complete with tags and notebook sections. Evernote is more like a filing cabinet, with a simpler notes interface yet powerful tagging capabilities.
    I tried EverNote's tags. They are more powerful than OneNote's, but neither EverNote nor OneNote tags made me happy.

    When a feature like tags is almost bit not quite good enough, it is almost worse than not having the featue - since buy definition everything you can do with tags you can do with text (and automation).

    • Note formatting: Evernote offers great options for rich-text notes, including highlighting, checklists, and other formatting. … OneNote is even more robust [wrt formatting and layout], however, since you can use and create page templates and place elements anywhere you want on the page.
    I rather depend on this formatting and flexible layout, since much of my work is visual
    • Mobile apps: Evernote’s mobile interface and features are still better by far than OneNote’…
    :-(

    • . On the other hand, on mobile, you can access your OneNote notebooks even without a data connection—something you can’t do with Evernote unless you’re a paid subscriber.

    • Web clipping and browser integration: Evernote’s clipping tool is still the best
      • and your Google searches can include your Evernote notes
    I did not know this. I would love to have this feature. OneNote search is quite poor, albeit getting better.
    • like a personal database.
    • Windows and Office integration: OneNote, on the other hand, plays nicely with other Office apps, as you’d expect
    Helps a lot when your coworkers all use Windows and OFFICE

    • and you can use special Windows keyboard shortcuts
      • to quickly create a note in OneNote

    I use this all the time.

    I would hope and expect that I could automate EverNote to do the same - although I admiot taht I have so far failed to use AutoHotkey to further enhance OneNote
    • or send a screenshot to the app.
    I do this all the time, but not via screenshot

    ---

    • Tabs are awesome, and OneNote is built around them. Rather than having every notebook be just a list of notes, OneNote lets you break notebooks down into sub-tabs. This is perfect for brainstorming – I use it for compiling article ideas, as seen above. Whereas before I’d have an “article ideas” notebook, filled with ideas for every section on the site, now I have a neatly sorted series of tabs. It makes a big difference.
    My big complaints are
    a) BAD: the [section] tabs are horizontal in Outlook 2016,
    b) but GOOD vertical in Outlook for Win10 (and in Outlook 2016 notebook list).
    c) the nesting of sections (tabs) is restricted in OneNote

    I vaguely remember similar problems with EverNote. .... Hmm, I just reopened my EverNote account, and it seems to be 2 layer flat - notebooks, and each notebook is just a list of notes. Basically, impossible to navigate.

    • Only one notebook is open at a time, meaning I’m not seeing my weekend home improvements projects list in the sidebar when I should be focusing on writing. It’s a small thing, sure, but it helps a lot with focus.
    First, I understand this. It was one of my big problems when I first tried to use EverNote

    However, my current flow for OneNote involves opening many notebooks at the same time

    • Formatting works just like in Word, meaning it’s familiar to most computer users.
    Important time saver. I waste much time reformatting text that I copy between MS and non-MS apps, like Confluence

    • OneNote functions like a paper notepad. This really sets it apart from Evernote, which treats notes linearly. OneNote lets you jot things all over the document, in separate text boxes, as well as move images and attachments around. It’s more free-flowing, which is messy but frequently effective.
    Yes!

    • Evernote keeps asking for money, in a way that’s starting to feel intrusive. Sure, I could just start paying for the service, but in my opinion they aren’t offering much I care about outside of getting rid of these intrusions. If you’ve already paid for Office, you don’t need to worry about Microsoft doing the same thing to you – but currently they’re not doing this to free users either.
    Yes. Evernote has also done things like withdrawn free features. I have no problem with paying 100$ a year for software, so long as IO always have the ability to migrate all of my data away withput excess hassle, and in the hope that the company has staying power.

    EverNote has been on life support for many years.
     
  4. AFG

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    I have just tweaked a macro to change the background color of my notes pages, e.g. to help me distinguish personal from work.

    Work background color = a pale version of company logo color.

    Personal = pale grey / silver. (Get it, my initials are Ag. :-( )

    Default colors:
    • Pink - OneNote's default for Quick Notes
    • White
    Now I can search for pages whose colors are not work green or personal silver.

    --

    Unfortunately, surprisingly slow - minutes?
    1. 3 minutes to change background color on a single page
    2. admittedly, a very large page - with TOC of a larger section
    3. but changing background color should involve just changing a single variable, and incrementally updating the visible parts
    4. it very much looks like OneNote, and/or the OneTastic macros, are scanning the whole large page just to change the background color.
     
  5. AFG

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    I have written more better macros to improve sorting and management of my LOG files. I will post experience after a few weeks.
     
    Last edited: Feb 25, 2019
  6. Gardener

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    Thanks for your answer. I'm going to read through it again, but I was immediately struck by this:

    It struck me because you regard this as a feature (yes?) while I regard it as a bug. Oh, not literally a bug in the sense that it's an unexpected outcome, but it truly did not occur to me...that this is how they wanted it. I hate it so much that I somehow assumed that it was a compromise, that if they had the budget and time to do it "right", they would have done something else.
     
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  7. AFG

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    New macros:

    Table to Pages
    - creates pages in current section
    - from rows of a table, whose columns are name/date/content

    Pages to Table
    - the reverse

    Originally for testing of macros like Sort++,
    but useful in other places.



    Set Date & Time for Page
    - when using an app on my iPhome or watch that does not automatically provide date metadata - e.g. Just Press Record
     
  8. AFG

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    Tweaking my flow

    capture --> Log-Raw
    process Log-Raw to split up into Log - Personal and LOG-WORK

    I don;t share my personal OneNote notebooks - I have special notebooks for that

    but I often share screens during phone/webex/skype meetings.

    It is a bit disconcerting to have personal stuff like medical appointments visible as folder headings for company notes in Log-Raw.

    So I am setting up a Log-Raw-Work section that isolates.

    Still in same notebook.

    Flow is

    capture --> Log-Raw and/or Log-Raw-work
    process Log-Raw to split up into Log - Personal and LOG-WORK
    possibly merging Log-Raw-work into Log-Raw just before processing/sorting/splitting
     
  9. AFG

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    The list of pages in OneNote's section list is quite flat and monotonous.

    There are subpages and subsubpages, with folding , but only 3 levels total - not enough to allow
    • L1: "** Wednesday, October 3, 2018"
    • L2: Topic
    • L3: action item wrt topic
    • FAIL L4: bug or new action spawned from L3
    One consequence of using Link Pages for almost all GTD actions (as recommended by the GTD Startup Guides) rather than tagged todo lists inside pages, is that I have a LOT more pages - especially before I have processed.

    More and more I have started using placeholder pages, e.g. a page that is empty, title "." (because a truly empty title results in "Unnamed Pages" cluttering the list).

    This provides visual spacing, e.g. between days.
     
  10. AFG

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    Sorting all pages in a LOG by date&time was unsatisfactory.

    Eventually I realized that what I wanted to do was sort pages in LOG by date (day only) but not the Time. But to allow time to be unordered within a day.

    Often I rearrange pages within a day's LOG entries so that related work is clustered.

    I can always do a full sort by fine grain Date&Time - but that is seldom what I want.

    For that matter, sorting by Date (day only) and then by Name clusters similar pages together. But I don't always use similar names.

    I am begging to think that the essence of presenting a LOG as daily/weekly/monthly/annually is

    a) to sort by the time granularity

    b) and to cluster and summarize related log entries for related topics .

    Of course, I needed to write new sort macros to implement this. The existing sorts were unsatisfactory
     
  11. AFG

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    Many people, including me, prefer reverse chronological logs.

    E.g. logs sorted by time is descending order.

    Actually, I prefer mixed order
    • top level sorted inverse chronologically by day
    • but within the pages for a day, topics may be sorted forward chronologically.
    Working on it.
     
  12. AFG

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    Slow OneTastic macros, e.g. that take 2-5 minutes to do something simple like changing a background color or sorti8ng, give me lots of time to make posts like this.

    This is not good.
     
  13. AFG

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    I would like to use OneNote for even more of my stuff,

    E.g. I would like to put my annotated photo albums in OneNote.

    Sure, I might leave the bulk of my photographs in Google or Apple iCloud photos.

    But I sometimes find that I want to annotate photos, provide background, e.g. create a journal for a vacation, mixing photos I have taken with links and web.clippings.

    AGAICT the big thing that special photo storage systems have going for them is optimized storage.

    I live in fear that I am someday going to exceed some undocumented limit on OneNote notebook size, crash, and lose lots of data. I have already come close.
     
  14. AFG

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    Actually, I regard it as sometimes a feature and sometimes a bug.

    When I am snipping lots of random things, essentially making a collage, I like that OneNote acts like paper. Albeit flexible paper that you can easily insert more space in - plus, you have all of the benefits of a linear text document in any particular boxed flow of text.

    BTW, confusing terminology: a OneNote page is by no means restricted to a single page of paper when printed.

    I.e. within a OneNote page, I think the OneNote doc model is fine. (With small exceptions.)

    My big complaint about OneNote, however, is that they have continued this metaphor of imitating paper to file folders (sections) and so on.

    OneNote 2016 presents sections in a way that makes them look like Manila fike tabs. This wastes screen space. Fortunately OneNote for Windows 10 switches to vertical tabs.

    They also disallow sections within sections, requiring special section groups,

    Furthermore, links in OneNote are from text in one page to text in other pages, or to the page/section/notebooks themselves. There is no concept of a link between objects. Just from within a page object to other objects.

    I can’t complain too much, since most wikis work this way. But InfoCentral had a more advanced link model.

    I work around this by conventions, but it would be better to have real support.
     
  15. AFG

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    To clarify: AFAICT EverNotes model for a list item is that is linear text. Sure, it can contain rich text, links, images and (I would hope), 2D tables, but still basically linear.

    Apart from links, list items are arranged in notebooks, similarly linearly

    OneNote's item model is a 2D surface, a "page". Within a page there can be multiple linear text flows, aka "outlines", that contain all the usual stuff: text, paragraphs, links, images, 2D tables, embedded object like Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint and Word and PDF, All the usual COM stuff.

    Tables and pages are both 2D. The difference is that tables are quantized into rows and columns that contain cells, whereas pages are continuous, or close to it, in both X and Y.

    Most of my OneNote pages are just linear flows. But by no means all.

    I agree that sometimes it is easy to accidentally add a new, disjoint, flow ("outline") in OneNote, when all you really wanted to do was add stuff at the beginning of the existing primary flow/outline in a document.
     
  16. AFG

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    What I am really interested in, as a wannabe author of better similar software, is:

    What would you consider doing it "right"? What would you like better?
     
  17. Gardener

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    I think the conceptual difference is that I see my data purely as data, while OneNote is heavily concerned with presentation of that data. I don't want the presentation of my data to be irrevocably tied to my data.

    As an example, I remember someone, in some forum, complaining that he was writing a book, and that every time he added material to the book, all his page breaks and footers were off! It turned out that he didn't understand that he shouldn't manually type in a footer for every page. He struggled to understand the distinction between the data--the text of the book--and the presentation elements like headers and footers.

    Sometimes a person does force presentation elements into a word processing document. You tell it that you want a page break here, and you want this graphic to stick with the text above it, or to sit RIGHT THERE on the page, and so on. But for me, that's always an exception.

    So I guess I pretty much want OneNote to act like Scrivener--text files that I can sort and reorder and put into infinitely deep hierarchical levels, but the individual files just have flowing text, maybe with pictures and tables also flowing and maybe not, like a word processing document in Draft. And I want it to re-flow as I resize the window--I don't want the window to be a window on a larger canvas, but instead I want it to be the container, with the text adjusting itself to fit inside that frame.

    Of course, my wanting OneNote to act like Scrivener is solved for me, on my personal laptop, by using Scrivener. :) But Scrivener lacks features that OneNote has....at least I assume it does. Every time I think, "It can't do..." I then think, "...oh, but you could do that this way!" But I think that's just the features I care about. The features I don't care about, I haven't used.
     
  18. AFG

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    OneNote and Aha!Inkwriter are very similar in their treatment of a page as 2D smart paper, continuously extensible in both X and Y directions, with multiple linearly extensible text objects (called by Outlook "outlines") positioned on the 2D page. This is probably why I suspect that OneNote is descended from Aha!Inkwriter, after MS's purchase. I seem to remember that Aha!Inkwriter behaved a bit more nicely wrt pen, drawing on top of embedded objects, and having things move around to make space, but that may be rose tinted memory. OneNote supports more embedded object types.

    I am not aware of any other generic note taking apps that have this continuous 2D orientation or metaphor.

    Specialized apps have 2D concepts - e.g. drawing apps (typically vector drawing, or at least apps that allow you to position bitmaps arbitrarily, but not pixel painting apps), EE CAD tools, and some web page mockup tools. (Hmm, I've worked on all of these.) ME CAD tools tend to be 3D, even harder.

    Most text editors are 1D. Some 1D word processors embed 2D objects, either anchored at static positions on a page, or with anchors that follow text as it is reflowed around these objects.

    Web browsers and WYSIWYG HTML editors often allow you to type in commands that give you your nested <divs>, repositioning on the 2D screen as needed. Ditto things like LaTeX WYSIWYG math editors.
     
  19. AFG

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    OK, ya got me.

    I agree.

    I also love flow and reflow. Apparently not enough to stop using OneNote. I.e. other OneNote features take priority for me.

    But, I think that I remember that OneNote lacking flow and reflow - that OneNote's model is, as you put it, a window into a larger 2D canvas - was one of the reasons I first resisted OneNote.

    BTW, I have vague memories that Aha!Inkwriter may have reflowed handwritten text-as-a-sequence of words. But that may be wishful thinking.

    I do know that the classic problem for handwritten text notes is that if you have a handwritten arrow pointing between two elements, the shape of the arrow must change when you reflow. I.e. it probably needs to be an abstract arrow, not a handwritten arrow.

    Similarly, if you have a sidebox with annotation pointing into an element of the main flow (a) the sidebox must be in a different flow, but (b) the sidebox needs to move around, or at least change its link point, when the main is reflowed.

    Anyway, some content is harder to reflow than others - and some content is mostly tied to presentation issues such as the width of the display.

    E.g. an image that is 4000x1000 pixels can't be reflowed when the display window is only 1000 pixels wide. Your choices are either to let the image just off the display, or to scale it down. OneNote does the former by default - you have to dio the latter by hand, either changing the image scale, or the view scale.

    E.g. I depend a lot on tables to compare things, both across rows and columns. Column widths are a classic problem. If column widths are fixed, then, if the display width is less than the column width, it is hard to compare. If the column widths are scaled, then you often get cells that have much very narrow text. Again, hard to compare. More choices: shrink the entire table, or shrink the text in some cells, or ...

    E.g. any deeply indented lists - if the default indentation exceeds the display width on, say, a narrow display like an iPhone.

    E.g. vector graphics, diagrams. Sometimes can reflow a diagram, but sometimes doing so makes it unreadable.

    ==

    Perhaps you are right. Perhaps nobody has yet had the time to figure out how to reflow all things satisfactorily.

    I agree that giving up flow for mostly linear text is unfortunate.

    That should be easy to fix: make it just a display mode.

    Like "display-reflow this page that is a single linear text flow".

    But don't do that for all pages.
     
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2019
  20. AFG

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    BTW, OneNote does reflow when the "outline" width is changed. Usually you have to change the outline width manually :-(. It does not change automatically when the display width changes.

    Table width changes when the outline width that holds them changes, and table columns get resized, and text within the table cells gets reflowed. This often makes tables unreadable :-(. IMHO it should be possible for table width

    Pasting an image within an outline flow automatically increases the outline width, with appropriate reflowing. That is good :). Annoyingly, sometimes OneNote does not adjust the position in the virtual 2D page - so you end up looking at a blank screen, because all of the reflowed text is far above you.

    Pasting an image in a table cell automatically widens the table column, if necessary - with reflow, of course. But it does not automatically increase the width of the outline holding the table. This may result in text columns being made very narrow, unreadable after reflow. I waste a lot of time tweaking table width.

    Oftentimes I simply give up and make the main "outline" flow very wide. But that can cause other readability problems.

    Sometimes I fall back to making most of my content live inside a table with two columns. First column for text, second for wide objects like images and tables that I want to stay aligned to the commentary in the first column. This is unsatisfactory.

    OneNote can put pictures and tables both in an outline flow, or in separate outlines. I.e. they can be fixed in position on the 2D virtual page, or can flow. But there are limited facilities to have stuff both flow with - i.e. adjust vertical position of reflowing of text occurs - but remain outside the outline whose flow they are coupled to. (The way FrameMaker does this is still one of the best ways I know of to do this. Word is also okay. I can only hope that OneNote will gain that ability over time.)
     

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