MS OneNote GTD Experience


More and more I am using the OneNote Watch app on my Apple Watch to capture quick notes, both by voice and by finger scribbling. Also, for things like checklists.

I am still using Apple iOS Reminders for my Grocery list

It may not be the best watch app around. E.g. it does not have any "complications", the little widgets that you place on watch faces - unlike its "competitors" for capture, which are, from my POV
  • Apple iOS Reminders
    • nice for "voice only" commands - "Hey Siri, remind me to do XXX"
    • cannot enter long-ish notes, or even pause too long. Pause indicates end of note
  • Drafts
    • bigger voice chunks than Reminders, but this only works when connected
  • Just Press Record
    • works online and offline, records voice, transcript when online
All of these alternatives require an extra step, to move data from them into OneNote. JPR requires at least two: first to transcribe, then to move. 3 if you count deleting the original on iPhone. More if you count the frequent transcription failures that need to be retried.

Whereas the OneNote watch app captures voice as text, and saves a step, leaving it directly in OneNote. Yeah, I often need to edit to clean up voice transcription errors. But that's part of review.

Example session:
  • lift watch to turn on
  • "Hey Siri! Open OneNote"
  • => OneNote screen, with recent items, and (+) to add more
  • Poke (+) with finger (or nose) to start recording
  • Record... can't be too long, but can be longer than an iOS Reminder, and can pause while thinking
    • overall comparable to drafts.
  • Poke [Done] button on watch with finger (or nose)
  • Press digital crown to go back to main watch face. (Is there a way to do that by voice?)
I wish that the stuff in orange could be eliminated. I wish that there was a way to say "I'm done" by voice - and that it returned to the watch face, rather than staying in the OneNote watch app.I wish I did not need to poke the watch with my nose so often. (I wish that I had a third arm and hand, so that I could hold my dog's leash, hold the watch up, and poke at the screen with my third hand.)

I have placed the OneNote watch app in the "dock" on my Apple Watch. Means that it is only one side button click away most of the time. Nevertheless, I would love to have two or more "complication"/gadgets for watch faces: one to go directly into capturing an item by voice, and one to go to the list of recent notes for reading.

There does not seem to be a way, in the OneNote watchapp, to navigate to one of my GTD notebooks and lists. Too bad. Might save even more steps if I could voice enter stuff directly into GTD.


Synching OneNote Apple Watch --> iPhone --> PC/Cloud/...

There seems to be no manual synch command on watch or iPhone.

iPhone --> PC/Cloud seems only to happen when the iPhone OneNote app opened. I guess that I do not do that often, since I only just got stuff from Thursday synched. (More and more I find that I want to use only my watch or my PC. More and more I want to avoid using my iPhone.)

I haven't done experiments to figure out how long it takes.

It sure would be nice to have a "When was I last synched" indication on watchapp and/or iPhone.

It sure would be nice to have a central place where last synch times are recorded.
  • Watch - last synched ...
  • iPhone - last synched
  • PC Outlook 2016 - last synched
  • PC Outlopok for Windows 10 - last synched
  • iPad ...
Bonus points if pressing a button on PC can reach out and ask watch OneNote to synch.

There is a "synch now" button on PC Outlook 2016 (and probably other). It seems to do what it says - although synchs are regularly schedule anyway.


My OneNote flow involves moving pages beteeen sections quite a lot.

OneNote is quite slow at this. Unreasonably slow. Hypotheses: (a) section size, (b) OneDrive Cloud storage, (c) having links between pages seems to slow down copies and moves a lot.

Also: I have been trying to capture everything from all of my devices (PC, iPhone, Watch) into the same Inbox. These seems to cause synchronization problems - yesterday I was not allowed to move a bunch of items because OneNote was waiting to synchronize. First time Indid something else, came back after 45 ‘inured, all was done. Second time, I rebooted after half an hour.

To deal with the slowness of moving pages between sections (GTD items between lists) more and more I am batching things - creating a parent page to which I hang items, then move all of the AI items en masse (and go get a cup of tea).
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I'm starting to get the vibe that you may be exceeding OneNote's capabilities, and a corruption/crash may be threatening. Is everything very, very thoroughly backed up?
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OneNote's encryption model SUCKS!!!

You can only encrypt sections. Not individual pages. Not notebooks. Not section groups containing sections. And sections cannot contain other sections.

This is a problem when the meaningful title that I would like to give a section is itself sensitive, and needs to be hidden.

So instead of a meaningful section name, I have to have a section named something like "Private Stuff #3", with the first page name being what really should be the section name.


1N: BKM: Processing Log - Raw - Inbox

My workflow is to collect most (almost all) stuff in Log - Raw - Inbox and to quick filter it.
Creating Link Pages, typically moving items to GTD lists action/ref/projects, leaving links behind in log.

Unfortunately, Create Link Pages has been quite slow in Log - Raw - Inbox, with perhaps 500-1000 pages.

(I think some of the slowness might be due to pages that have not completely synchronizxed - also, slow algos required to find selected pages by scanning. OneTastic has no way to "insert page after current page", and the default inserting at top or bottom is quite annoying.)

So, to speed things up, I created Log - Raw > Scratch

Am moving the oldest few pages there (sorted by date in the original Log - Raw - Inbox) and am then running macros like
Create Link Page* and TOC++ there.

Much faster, with far fewer pages.

Medium term, I will fix the macro perf problems if possible. (Today I went and found out what the problem was.)

But short term, this workaround makes life much more pleasant.


I keep thrashing between

1) Dump everything into the same Raw-Log-Inbox, and process it from there,
2) Have multiple Inboxes

These performance problems, hangs, when a script accesses items that have not synchronized yet, is pushing me towarads separating out at least for that.

AFAICT OneTastic will tell me if a section contains pages that have not synchronized yet, but will not tell me if a page object has not synched yet, or, more important, if a page object will hang when I try to access it. The GUI doesn't seem to have that problem.


On my PC, in OneNote 2016, I have 43 pages in my "Log - Raw - Inbox" that are "Untitled", whose content is "(i) Loading... Please wait."

These are being synched from iPhone-->MS OneDrive->OneNote 2016 on my PC

The pages get in the way.

I cannot select them, move them around, or move them to another folder.

My "Page Info" macro in OneTastic tells med the page does not exist. I can't create a list of these pages to go back to later.

I can move other pages around them. But since these pages are scattered, I have to do this carefully - I can't just select a block at a time.

My OneTastic sort macro can do a reasonable job of moving these pages all together in a clump at beginning or end.

MORAL: I need to synch iPhone Onenote to a separate section, so that these "(i) Loading... Please wait." Currently called "Raw Inbox - iPhone or other"

That's been a workflow problem - yet another place to look for captures - but now I realize that I don't want to process in that section, just wait until synched, and then transfer over to my main "Log - Raw - Inbox"


OneNote LOG structure: all together, vs section per week

When I started using OneNote as my principal capture tool, capturing items into a time sequential LOG from which I might copy/link/refile into places like GTD next action/project/reference lists, I had to make a basic decision:

First: 1 page per day, or 1 page per topic? Although at first and repeatedly I tried to do 1 page per day, I concluded that does not work well. The GTD guide for OneNote's advice of having a separate page per list item works better.

Second: Section structure: one big section, section per day/week/month/...

Should my LOG be arranged as a single section, always increasing in size?
  • This was especially attractive while I was attempting to create a single LOG page per day, with many different items in each day
  • Although see below - it has been my preferred approach for many years, until my frustration with OneNote / Onetastic slowness grew overwhelming
Or should be LOG be divided into different sections?
  • Section per Day
    • Too frequent - some days have little or no activity, while others have hundreds of items (typically new todo items spawned)
    • Although attractive because it then lets me use OneNote's very limited subpage facility for organizing topics within a day
      • whereas otherwise I am tempted to use subpages for per day organization
  • Section per Week
  • Section per Month
  • Section per year - too coarse
Obviously, if I use a relatively fine grain section per day or week I might consider using section groups per moth, and so on.

(With the usual caveat that weeks and months do not align.)

I've revisited this decision at least twice - typically when starting at a new company - and both times I have ended up gravitating towards "One Big Section".

Main reason: you can scroll back as far as you want, and still see a structure in your page titles. I often want to reorganize topics in groups that span day/week boundaries - although when I do so, it is often an indication that I need to use a GTD Project.

But... Slow!! :-( as I have posted several times, OneNote, and especially the OneTastic macro extension, can become exceedingly slow as section size increases. So, more and more I have been moving a few days at a time into a Scratch folder while doing GTD processing involving move stuff to GTD project or next action lists.

This is causing me to revisit the idea of using a section per week, naturally limiting section size, and speeding things up. Section per month less attractive, because in a single month I can create enough items to make the doing stuff slow.

PROBLEM: I find that I often want to look back a few weeks. Looking at page titles, rather than searching.

I am thinking about moving to a section per week for weeks more than a month past - and living with a section per month for recent stuff. This is suboptimal because, as I have said, in a month my LOG can grow large enough to make things slow. Moving chunks of pages off to scratch if I need to speed that up.


Apart from the slowness issue for large sections, what is really needed is a time telescoped. A view that allows you to see, e.g. +/- 2 weeks of context, even if that interval spans a month or year boundary.


This issue with OneNote section structure is quite similar to organizing email folders. Some people are obsessive about organizing email by time period - week/month/year... while others just leave email in big folders (Inbox, increasingly also Archive), and rely on search. Possibly using topic folders, categories, etc.



OneNote / OneTastic slowness

OneNote gets quite slow as size increases.

E.g. deleting pages gets slower and slower. I think this is related to the size of the per Notebook bin. I think that it is also related to the number of links in the pages being moved or deleted. It seems as if OneNote may be updating some database table of links.

E.g. moving and copying pages between notebooks gets slower and slower.

Onetastic macros are, if anything, worse.

Part of Onetastic's speed problem seems to be due to the fact that there is no concept of "insert a page after the current page". There is a GetCurrentPage function - but in order to insert after or before the current page, you need to find the page number on the current section. Which, as far as I know, requires scanning the list of pages in a section sequentially, comparing page object Ids. The pageIds themselves are big strings, probably hard to compare in and of itself.

If the pages in a section are sorted, e.g. by time as in a LOG, a slightly more efficient binary search can be used.


Read-Only (I wish)

I would often like to make OneNote items read-only.

I have had far too many accidental edits, accidental reorganizations of lists due to accidental swipes on the ALPS touchpad

Especially in a time based LOG, or in a REFERENCE section.

Unfortunately, OneNote does not have read-only pages.

It does have read-only sections.

However, read-only access seems to require changing filesystem permissions. It seems that there is no way to mark read-only from within OneNote.

OneNote can set password protected from within OneNote. However, password protected all or nothing is not the same as read-only.
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Updating Link Text to match Link Target Text
<=> Traversing Hyperlinks

I use "Link Pages" as my GTD Action Items. E.g. in meeting notes I may create an action item as a bulleted list item; I then "Create Link Page to Paragraph" to make a freestanding page that I can move to my GTD next action lists Or, I may snarf a paper PPPP that I need to read, file it in my reference library, and "Create Link Page to Page" "To-Read: PPPP" that I put into a GTD list. With links between.

I have started putting "tags" (text) in the page titles, like "To-Study", "To-Purchase", "To-Schedule", "To-Fix". When I have read the paper, bought the item, scheduled or actually had the meeting, fixed the bug and/or deferred because it's bigger than I thought, I change the status tag to something like "STUDIED", "BOUGHT", "SCHEDULED" and/or "MET", "FIXED" and/or "DEFERRED" in the page.

That status shows up in the OneNote sections / aka GTD lists.

However, a link to the action item page appears somewhere else - e.g. a link from the paper in my reference library to the "To-Read" action - it's nice to propagate the status. I.e. to update the text of the cross reference link with the current status reflected in the page title.

Seems straightfoward, eh? Write a macro to read the From Link text and its hyperlink, go to the link target from that hyperlink, read the Link Target text, compare, and update.

I was very disappointed to learn that the OneTastic macro language for OneNote, and, apparently, the OneNote Graph API, do NOT provide a way of traversing the hypertext. Not as part of the API. Obviously OneNote does that itself, when you click on a link. But there doesn't appear to be an official way to do so in the OneNote macro language.

Dirty Workaround: the hyperlink looks something like:

base-path= Notebooks/Log - Raw/@/@@/

You may have noticed that I have parsed the hyperlink URL a bit.

If I scan - the current section, notebook, all notebooks - I can look for pages/sections/notebooks that have matching page-id/section-id/base-path.

This is horribly inefficient. Even if I try to be smart, scanning nearby and frequently used sections first, then scanning top-down, then scanning wider afield because the URL components of the hyperlink break when items are moved between different notebooks. But at least it works.

Worse, it is not official. The page-id/section-id/base-path components of the URL are not documented, AFAICT. There's no guarantee that Microsoft will maintain the URL format going forward.

Of course, it fails when the link target is deleted, or is in a notebook that is no longer open. I can live with that.

So, now I have the ability to update my action item status. Even though its an ugly kluge. It's relatively fast, if the search does not have to span all notebooks. If there was an official way to do it, I would use that. But AFAIK there is no such.


Coded up macros to "Insert Daily LOG Special Pages (in section)". I already had this in a macro that also optionally generated a TOC (Table Of Contents) over many scopes ranging from section/group/notebook/all notebooks. But a simpler version with fewer options has proven more usable.

Also, it can only insert the special pages if they do not already exist. As opposed to repeatedly adding duplicates.

To deal with such duplicates, a macro to "Cleanup Trash Pages" - starting off with the "Unnamed page"s that OneNote so often creates, and also cleaning up some of the crap my macros generate- or used to generate. Much easier than cleaning up by hand.


With my last macro "Insert Daily LOG Special Pages (in section)" I seem to have reached a tipping point, a critical mass.

Not only has it made it easier to "review" my action items, the stuff that I have captured. Which is what I hoped for all along.

But it has also, somehow, triggered me starting to use OneNote on my iPhone more. Hitherto I have used iOS OneNote mainly to capture things - screenshots, photos, etc. Waiting an unknowbly random time befire such captures are synched to Cloud Drive, and thence to my PC.

But now, having run "Insert Daily LOG Special Pages (in section)" on my PC, I have enough of a framework that I can actally start reviewing pages, sorting them, on my iPhone. Making it possible to do my review in small incremental steps, e.g. waiting for dinner at a diner, rather than only in front of my PC at home.

I wish that I could run my OneTastic macdos forOneNote on iOS OneNote, rather than only on my PC. I depend on making link pages, which I cannot easily do on my iPhone, without my macros.

But I can at least do some parts of my review on my iPhone: separating work from home.
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Since I am starting to use OneNote on my iPhione more, I have started noticing odd things.

For example, I have a bunch of pages and subpages. They appear properly indented on my PC.

On my iPhone, at first the subpages are not indented. But if I open one of them, when I close it and return to the section, the page that I just had opern is now properly indented. Although its siblings ae not.

For example, there doesn't appear to be a way to collapse a sub-page, sub-sub-page, hierarchy.

For example, thre seems to be no good way to tell if OneNote on my differen devices, PC and iPhone, are properly synchronized.

I am a bit worried that I will create problems using OneNote actively on both PC and iPhone. Conflict pages. Time will tell.


Whern I am on an airplane using OneNote on both my iPhone and my PC, I wish that they could synchronize with each other directly, rather than through Cloud Drive.


I wish that I could run a slow OneTastic macro while continuing to use OneNote without the macros in another window.

Actually, I wish that I could use less slow OneTastic macros in another window, while a slow OneTstic macro is rnning elsewhere. But, I'll take a small step.

Actually, I wish that OneTastic macros were faster. But, again, baby steps.


I have been able to switch to using the new Win10 OneNote while OneNote 2016 is running a slow OneTastic macro, and similarly to iOS OneNote. But this leads to pages that appear in one version and not the other, at east not before a slow synchronization has been completed. Worse, it is hard to estimate how long such a sync will take - 10 minutes? an hour? I have even started creating flag pages - but I can't be sure that OneNote syncs pages in any particular order.


I had a minor scare over the weekend: my Just Press Record voice notes/transcripts, one of my primary capture techniques on my Apple Watch and, less often, on my iPhobe, seemed not to be synching.

I feared that my habit of (a) kicking off JPR transcriptions, and (b) when a transcript was finished "Send To OneNote" (voice and text), and then immediaterly deleting was race-ful - that the delete may have been occurring before the Send To OneNote was complete.

False alarm: it turns out that I had not started the iPhone OneNote app fir a while, just the Just Press Record app, which needs to be babysat through generating a transcript.

So, the process of capturing JPR items from Watch/iPhone to OneNote2016 on PC needs several steps, frequently manual:

a) JPR recording on watch
b) in JPR app on iPhone, hit Transcribe.
Unfortunately, such transcriptions appear mostly not to be done in the background. Seem to have to leave iPhone with JPR app active
c) When the transcript is ready, or has failed, hit Send to OneNote in the JPR app on iPhone
Specify where you want the JPR item to be sent.
As I have mentioned in other posts, I have found it convenient to make this NOT the normal QuickNotes location.
d) open OneNote app on iPhone. This syncs.
e) in OneNote2016 app on PC, sync the notebook where you are sending the stuff to.

Step e) supposedly, usually?, happens in the background. But that often takes days, or hangs.

Steps b), c), and d) appear to need to be done manually.

There is a long delay for step b) to complerte, before you can start step c). I try to do this overnight, or during breakfast.

There seems to be no delay required betwen steps c) and d).

Step d) can be slow, but usually is fast eniough that I do not need to try to let it go overnight.

Between step d) and e) I haved observed negligible latencies. But often OneNote seems to hand, and I need to reboot my PC to make it work.


A friend who used to work at Google is a big advocate of Google Keep as a capture mechanism. He says that Google spends a lot of effort to make Google Keep sync almost immediately, e.g. his wife can add things to the grocery list he is shoppimng from in real time.

I have described in other posts why I chose OneNote over Google Keep - mainly, structure, and OCR of text in images. But I can only wish that OneNote synched as fast as Google Keep.

Actually, not necessarily as fast. I could live with 10 minute delays if they were reliable. My biggest problem is that the sync workflow above requires too many manual steps - 4 !!! :-(

Plus, even those are not reliable. E.g. I have been waiting for a sync to completer for more than half an hour now, watching as the green bar slowly inches forward. Hence this post, while I wait. It's probably wedged or hung. ... Reboot... :-(


BTW, one might ask "Why does AFG keep using OneNote, given that it so frequently hangs, wedges, crashes, or is killed?"

A: I tend to drive nearly all apps pretty hard.

Either they lack features that I want,

Or they have the features I want - but the developrs did not imagine that anyone would use them as much as I do.

(Or, they don't have the features -0 but I can add them by extensions like OneTastic or AHK.)

Believe it or not, my sob stories about OneNote hanging or crashing are GOOD COMPARED TO my experience with many other apps.

Plus, better the devil youy know. I can't tell you how many times I have been told to try appFoobar, switched, only to run into problems after a while.


My workflow looks like:
  1. Record items in Log Raw - both work and personal
  2. Classify items as Work Restricted, Work Related but Personal, Personal/Public/Private
    1. Do this, e.g. on a daily basis, one or a few days at a time
    2. Move days that have been classified into a section "TO SPLIT"
    3. From the To SPLIT section folder, move to the final log - personal / private
  3. Extract actions/refs/projects, and dispatch to the GTD context lists/ref/projects, separate work/personal
    1. First stage - move them to a section simply marked GTD in my Log-Raw notebook
    2. Later, move to the proper folder
The stuff marked in red is new - mainly, new steps that involve moving items that I have classified to a section where I later split, etc.

Basically, staging areas.

Largely motivated by OneNote slowness.
  • It's easier/faster in the UI to just move to a "GTD" section, and thn later to move to one of several GTD context lists.
  • Running macdros on smaller sections is faster than on bigger
  • Also, horizontal tabs in OneNote2016 limit how many sections I can see at a time
I used to try to do step 2.2, 2.3, and 3 all at thwe samed tkme. This took too long, often longer tna I had between meetings. Daily logs would end up beding half processed, and then I would have to pick up work and resume. Things fell through the cracks.

By having these staging areas, I am able to have smaller chunks of GTD processing. Easier to keep track of where I am.

I expect that I will automate step 2.3 with a macro.

I may end up combining steps 3 and 2.1, 2.2, and then running step 2.3 via a probably slow macro.


In a different tool, might not need sections,. The staging areas are a pain. But need a way to track state easily, drag and drop. Not typing in keywords.