MS OneNote GTD Experience


The usual complaint about slow Onetastic macros

But not just that: it might not be so bad if I could run a slow macro "in the background", while I am doing something else interactively.

Unfortunately, OneTastic takes overr the entire OneNote process. Can't do anything else while the macro is running.

(In other MS apps can somertimes start an extra instance of an app - I haven't figured out how to do that on OneNote, if it can be done.)


E,.g. right now I am trying to run the OneTastic "Search Multi Keywords macro". I want to find all pages with a particular keyword, make them into a checklist, and work through that checklist.

Unfortunately, multiple notebooks => slow.

But I want to let that slow search run while I listen to another meeting. Normally I take notes in OneNote.


Next time I will power on an old laptop and run the slow OneTastic search on that.


Did I mention that OneNote has limited search abilities?

OneNote2016 can search for text typed into a search box. It can pin the search to the side of the OneNote window. But AFAIK there is no way to save the search results to a page, or to make it into a checklist, the way omne can with searches for tags.

OneTastic allows macros to be written to search. But, like so much of OneTastic, such searches are slow.


I recently disconnected Outlook 2016 on my PC from my employer's MS OneDrive.

Suddenly, things started working MUCH faster.

It seems my employer's OneDrive is MUCH slower than the personal OneDrive I get through my MS Office 365 subscription.

If I reconnect, I will run benchmarks.


In September of 2018, Gardener asked me why I was using OneNote instead of EverNote.

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.)

I answered at the time in the next post in this thread.

Today, a relevant article in the New York Times:
My summary:

EverNote failed to live up to many expectations of becoming a killer app. It was overhyped, tried to do too many things, has had a lot of churn. Last year people said that it was in a death spiral.

But... what the article says about EverNote having retrenched, reaching profitability with annual revenue of 100 million dollars, makes me feel more confident, more willing to give EverNote a try.

(Especially after some of my recent bad experiences with OneNote, which I will document here.)


Earlier I described my current system for handling WORK and Personal stuff in OneNote: flow
capture --> Log-Raw (the default) and/or Log-Raw-work (which I have to specify manually)
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
and thereafter moving stuff into GTD notebooks and lists, etc.

Recently I quit my old job. I'm now taking a break for a few weeks, before starting my new job.

I admit that I had fallen behind in my weekly reviews and cleanups. I had quite a few items in my Log-Raw that I had not classified as WORK or Personal. But now that I was leaving my old job, I had to clean this up ASAP.

Here's what I did - what worked well, and what did not work:

GREAT: I wrote some AutoHotkey code so that I can quickly classify all of the items in a OneNote section. One key press to mark an item as #WORK or #PERSONAL, and then move on to the next item. Plus a few other keypresses to indicate #PRIVATE (needs to be encrypted), and #INVENTION? (to indicate to my old company that there might be something worth patenting). This worked greated. I processed upwards of 5,000 pages in just a few hours.

(I have used this technique, creating single key classification or triage macros, many times before.)

GOOD: I chose to indicate the classification by #HASHTAGS: placing #WORK, #PERSONAL, etc., as prefixes in the page titles. Marking this way was simple, easy, quick and dirty, although the page titles became uselessly long. In the future, I may choose to put the #HASHTAGS in a metadata section - the first paragraph of the page.

IMPORTANT: it is important to have a complete partition: #WORK vs #PERSONAL. It is bad to mark only #WORK, and assume that an unmarked page is personal by default. There needs to be a way of distinguihing pages that have been processed from pages that have not been processed.

BAD: I tried, but abandoned, using OneNote's built-in tags to do this classification marking. They simply are too limited.

BAD: unfortunately, OneNote/OneTastic macros cannot move pages between sections or notebooks.

UNFORTUNATE: adding the #WORK, etc., classification tags changed the modified date of the pages. Loss of information. Next time I may try to save/restore the modied date.

OKAY WORKAROUND: I worked around this limitation by sorting the pages within a section by their page names - which were prefixed #WORK, #PERSONAL, etc. Once sorted, I took all of the #WORK pages, and moved them into their own LOG-WORK notebopok, etc.

BAD: well, that was the theory... and eventually I acheived it. But I found that OneNote is really, Really, REALLY slow moving and copying pages around. Like, an hour to copy 500 pages around. Worse, it repeatedly crashed.

The progress bar semed to quickl;y get to 50%, and then stop. I conjectured that the problem might have been that I have too many links - but I removed all links (via a scanning macro), no joy. I conjecture still that the problem might be that I have embedded a LOT of PDFs and PPTs in my OneNote pages. The overall size of my WORK pages was circa 900MB. My personal stuff is several times that in size.

Eventually I got the pages separated.

GOOD: more OneTastic code to remove the tags like #WORK from the page titles, not that they are in separate folders.

BAD: the repeated crashes and other problems resulted in page duplicates. GOOD: So I wrote code to dedup the pages.

Overall, my AHK and OneTastic macros worked great. But OneNote's extreme slowness copying and moving pages around was really, Really, REALLY bad. And may be a reason to abandon OneNote.


OneNote LIMITATION: "We can't sync this section file because it is too big"


I cannot report how big the section is right now - OneNote is running, moving 2 months worth of my LOG pages into a separate section. ... Ah, the move is done. But OneNote is giving me the "animated busy icon of slowness" when I try to figure out how big the section is.

Perhaps later I will report. I hope that I will not need to reboot - I have had instances of data loss in such situations, specifically in my post of July 3 when I did a lot of tagging and data movement as I was leaving my old job.

.. 10 minutes later - the section that is too large has 2343 pages. But, it is probably the size of the objects in the pages - screen clippings, PDFs, audio - that is causing the problem.
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OLD: as reported above, I have been mostly using Just Press Record on my Apple Watch to record voice messages, transcribing them on my iPhone using JPR's clunky but free transcription mechanism, and then transfering the text, and often the audio, to Outlook on my iPhone, which syncs with Outlookin the cloud.

BAD NEWS: I thought that I had configured JPR to produce PC-friendly .WAV sound files rather than Apple specific .M4A files. It appears that might only work for recordings made in my iPhone, not on my watch.

GOOD NEWS: I seem to have a player for .M4A files. OneNote dioesn't know about it, but right clicking > Open finds it.

VERY GOOD NEWS: I installed Dragon Natuirally Speaking speech recognition on my PC. When I open a .M4A sound file on my PC, Dragon performs speech recognition, giving me a transcript that is usually more accurate and produced much faster than on my iPhone.


I must admit that somewhere along here I started scanning instead of reading. Here's my use case and two cents about how I use OneNote.

ON is, of course, best at curating knowledge.
I have topic specific notebooks and keep them all open. That keeps any one notebook from getting too big and causing Sync issues.
For my largest reference notebooks, I keep an archive notebook open as well and move anything not in current use there. Search will still find things in archive notebooks but they don't take up as much time to sync because they're relatively static.
I explain when I train for ON that I use notebooks as file drawers, section groups as hanging file folders, sections as folders, and pages as the paper inside them. And that's how I organize things. I currently have 23 notebooks open. Since sharing works easiest at the notebook level, I have a handful that are highly topic specific and shared with a team.

I have notebooks for each of the people I supervise and I collect status reports via that shared notebook. That means I don't need extra emails and have a running record of their work. They also post concerns there and I can answer directly - also keeping a record. Their projects go on my projects list so I can keep track of their major pieces of work regularly.
Since ON integrates so well with Teams, this is an added bonus since we work in a MS centric state agency. Shared notebooks are added to the associated conversation or Team.

GTD specific
I have one notebook for GTD and an archive notebook for projects organized by year.
I have the following tabs:
  • Next Actions - a collection of pages that have my various contexts/energy levels on them.
  • Work Projects - All open, active projects. All projects have a link to the current next action and to any relevant research at the top of the page.
  • Personal Projects - All open, active projects labeled with P- at the beginning of the page name. Label (or lack of one) quickly identifies the context of the project.
  • Home Projects - Same, H- label.
  • Waiting For - pages for work and home - lists in a table.
  • Someday Maybe - Each thing has a page.
  • Mobile In- Unprocessed projects/actions/mind sweep items (most commonly accessed on my phone).
  • Lists - Each type of list gets a page.

This is the most important bit for me in ON.
I link to relevant information using ctrl-k. If no text is highlighted, this brings up a notebook list for ON and I start typing the name of the page I need for the information I want. It pulls from any open notebook in ON. If text is highlighted before I select ctrl-k, I can still do that but it's an extra two clicks.
I link to projects from my next action and waiting for lists. I link to reference where necessary from my projects list allowing me to keep task-related information on my project pages.

Email Integration
Unsurprisingly, we use Outlook (2016).
There's now a "send to OneNote" button in all email and appointments. If I use that button, I get a notebook list in Outlook and can send the email there. I use this for reference information or for meeting notes.
For action related items - especially replying - I drag the email on to the page in a table. The first column describes what and why for the email being there and the second column contains the email. The email itself only shows a very truncated title which is distinctly unhelpful so this is my workaround. Emails copied to ON can be deleted from Outlook and still work.

The one non-ON component I use is a Rocketbook (reusable notebook). Even with my Surface for work, I need a more handwritten based system since that's the way I work best. I did a pretty thorough explanation of that process in an interview with One Noteworthy Life.
The one piece I'd add to all of the information in the video is that I now have a destination in my RB app to my Mobile In tab and carry a small RB notebook with me wherever I got to capture random thoughts.

I am super excited about ON/RB/GTD and love talking about it to anyone and everyone. Just ask my coworkers. :)