Newbie: OneNote, iPhone, ...

Discussion in 'PUBLIC: Discuss Tools & Software for GTD' started by AFG, Sep 13, 2018.


How do you implement your GTD Next Action context lists in OneNote?

  1. As text in ordinary pages?

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  2. Using OneNote tags, and the Find Tags feature to automatically create lists?

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Multiple votes are allowed.
  1. AFG

    AFG Registered

    Sep 12, 2018
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    ---+ Hello. I'm a newbie

    Hello. I'm a newbie here. Seeking help/advice wrt using GTD on Win10 SurfBook + iPhone. (More details below.)

    You may have noticed a flurry of posts by me, mostly replies to existing threads, and a few new threads. Sudden flurry, because I am trying to decide if worthwhile paying for the GTD Connect membership, and also what GTD computer systems to set up. I have purchased and read all of the GTD setup guides (1) Because I have an interest in developing Personal Information Management software (although it is not my current job). (2) As a way of comparison shopping different task management SW packages. (3) Easier to learn the best know methods now, than to realize I have set things up badly and have to change (or, worse, get frustrated and abandon GTD, as I have done in the past.)

    ---+ ISO GTD advice

    ---++ Background

    I read the original GTD book years ago, am rereading the new edition, and GTD for Teens. Haven't taken a class yet - haven't seen any in Portland, OR, may travel to Seattle to take one. I practice collection and zero inbox pretty regularly, but other GTD practices fell away. I hope that part of the reason I fell off the GTD wagon was that I had implemented and reimplemented GTD in too many different SW packages, changing every few years (OneNote, GNU EMACS org-mode, Outlook, Thunderbird, ...) - starting off too complex, probably, but even when simplified not making best choices of tools and configurations. Much of this predated the GTD Setup Guides, which I was very happy to see this time round.

    Therefore, I seek advice on how to implement GTD in my current environment.

    ---++ What I am trying

    Obviously, OneNote as described above. (I am willing to change, but reluctant. E.g. I keep trying, and rejecting, EverNote every few years.)

    I am thinking of using OneNote tags for GTD next action contexts, using OneNote's "Find Tags" feature to create the necessary list(s).

    Otherwise, OneNote as described in the GTD setup guide.

    I am reluctant to make heavy use of Outlook features like categories.

    I am oscillating between "email as the reminder" vs "next actions lists in OneNote (and Gmail) as the action reminder)", as described in the setup guides
    + i.e. email folders @ACTION and @WAITING_FOR

    I suspect the latter - many of my action items are email, but not the most important.

    Q: has anyone used both? Combinatoric explosion, (2+2){work,personal}

    I am pretty happy with my lightweight quick notes collection
    + e.g. using my Apple Watch "Hey Siri, Remind me to ..." and "Just Press Record"
    + e.g. using LiveScribe 3+ pen
    + e.g. using screen capture and Send To PC OneNote from my iPhone
    and also on OneNote. But I found OneNote "Quick Notes:" hard to use, and instead have Pertsonal and Work "Inboxes" in OneNote.

    I would like to make better use of iPhone OneNote, but it is SO DARN SLOW - taking 13 seconds to start up.

    I have wondered about using the iPhone Reminder app for my next action lists. Probably not, since autogenerating from OneNote tags - but I wonder if anyone has tried this?

    I have no good solution for tickler lists on my computer. Emulate paper tickler lists in OneNote?

    ---+ Brief

    I seek advice on how to set up GTD

    + using OneNote 2016 on an MS Surface Book
    + Outlook email/calendar for work
    + Google email/calendar for personal

    possibly in conjunction related apps on iPhone and Apple Watch.

    E.g. should I use OneNote tags to automatically create GTD next action context lists?

    Also, important: how do people deal with the need to separate work and personal stuff?

    ---+ Background

    ---++ My present computer/physical environment

    + most of my devices are BYOD
    - I own them, although corporate IT may insist on admin rights.
    - I insist on BYOD because
    (a) I love pen computers, but corporate IT does not support high end pen computers
    (b) I hate having to carry two devices, e.g. two laptops, two phones
    + main: Microsoft Surface Book (convertible pen/tablet), Windows 10
    + iPhone (6+ - large, but not that large a screen)
    + Apple Watch Series 3. No cell connectivity (which I now regret)
    + LivesScribe 3+ smart pen (handwritten notes collected to OneNote)

    For legal and intellectual property reasons, I need to keep my personal and work stuff as separate as possible.
    For example, years ago I changed jobs from Intel to its main competitor, AMD. Because at that time I was not doing a good job of separating work and personal stuff, I had to lose all of my personal computer files, etc. I don't plan to change jobs any time soon, but once burned, twice shy.
    But even with this, I hate carrying separate devices for work and personal stuff.

    Main app for GTD (I think, unless you persuade me otherwise):
    + MS OneNote on Surface Book PC.
    + currently OneNote2016 / Office365; may have to move to Win10 OneNote app
    + with stuff collected from iPhone and LiveScribe3+

    Email Server:
    + Outlook/Exchange for work
    + Gmail for personal
    Because I use both, I am reluctant to use GTD methodologies that depend heavily on Outlook features.

    Email Client:
    + Personal: Gmail and Google Inbox on PC, Inbox on iPhone
    + Work:
    + On PC: Outlook2016/Office365
    + occasionally Win10 - it lacks features I use, but is faster because ActiveSync. not VPN
    + iPhone: iOS, occasionally MS Outlook for iOS
    I have occasionally put up my own mail server, e.g. IMAP proxies that do ML "AI" email classification.
    But that proved to more hassle than worth, so I have fallen back to using Outlook rules and search folders, preferring this to

    Calendar Server:
    + Work: Outlook/Exchange
    + Personal: Google Calendar.
    iCloud calendar occasionally by accident

    Calendar Client:
    + iPhone: iOS Calendar app, interfaced to both work Exchange and Gmail (IMAP)
    + Apple Watch: iOS calendar.
    (this was main reason I switched from Pebble to Apple Watch - Exchange interface)
    + PC: Outlook2016, occasionally tablet Win10 Calendar app.

    SnagIt and other screen capture. OneNote OCR text search of bitmap images helps a lot.

    ---+++ Sisconnected / Remote

    I often work from home in Oregon, so mounting Windows SMB or NFS shared from California or China can be PAINFULLY SLOW.

    Much of Oregon has poor connectivity - e.g. I live in a canyon, with sporadic cell coverage, and trees occasionally knocking out broadband. So I like disconnected operation, especially if can separately synch to cloud (separate clouds work and personal). OneNote wins there.

    Similarly, I travel by plane a lot - and hating using GoGo wif on plane. Stuff I can do offline nice. E.g. GTD weekly reviews are nice on plane.

    ---+++ Linux / Windows / iOS interoperab ility - nice, but ...

    I use Linux at work for coding and data analysis. Emacs. Tmux. X/VNC, although I diss - prefer Xpra, but currently that is unreliable at work. Recommendations as to how to to take tasks from Linux to Windows Outlook are always sought. I waste a surprisingly large amount of time moving snippets of text or screens between Linux and Windows/OneNote. Help! Occasionally bigger files.

    Sometimes I put what should be GTD stuff in Linux text files, so that other team members can see them. Usually org-mode text files. ISO Linux file formats that support non-text embedded stuff well. Usually I fall back to Word or PowerPoint. Less often, LibreOffice, etc.

    Perforce widely used at work as a file repository (not just version control).

    Atlassian Confluence wiki. Some older wikis.

    I have tried sharing my OneNote files (GTD and Reference stuff) with other coworkers (via OneDrive, and its web interface). But my other coworkers are reluctant.

    I hate it when I end up replicating stuff in my OneNote/GTD, and on Confluence, and in email, and ...

    ---++ Computer Intensive Newbie Yes and No

    My life is computer intensive, both work and hobby. I almost certainly invented parts of the computer you are using to read this. I used to manage one of the guys who implemented Mosaic and then Netscape, the first GUI web browser. Sorry if that sounds boastful - I say it mainly to try to preempt beginner type responses. But... although I am not a newbie wrt computers, it might be okay to treat me as a newvie wrt GTD.

    My life is computer intensive ... hobby: I like coding, and have coded up various GTD like things over the years. Org-mode was especially nice for that, as was twiki. But I have less and less time to do such hobby coding due to family and exercise, and I prefer to do coding projects that have a reasonably good chance of not being thrown away and which I can continue to use in my regular practice. Unfortunately, the org-mode and twiki stuff cannot be used on my current platforms. (Twiki because I often work disconnected). Therefore my current "hack" coding is mostly AutoHotKey, OneTastic macros for OneNote, some Visual Basic for Outlook, and Python scripts for same. If I find a wiki that can operate disconnected and then merge online, I may go back to more intensive web client and server side coding.

    That paragraph is mainly to say "I am not afraid of coding. In fact, I am happiest to use tools that can be usefully extended by more own code. But I don't like wasting my time on tools that die out."
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2018
  2. Gardener

    Gardener Registered

    Sep 11, 2008
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    Assorted random thoughts:

    I've found Outlook to be disturbingly fragile when using it for anything but basic ordinary email and calendar, so I agree with your reluctance. I was wondering if it might be more stable, since the last time it lost all my To Dos was a few years ago. Then it lost them again. Luckily, I had only trusted it to store a specific small subset.

    My issue with email as reminder (rather than as support material) is that:

    1) One email may have more than one action.
    2) The same action may be supported by more than one email.
    3) You therefore generally have to actually open and scan the email to be clear on what the action is, and perhaps re-decide what the action is.
    4) You'll have actions not-in-email, so either you have to have another set of lists, or you have to send yourself emails just so that the actions are all in one place.

    So I prefer to type the action into my lists, if necessary with a pointer that will allow me to find the associated email. ("Investigate Widget Report bug, see email Rick 180912")

    Now, if for some reason I really really had to use email for my lists, I would forward the emails to myself, changing the subject line to be the Next Action phrasing, and if one email had more than one Next Action, I'd forward it to myself twice. I would create emails for actions that didn't originate through email. Then the subject lines would make a proper list.

    I use Reminders for certain lists that are well-supported by Reminders--lists that I share with my SO, lists that I use primarily when I'm out and about, a tickler list--but I don't use it for my Next Action lists. I consider it to be closer to the function of tickler and project support material.

    Also, I use a Mac, so Reminders is on my laptop, too.

    For personal, I use Reminders as my tickler. For work, I create five-minute calendar appointments in Outlook. Not ideal, but it's what I do.

    My work and personal use completely separate devices, so the separation is pretty natural. That's not to say that there wouldn't be some advantage to having them all together, but my work won't allow their data on my personal devices, and I refuse to put my personal data on my work devices, be it. They own the work devices, I own the personal devices.

    Now, my personal devices are a Mac and an iPhone. These share data pretty nicely, when you choose the right apps, so when I'm out of my house the iPhone by itself does a pretty good job of representing my personal data. But when I actually travel, yeah, the bag has two laptops in it.

    Re your subject line question, I don't use OneNote.
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  3. chirmer

    chirmer Registered

    Oct 30, 2013
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    Whatever tools you use, you really want them to be as similar as possible on all platforms you're going to use, IMO. It's more difficult for you because you've got a Win10 computer, an iPhone, and an Apple Watch. iPhone and Watch - awesome combo. Win10 throws it for a loop.

    For example, Reminders is a great tool for GTD if you're entirely Apple. I use it for my personal life GTD (I also keep them very, VERY separate due to confidential information) in combo with Apple Notes and it's lovely. Reminders functions the same everywhere I use it, so I don't have to keep learning how to do my task depending on the device I'm currently using. But the version of Reminders sucks really bad. In a pinch, yeah it works fine. But it's not responsive, you can't click and drag things... arg, it's terrible. So having that be your primary list tool on a Windows computer is going to feel awful.

    On the flip side, OneNote is great on Windows. Amazing, even. However, it's really barely passible on iOS if you have lots of content. When storing files and documentation, it's fine - but trying to quickly jot down that todo you don't want to forget is going to be very frustrating. Lots of steps are involved. Then you add in the factor that it's VERY different depending on the OS/device you're using, and IMO it's too much of a hassle.

    So I would find a tool that's almost the same (if not exactly so) on Windows and iOS and use that. Maybe it's web-based. That gets hairy with offline mode, though. Unless you're comfortable managing your lists just from your phone - honestly, I do 90% of the time. It's what's on me, after all. Reminders is nice because it integrates so well with iOS. For example, oftentimes you get notifications, right? And they show on your lock screen? Well, as soon as you unlock your phone, they're gone, yeah? Relegated off to the Notifications pane. However, Reminders will persist until you open the app next - so you can use your phone all day while still leaving that reminder up and visible each time you pick up your phone. To me, that was what swayed me towards using the default apps on my device. That level of integration is truly enjoyable. It's also GREAT on the Apple Watch.

    But if you're going to want to list manage on your computer? You'll want something that doesn't make you re-learn it on different devices. Maybe something like Todoist or another list app. I personally use Trello at work because a) it's fun, b) it's web-based so I can use it on any computer, c) it's incredibly flexible, d) we use it at work (my fault haha). The iOS app is great and supports force touch, so it's super fast to add stuff on the fly. And you can attach any file type to cards, type notes, use custom fields, power-ups, etc. But, offline mode is a bit hairy. I don't trust it, if I'm honest. I just depend on the internet, haha.
    AFG likes this.
  4. AFG

    AFG Registered

    Sep 12, 2018
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    Thanks for your insights.

    When you say you use Reminders as your tickler, I assume that you are setting a scheduled date&time?

    Not emulating the paper tickler, with lists for days of month 1-31 and months of year Jan-Dec?

    I've tried the minimal duration Outlook calendar appointments. The problem I found was that if I did not finish the action, e.g. if I was sick, the action did not automatically get pushed forward. I suppose that Outlook's annoy "you forgot to dismiss this calendar item" notifications might help - although I am in the habit of automatically dismissing them.

    Is there any way to handle this? E.g. is there a way to have an Outlook saved search for "To do items that have not been ...". AFAIK Outlook does not have saved searches for calendar items (used to).

    But I don't want to go there.

    BTW, Apple reminders are available on PCs cvia the web: - with all of the problems that web apps have, like no disconnected operation. Since I use Apple Watch reminders as quick notes (for some reason the Apple Watch Siri cannot take a note), I use this when collecting.
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2018
  5. AFG

    AFG Registered

    Sep 12, 2018
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    Unfortunately, Apple doesn't sell a pen/touch computer. The iPad Pro, almost - but AFAIK the offline abilities are limited.

    I was wondering about this - thanks. I suspect that I could do 90% of my next action list management from my phone. But then I do mostly give up linking from, the next action list to the projects and support lists.

    Although, more and more, I want to stop carrying my phone and just use my watch. :)

    Unfortunately, I live in a beautiful place that has poor coverage.
  6. Gardener

    Gardener Registered

    Sep 11, 2008
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    Right. Well, either a scheduled date/time or a rule-based one, like "the 1st of every month" or "repeat weekly".

    The appointment will come up afterward even if I missed it. I generally snooze it by a half-day or a day if I didn't get the thing done. Or if it would be really really bad to miss it, I may set it to repeat every day.

    Yeah, I think that's the interface I snooze in.
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