Even though I am a Mac user, and heavily invested in the Apple ecosystem, my favorite app is one designed by Microsoft: OneNote. I have been using it for a few years now, and it’s the one app that I recommend to everyone: students, faculty, and staff in academia, as well as those in the business world. It has shaped the way that I study, organize and keep track of my professional life.
As a student, I’ve used OneNote to organize and take notes for all my classes. Every time I sign up for a class, I create a notebook with the name of the class. In that notebook, I then create multiple sections. I have a section called “Class Notes” where, because I prefer to type, I type all my notes. Within that section, I have pages titled with the date of each class (e.g., February 1, 2018). If you prefer to handwrite your notes, you have two options. One, you can use an iPad or a Surface Pro and write with the Apple Pencil or the Microsoft Stylus. Two, even if you write notes in a notebook, it’s a good idea to review those notes within 48 hours; otherwise, it becomes re-learning rather than review. What better way to review notes than to type them up in OneNote and fill in what you need to fill in? When in class, if the professor writes something on the board that I want to capture (say a diagram), I take a picture with my phone and with a couple of clicks that picture is inserted into my notes.
My second section in the class notebook is for notes that I take from the book. Within that section, I have pages for each of the chapters. In those pages I take the notes I want to take for the book. If it’s a digital book, I can also take screenshots of tables and other diagrams and, with a couple of clicks, insert them into my notes.
Some professors also provide me with their own notes in PDF. For those classes, I have created a section called “Professor Notes” where I have pages titled for each of the notes I was provided (e.g., Bivariate Regression).
If it happens to be a class that has quizzes or tests, like my statistics class, I also create a section called “Quiz Study Guides.” There, I take all my notes as I study for the quiz or test.
Lastly, depending on the class, I might have articles or other assignments that I need to work on, so I have sections for those as well. If it’s an article that I have the PDF for, I can easily insert it as a “printout” and then take my accompanying notes.
I also use OneNote as a professional to keep track of meetings and committees. If they are one-off meetings, I have a notebook for meetings, and each section is dedicated to a meeting. For standing committees, I create a notebook just for that committee. Within that notebook, I have three sections: Meetings, Documents, and Minutes.
In the Meetings section, just like for the class notebook, I have pages titled with the date of the meeting (e.g., February 1, 2018). There, I take my notes during meetings. In the Documents section, I have pages for whatever documents I collected for that committee. If they are in Word, I just copy and paste the text. If they are PDFs, I insert them as printouts.
In the last section, Minutes, I again have pages titled with the date of the meeting, but there I copy and paste whatever minutes were taken for that meeting.
What is the benefit of all that? First, It keeps me organized. I don’t like having papers because they end up all over the place and I have a hard time keeping track of them. The worst, are the documents handed out in class or during meetings. I generally lose them somewhere in my bag, at home or in my office. Now, I take a picture of whatever it is with my phone and, with a couple of clicks, I insert it into my notebook. The second benefit is that I can find things easily. OneNote allows me to search within a page, a section, a notebook or all my notebooks. I can’t remember what bivariate is I need to know it for a class? A quick search of my notebook brings up all the locations where the word “bivariate” appears. I can also quickly locate all the documents I need to locate during a meeting, look at any of the past notes or meetings without having to dig around my bag/home/office to find what I’m looking for.
Another advantage of OneNote is that it can be accessed anywhere on any device. I can log in online in any web browser and have instant access to all my notebooks. I can use an iPad, a Surface Pro, a laptop (Mac/PC), a desktop or even my phone. If you’ve never used OneNote, take a look at it. It may, as it did for me, change your life for the better.
What do you use to keep your notes organized? Any other programs out there that you recommend? Any strategies that you recommend?