Even a chimp can write code

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Having fun with OneNote

I'd never used OneNote before I started working at Microsoft. In my first 1:1 with Rich Clayton (my boss' boss), he suggested I give it a try. Excellent advice. Aside from the Eclipse IDE, I've never immersed myself so much in an application. OneNote and er, Outlook are now the applications I use the most, making "death by meeting" a not-so-unbearable experience. Besides letting you take notes efficiently, OneNote lets your organize and search notes as well. I'll talk about some of my favorite features.

Audio recording
A couple weeks ago, Rob told me about Audio notes capability in OneNote. Picture yourself in a requirements gathering meeting. First, get a new OneNote page and add a title "Requirements Gathering". Then start recording using the toolbar button with a microphone on it, or from the menu by clicking Tools -> Audio and Video Recording -> Record Audio Only. OneNote places a notice like so on your page:

"Audio recording started: 3:30 PM Saturday, July 16, 2005".

Now, ask a meeting attendee (if you don't have one, pretend to be one yourself) your first question: "What are the goals of this project?". After you ask, type "Goals" on the note page. You are labelling or annotating the audio track so you can reach this point later. Let the person answer. You can take more little notes if you like but since the audio is capturing all the details for you, you can keep the notes brief. Ask another few questions and continue this way. Now stop the recording.

Move your mouse (or pen if you use a Tablet PC) over one of the notes you took. You'll see an icon appear to the left of your text. Click that icon. You should now hear the audio start playing back from the point in the interview when you took that note. You can listen for a bit, and click the icon again to hear it again. Likewise you can click icons accompanying other text tracked by OneNote. The audio jumps immediately to the right spot, backwards or forwards, as you click. Of course, the OneNote team has done one smarter: to account for the brief reaction time before you type your note, they've designed the feature such that the audio jumps to a moment in time a few seconds before the moment you started taking that note. The delay is also configurable.

Note flags
The Note flags is a nifty feature. Instead of annotating a line with the much overused todo marker, OneNote lets you add a flag, in this case using the Ctrl-1 keyboard shortcut or the Format -> Note Flags menu. Try it out. You'll see a checkbox to the left of your text. You have the ability to check it once the line item is done. You can choose from a variety of symbols, font and highlight colors to create your own custom note flags. Neat eh? That's not the end though. You can search and list your notes by flag using the Note Flags Summary pane (View -> Note Flags Summary)

Inserting Outlook meeting details
This is another feature I use often. If you're starting to take meeting notes, it pays to provide some context to the discussion at hand. OneNote makes this a breeze. Just hit Alt-I-M if you have your meeting registered in your Outlook calendar. OneNote will pop up a list of meetings for the day and let you select the right one. If you click OK here, OneNote will insert the meeting date and location, attendee names, subject and description of the meeting extracted from the invite: all formatted neatly.

Screen clippings
Ah, screen clippings are useful when you want to get screenshots and doodle your review comments on them. If you have OneNote running, just navigate to any window and hit WindowsKey-S or right-click the OneNote icon on your system tray and select 'Create Screen Clipping'. You can then use your mouse pointer to drag and drop over the area you want captured. OneNote will copy this over to a new note under My Notebook.

There are other really cool features that enhance your productivity but I'll leave that for you to investigate. If the application grows on you as it did on me, I'd be interested in any tricks you pick up. If you don't have OneNote on your computer, the OneNote website offers a free trial.


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