Getting Things Done With OneNote Flags

Chris Pratley has a great blog entry on Note Flags in which he discusses “the awesome power of Note Flags Summary.”

I thought I’d supplement that with my “Getting Things Done”-inspired OneNote organization. First, I’ve customized my Note Flags to be color-coordinated and GTD-like:

Second, I organize my notebook into “areas of concern.“ The idea is that these are things that involve multiple projects, especially if they’re concurrent. Sub-notebooks are used when I generate a lot of notes and projects. (“Getting Things Done“ defines a ‘project’ as anything that requires multiple steps to accomplish. Managing a lot of concurrent projects is the essence of the GTD system.) Here, you can see my catch-all “General,” section, my “Arcs of Fire” sub-notebook, and some others:

The first page of each section is an “Overview” page. Every project in a particular area of concern goes on this page (marked with a Note Flag as “Urgent,” “Ongoing,” or “Deferred”). I may also have stand-alone tasks marked with “@Next Action”, “To Do,” and “Someday / Maybe” here, but in general, stand-alone tasks are placed, as they occur to me, on whatever page I happen to be working in. This is my “Overview” page for this Website (as you can see, big plans, little time):

I use the “Note Flags Summary” taskpane to gather and sort all of my tasks and projects (note that they’re color-coded as well: green means “Urgent Project” / “Next Action, blue means “Ongoing” / “To Do”, yellow means “Deferred” / “Maybe”). Note that tasks can be marked as done directly in the taskpane, a nice touch. Also note that ink shows up in the summary! Here’s my current next action list, mostly blurred, but showing my next actions in my “Birding“ and “SCUBA Maintenance“ projects (both part of my “Recreation“ section)

Part of my weekly review is tidying up all of my notebooks and rejiggering all of the projects and to-do’s (Ctrl-0 clears all note flags, so I can typically re-prioritize something with two chords: Ctl-0, Ctl-1 makes a task “Next Action,” for instance). I still haven’t figured out the optimum way to deal with completed actions. Some subnotebooks have a “Recycled” section. Other times, I just delete them. Sometimes, I just leave ’em (since the Note Flags Summary taskpane filters them out).

I’ve been using this as my main organizational tool for about six months now and find it quite effective. Of course, there are improvements I’d love to make, but OneNote doesn’t have a powerful enough API (yet?) for that. One improvement that I know is possible within the constraints of the current API is automatically importing voice notes from my SmartPhone (It’s a “Someday/Maybe” project in my “Sofware Projects” section).

Criticisms and improvements highly encouraged!