I looooveee being organized and continue to try to out-do myself in ways that make me most efficient, structured, mindful, and functional. Do you know what I mean? How do you organize your to-do list and all the related tasks associated with it? How do you schedule yourself and make sure that all the things you need to do actually get remembered…and done?
Here’s what I’ve found that works for me – it’s Microsoft’s OneNote! I’m so in love with my system that I just needed to share!
I create a OneNote notebook called “Daily To Do Lists” or some such thing – and I use it for a whole school year. (Actually, this year, it’s 🍎To Do Notebook 21-22. And yes, you can use emojis in your OneNote notebook names!) I have a few master categories at the top as you’ll see in some pictures below, but for the most part I just list months as the Sections and days as the Pages. Every single morning of the school year (and sometimes even on weekends), I start my day by opening OneNote and clicking +Add Page. I put the new day and date as the title, and sometimes I even add an emoji that means something to me at that moment. (I kind of love the fact that Windows key + period key opens the emoji keyboard, so I keep using that like crazy!)
First of all, you should know that I use that checkmark box option – ooooohh, I love it! I’m a checkmark box kinda girl and I always have been….always will be. Even in the olden days when I still wrote things on paper, I always created checkmark boxes for myself.
When I wake up – or get to work – each morning, the very first thing I do – before I look at email, answer a call, or check paperwork, I give myself the gift of time. ⏰ I take just a few minutes to set up my day to be productive, purposeful, organized, and prioritized in OneNote. You won’t BELIEVE how much this is not only calming, but it really sets me up for success! These days, everyone is talking so much about self-care, and this is my own little version of professional self-care…this whole system gives me a feeling of zen when the days get crazy.
Before I go any further, I wanted to share my most recent iteration of Page design with you. After a few years of using this OneNote system, I decided that I wanted to create a Page template. The one pictured below is for September and it has a pencil graphic at the top. Below that are categories for Deadline Items, Meetings/Calls Today, To Do: Work, To Do: Other Professional, and To Do: Personal. Over the years I’ve found that these categories work best for me, so I created a template. I change the graphic at the top each month, but the categories remain the same. If you love this and want to create a template, just design your perfect Page and right-click on the name of the Page in the vertical Page list. A pop-up menu of choices will appear – just select “Set As Default Template”. From then on, any time you are in that OneNote Section and you click +Add Page, your new template will appear! (By the way, when I get to October, I’ll click into that Section, create a new Page, and then create a brand new page with pumpkins or something as the graphic at the top. When I right-click and save that pumpkin Page as a template, it will be saved as the October section template.)
Every single day of the school year, I create a new blank Page and I add the day/date. This is seriously the greatest way to start my day – I can’t ever really explain the catharsis that I feel by starting every single morning with a clean slate in OneNote! I actually started doing this same thing years ago in actual spiral notebooks on paper! I always started each day with a brand new clean Page, added the date at the top, and began my day by copying over anything that was left over from the previous day’s checklist. I still do that, but now OneNote lets me do it digitally and it is soooo much easier!
Once I create my Page, the very first thing I do each morning is to copy/paste the incomplete items from the day before to my new day…my new Page. At this point, I usually quickly reorganize the list by prioritizing remaining items from top to bottom. Occasionally, I’ll BOLD or even highlight a few items to remind myself that they’re top priority! I still use checkboxes – I will ALWAYS use those checkboxes!
After that I populate my Deadline Items category. Most of the time, this involves carry-over dates for short- or long-term projects. I like to keep them in that table at the top of my Page so that they remain a focus. Sometimes I highlight them when they’re getting close.
Next, I head over to my Outlook Calendar and see what meetings or events I have – and I intentionally copy them over to my OneNote page in the Meetings/Calls Today table. This process is so simple but critical to me – it focuses me as I am intentionally thinking about the calendar appointments by bringing them into my daily plan in OneNote. Some people might say that it’s silly to have dates/meetings recorded in two places, but it continues to be super-effective for me as a reminder of how to structure each day. I rely on it to ground me.
As the day goes on, I add to my to-do lists and I do it religiously. I started equating this to how a doctor makes patient notes after seeing each patient – lack of documentation and notation could result in something being missed. That’s my mindset as I go through my day, using OneNote as a continuous record-keeper for myself. During the work day, every single email that happens to have a resulting task is something I manually add to my OneNote. I use the HECK of out those checkboxes, and if an item ends up having several mini-tasks involved, I use the indent feature to keep track of those under the main item. If something is finished, I check it off. If something no longer needs to be done, I generally use the strikethrough to indicate that it’s been canceled. These are just my systems; I’m sure you’ll find your own handy organizational shortcuts.
A few other added bonuses of using OneNote in this way:
- I can hyperlink right within the list, and I often do! If I find an interesting website or blog that I want to research or use the next day, I just drop the hyperlink in as a to-do note rather than emailing it to myself or bookmarking it somewhere. That way – it actually gets done!
- I have the OneNote app on my phone, so I often dictate to myself as I’m leaving a classroom or walking down the hall. I also use this a LOT just before I’m falling asleep in bed each night – I get those late-night mind-nibblers recorded so I don’t forget. Bonus fun fact: I often use the speech-to-text capability on my phone to just dictate those!
- I use emojis a lot. They aren’t pictured in the example above, but I’ll put a 🎯 (target) emoji next to things that I want to keep in mind. I put a ♻ (recycle) emoji next to things that I want to revisit or follow up on. I still sometimes just start a day’s title with an emoji that represents how I’m feeling about the day 😴 (tired) ⚡(energized)💪(strong). To be honest, I put 🤮(barf) emoji next to certain things, too, but I won’t tell you which ones!
- SUBPAGES: If you add a page, then right-click on the title of it in the vertical Page list, you’ll see an option to “Make Subpage”. A lot of folks don’t know about this. It basically lets you create an indentation system for your Pages. You can indent up to 2 levels.
One last thing….I know that Microsoft has amazing, wonderful, powerful workflow apps called To-Do and Lists. I’ve tried them. I like them. They are relevant and wonderful and they work! I just happen to have a OneNote addiction and this is the system that works for me. I love starting every day in a tranquil, zen way – with a blank Page and a pretty template, and giving myself the gift of time and routine to populate it as a way to start my day. I also love all of the extra bonus features I have in OneNote that make this little thing called life so much fun to organize!
As always, I sure do love to hear from you! If you end up using OneNote as a daily organizer like I do, I’d love to hear your variations on how you structure it, other apps you use, and your creative strategies. Comment here on my blog, or better yet – please connect and share on Twitter (I’m @kerszi) or on Facebook (Integration Innovation), or even on LinkedIn (I’m Kathi Kersznowski