“The years go by so fast, let’s hope the next beats the last”– a sentiment that rings so true over the last couple of new year celebrations. Whether setting resolutions to do new things, read more, lose weight, be a better human etc, we all tend to reflect, even if just trying to do the same things as before but a bit better. Steve Clayton’s Friday Thing for the end of December had some great tips on things to do and try in the coming year.
If we can’t reduce volume of professional communications (be that emails, Teams messages, whatever – just look at Steve cleaning his mailbox and removing >100,000 Sent Items from a single year), then maybe we could do a better job of managing the stuff that we have to deal with. Much ink has been spilled on how to be more effective and how to get things done, but one useful time/focus management principle to revisit is sometimes known as Eisenhower’s Matrix, of which a variety of depictions exist:
The premise is that any task has separate degrees of importance and urgency; we tend to prioritize urgent and overdue things versus things that are actually important. Discipline in task management can give us the clarity to not worry about seemingly urgent yet non-important tasks, and to stay focussed on things which are important, regardless of their urgency.
Carve out 75 minutes if you can – because this stuff is important – to watch Randy Pausch’s lecture on Time Management, with the context that when it was recorded, he knew he only had weeks left to live: talk about prioritizing important vs urgent.
How you put time and focus management into practice will differ depending on your own style and what tools you want to use. For the Windows / Microsoft 365 user, there are a few quick wins to consider:
Following last week’s missive on Notepad, including the obscure tip on how to create a log file, the topic of inserting and handling dates in other applications is worth a (re-)visit. Each individual app may choose to offer different methods and formats, but for common Office applications there are a handful of memorable tricks and shortcuts.
In Word, there are plenty of ways to insert and manage dates – perhaps the most useful way to remind the reader when the document was last updated (manually showing when a document was last reviewed or published). On the Insert tab, you’ll find Date & Time on the right-hand side, letting you add appropriate info in the format of your choice. You can also tick a box to update the field automatically, though that simply means every time the document is opened, it will show today’s date… which feels a bit pointless.
More useful could be to tell the reader when the document was created or last saved, by referencing the actual properties of the document (though be careful; auto-save might mean someone opened an old document, realised it was irrelevant, but had inadvertently saved it back).
On the Insert tab / Quick Parts, look under Field, then pick the doc property and format you’d like to show.
It is worth pointing out that showing a date as 10/1/21 (or similar) is ambiguous given that a few hundred million people will expect it be month-day-year while many of the remaining 7 billion will assume the day comes first, with a couple of billion presuming the format should normally start with the year, such as yyyy-mm-dd (which is arguably the most sensible of all; and it sorts properly, too).
A more daily usable short format like dd-mmm-yy (ie 13-Aug-21) should perhaps be the norm, especially when the date is appearing as text in a document. Pressing SHIFT+ALT+D in Word will insert the current Date as a field (so you can edit the format to remove ambiguity) and SHIFT+ALT+T inserts the current time too. In PowerPoint, both of these combos bring up the “Date & Time” dialogue to add the chosen content and format as plain text.
When formatting dates, incidentally, the convention is that two letters refer to the short number (eg dd = 13), whereas 3 d’s or m’s will use the short form of spelling the day or month, with 4 meaning the whole thing (ie Friday, August). Try formatting a cell in Excel as Custom, and you can preview what the format would be, by typing in a variety of letters.
While in Excel, it’s worth learning the short cut key to insert the date and time – CTRL+; and SHIFT+CTRL+; respectively (no doubt there’s a reason why Excel has a different shortcut to other Office apps – some legacy of Lotus 1-2-3 perhaps?).
OneNote fans will want to remember that SHIFT+ALT+D / T combo as it inserts the date/time into the notebook; really handy when taking notes of a phone call or similar. SHIFT+ALT+F puts both day and time, something that Word doesn’t offer. In both Desktop OneNote and users of the Windows Store version, it’s just plain text that gets added, so you’re on your own when it comes to formatting.
OneNote pages will typically have a date & time showing under their title – on the Desktop version, it’s possible to change that so as to mark a page as having been recently updated. No such luck on the lame duck Store version.
At least when stalwarts insist on writing – or worse, saying – a short-form date as something like “ten one”, there’s more than half of each month where one number in the date could only mean “day” – starting with the thirteenth (as in, 8/13 can never by the 8th of a month, but 8/12 could be a few days before Christmas to Europeans, or the date when tweedy Americans start looking for grouse in the Yorkshire moors and Scottish Highlands).
Even fans of OneNote – either the full-fat Windows x86 version or the versions targeted at other platforms, mobiles and the Microsoft Store, both of which have been covered extensively in ToW passim – will likely use only a fraction of its total functionality. Did you know, for example, that pressing SHIFT+CTRL+> or SHIFT+CTRL+< increases or decreases the font size of the selected text? Or holding CTRL while pressing DEL or BACKSPACE in a block of text deletes the word either side of the cursor, and not just a single character? (Actually, these are true of other Office apps as well, though not Excel, presumably because using Excel for text formatting is considered deviant and weird).
There are many useful features hidden in plain sight, like the tagging functionality which sits on the Home tab. In OneNote for Windows, if you have the ribbon expanded, you’ll see a series of icons to mark selected text with a Tag, and for the top 9 you can tag the text by pressing CTRL+n, where n is the number in the list.
The idea with tags is that you can quickly reference back to the specific text that you’ve highlighted and tagged, via a hyperlink. As well as the variety of in-the-box tags, it’s easy to add custom ones: click on the down arrow at the bottom of the list and choose Customize Tags… then you can supply your own description and choose the icon and colours.
Finding previously-tagged text uses the seriously powerful but sometimes obtuse search function in the sidebar; if you use OneNote to take notes from Outlook meetings, by default you might see hundreds of links that appear to be tagged.
Try using the Search filters at the bottom to restrict the results set, so you only show tags within a given notebook location or across all your notebooks, but for a specific time.
The “OneNote for Windows 10”, Mac and mobile versions of OneNote handle tags slightly differently; while more-or-less compatible the degree of functionality does vary between the clients. Generally speaking, you can find tags across them all, though you may be restricted in editing or creating them. The OneNote mobile app supports a “To Do” tag, for example. The web clients don’t offer custom tags at all, and don’t allow tag-specific search (other than just text indexing).
In the OneNote for Windows 10 store app, you can search for Tags but custom ones created in the desktop app don’t appear in the Tags list when editing a page. Only a handful of tags are initially offered in the store version, and if you add a custom one it’s still possible to press CTRL+n to use it, but you need to count where your tag is in the list as it doesn’t show you the shortcut.
Custom tags added in the store version don’t appear in the tags list of any other client though do sync across other devices, to some degree.
Given the slight rough edges between the versions if you routinely open the same notebook in mobile, web and store/desktop apps, then Tags may not prove so useful – but if you tend to stick to a single UI – especially if it’s the older desktop one – then it’s worth exploring how custom tags could help you organize your stuff.
OneNote has been part of the Office suite since 2003, and has been freely downloadable for much of that time; it’s an invaluable tool for note taking or just capturing information that you’ll want to recall at some point. There have been a few sideways turns in the roadmap, though – as well as the Office application (on Windows and Mac), there is OneNote for mobile devices, OneNote the web experience and OneNote the “Modern” Windows app.
To try to simplify the roadmap somewhat, the app formerly known as OneNote 2016 is now just “OneNote”, and the Store app that shares more of its UX with the mobile and web versions, is OneNote for Windows 10. For more detail on the differences between all the versions, see here.
At one point, the plan was to discontinue the more functional desktop app, and shift development to the simpler Store version, however that plan was rowed back and OneNote (the Office app) will continue to be part of Office, even though it wasn’t installed by default in 2019. The perpetual version of Office (as opposed to the subscription service that is Microsoft 365) will be updated later this year, and OneNote will still be part of that. Probably.
There’s not a lot being published on the Roadmap for OneNote, though, so it may not be getting hosts of new features… See here for a list of some recent updates to OneNote for Windows 10. You can jump to the latest What’s New from the Help menu in the Store version.
As has been covered on ToW passim (here, here), you can start OneNote from the Run command, by pressing WindowsKey+R then onenote <enter> for the desktop version, or onenote: for the modern Windows 10 version. In the latter, you can also pin particular pages to the Start menu, handy if you want to jump to a particular page of quick notes or ideas.
Any version of OneNote is just great at noting down lists – perhaps by using your pen (though if you’re a big inker, you might want to also check out Journal by Microsoft Garage – it’s a notebook intended for “ink first”).
Or maybe by typing a quick few lines at first, and formatting as a list once you’ve got some text. There are some shortcuts to help that formatting; in both OneNote and OneNote for Windows 10, to quickly select what you’ve just typed, hold the shift key and press the up arrow to grab a row at a time.
To create a table, just press TAB to turn whatever you’ve just typed into the first column, and keep pressing TAB to create new columns, or CTRL+ENTER to accept the column layout and start adding extra rows, or to insert a new row into an existing table. Once have content in your table, you can easily move rows around by simply putting your cursor in the row you want to shift, and hold ALT+SHIFT then use the up / down arrow keys to move that row. Much simpler than faffing about with copy & paste.
On the full-fat version of OneNote, you could also select your list and by using the somewhat obscure-sounding menu option “Link to Pages”, OneNote will create a new page for each item in your list and then make a hot-link to it. Hover the mouse over to see the link.
You can manually create links to any page by selecting the text you want to hot-link from, and press CTRL+K; then either select the destination in the dialog box, or paste the link to the page (or paragraph) if you’ve already copied that link to the clipboard.
If you’re going to be doing much with tables, it’s probably better to use the OneNote app rather than the Store one; the older tool has much richer table formatting capabilities, and it also has an Addin architecture which is completely absent from the OneNote for Windows 10 version.
The fantastic OneCalendar addin shows you all the notebook pages you’ve worked on by date, so if you spread your note-taking across a variety of sections or even shared notebooks, then it can be invaluable to jump right to the notes in question.
Its big brother, OneTastic, also allows using pre-written Macros to automate tasks like custom sorting of sections and loads more.
It was announced a couple of years ago that the old Snipping Tool that was part of Windows was to be retired – in fact, it’s still there (following lots of user feedback, akin to the Save the Blibbet campaign) but its successor – the Snip & Sketch app – offers more functionality and is included with current versions of Windows 10. Invoking it with the WindowsKey+SHIFT+S is the quickest and simplest way to grab some or all of the screen, and if necessary, draw or annotate on it, save it as an image file and so on.
There are other screen capturing tools, of course – OneNote had a precursor feature which could be used to do much the same as Snip & Sketch, and even used the same shortcut key. OneNote makes such a great destination for screen grabs that the Clipping option is still there in the trad. version, and of course both variants can be the destination for something that’s been grabbed to the clipboard using Snip & Sketch.
There’s also the super-handy OneNote Web Clipper browser extension, which lets you grab web pages to add to your notebook with a couple of clicks.
Now the Edge browser is going to add some web capture capabilities natively – currently in testing and rolling out to a subset of Insiders, there will be a new menu option to grab a section of a page, including the ability to scroll down the page while capturing (rather than just grabbing what’s on the screen).
Eventually, the new Edge will adopt some of the functionality that legacy Edge had when it comes to annotating web pages with ink, adding notes to pages etc – but the forthcoming web capture is a first step. Note – if you use Mouse Without Borders, it already has the CTRL+SHIFT+S keyboard combo in use, so you’ll need to change that…
Optical Character Recognition is one of those technologies which has gone from being just-about-possible at great expense and hassle, to so mainstream that people just assume it will work flawlessly, all in a relatively few years. Numerous companies offer OCR services or addins to line-of-business systems which help to prepare printed data for easier consumption – scanning invoices for example.
Consumers tend to use OCR in other ways; combined with language translation, you can point your phone at a foreign menu or sign and it may be able to help you understand. In OneNote, if you have captured an image (maybe through the clipper addin from your browser), then it can extract the text from that picture – not always perfectly, and not necessarily well-formatted, but it’s probably quicker than re-typing everything.
A recent addition to the iOS version of Excel is the ability to scan a table of printed data and use OCR plus a bit of tweaking, to import the data into the spreadsheet. See more here. The same functionality was first made available on Android a couple of months earlier …
Start with the grid capture icon on the toolbar of a new spreadsheet, and then use the camera to highlight the area of a document that you’re interested in – the UI will be familiar to anyone who uses Office Lens, as the same anti-skewing technology is used to prepare the “document” for importing.
Then the OCR goes to work and tries to lay out the data as closely as possible to its source – obviously, your accuracy will be improved by having a well-lit and clear original document, and you’ll get to tweak the contents in context of seeing the OCR’d data and the scan at the same time, before committing to insert it.
|Here’s a quick tip in OneNote – both the full-fat desktop client and the modern app version – which was inspired either through PEBKAC type unexpected clickery or maybe an Office update that inadvertently switched something off. A common feature stopped working, and it caused a serious dent in productivity…
Despite the two parallel PC versions of OneNote – which have been covered previously in ToWs #441, #427, #386, #320, et al – offering a good chunk of similar functionality to each other, there are still quite a few areas where the old desktop x86 version wins through.
Add-in support is available in the 2016 variant, for example, so you can run OneTastic (and in particular, OneCalendar, which is immensely helpful if you use many notebooks and take a lot of notes throughout your week).
A simpler and more useful feature for many is the ability to grab the contents and context of a meeting request from your Outlook calendar – so you can take notes during a phone call or a meeting, with all the text in the invite, names and email addresses of attendees etc. Can’t do that with
Search in the desktop OneNote is more powerful, too – CTRL-F takes you to the search box, CTRL-E expands your search, but the most powerful and probably least used is to press ALT-O when you have search results from the CTRL-E dialog; it will order them by the date of the page update… helping to filter out current vs obsolete info.
Bullet lists & indentations (sounds like a Muse song)
Did you know that, in both OneNote versions, if you’re typing notes and press the asterisk or dash key at the start of a new line, and then the space bar, it automatically turns your text into a bulleted list? Asterisks in the middle of a text block are ignored; it’s only seen as an auto-correct function if on a new line.
Just hit enter after you’ve started typing to add another new bullet or hit enter at the beginning of new bullet to finish the list. TAB and SHIFT-TAB lets you indent and un-indent a bulleted line. It doesn’t sound all that revolutionary, but if you’re typing notes during a phone call, it can make all the difference between keeping up or missing discussion points as you fish around with the mouse looking to click the toolbar. If you’re used to it and it gets switched off, it’s a real pain.
The same kind of functionality exists in Word and Outlook too, but now and again it does get in the way – if you’re marking a block of text* that you then want to expand on later without auto-bulleting, for example.
* The simplest way to get an asterisk or dash at the start of a new line is to quickly press Undo – CTRL-Z – as soon as the indentation with the bullet happens, and you’ll be reverted to simply having the character at the start of the line.
To enable or disable the automatic list features on desktop OneNote, go into Options and look under Advanced…
There doesn’t appear to be any way of disabling the feature on the Modern App (which you can start by running onenote-cmd: at the Win+R box, if you read ToW #445 and #443) – maybe that’s a good thing, preventing the user from harming their own productivity…
|Power Users often like to start applications quickly, without recourse to grubbing around with a mouse or a trackpad. Super Users might even want to write scripts that automate all sorts of things that mere mortals with less time on their hands are happy to do manually. Regardless of your penchant for automation, here are a few short cuts you can take to quickly start apps that you use often.
Apps pinned to taskbar
The taskbar in Windows obviously shows you what’s currently running, but can also be used to pin frequently accessed apps or – by default at least – those that Windows thinks should be frequent (Edge, Store, etc – right-click on them to unpin if you disagree). You’ll see a highlight line under the apps that are running, so those without the line are simply pinned there.
If you start typing the name of a favourite app at the Start menu, then right-click on it in the list, you can choose to pin it. So far, so good.
If you drag the pinned apps around, they’ll stay in that position relative to each other, and new apps will always start to the right (or underneath, if you use a vertical taskbar, as you really should). Now, if you press WindowsKey+number, you’ll jump to the app that is n along the line, and if that app isn’t running, then Windows will start it. So in the picture above, pressing WindowsKey+2 would start Edge, or WindowsKey+3 would bring Outlook to the fore.
Shortcut to desktop
You could try an old-skool method, by creating a desktop shortcut to apps that are already on your Start menu – press WindowsKey+D to show the bare desktop itself, then press Start to show the actual Start menu.
Assuming your Start menu isn’t full screen then you’ll be able to drag icons or tiles from the menu to the Desktop, and if you right-click the shortcut and look at Properties, you’ll see a Shortcut key: option… just press some key sequence that makes sense to you and press OK to save.
This method differs from the taskbar one above, because each press of the shortcut you set might start a new instance of the app (if it supports that) – which may or may not be desirable. If you end up with several windows of OneNote, for example, you could cycle through them by repeatedly pressing the appropriate WindowsKey+n as above.
Keep on Running
There’s no better mark of being a real PC deity than by launching your apps through running the executable name… you know the drill? WindowsKey+R to get the Run dialog (it’s so much faster than pressing Start), then enter the app’s real name and you’re off to the races. winword, excel, calc, notepad… they’re for novices. The genuine hardcases might even dive into the (old fashioned, obvs) Control Panel applets like ncpa.cpl rather than navigating umpteen clicks.
Looking at the shortcut to OneNote’s modern app above, though, it’s clear there isn’t a simple executable to run – onenote will launch the on-life-support OneNote 2016 version.
Many modern apps do, however, let you launch them from the Run dialog by entering a name with “:” at the end…
Tips talking about OneNote include coverage of the Modern App version, on ToW’s
#320, #386, #427 among others. The tl;dr version is that OneNote 2016 = great desktop app, OneNote metro/store/modern/whatev = not so functional but simpler and getting better, with a consistent UI across Windows, Mac, mobile & web. The OneNote team has basically said the desktop version is on life support and all new function development effort is going into the Store app version. Here’s a summary of their differences.
There have been a variety of updates recently – they should make their way to you automagically, or if you want to give your machine a poke to hurry it along, go to the Store app, click the Ellipsis menu in the top right and choose Downloads and updates.
You might see that the Microsoft Store app itself has had a bit of an overhaul, too…
The OneNote Store version (sometimes officially referred to as “OneNote for Windows 10”) is a new codebase, which misses some of the more power-user features of OneNote 2016 but at the same time has added some new functionality that doesn’t exist in the desktop version, like ink to shape conversion. While many of the new feature adds are filling in gaps to the desktop release, some are adding new functions altogether.
The latest update delivers a mixture of new and old – officially, there are no new features (according to the status page, at least at time of writing) but that’s not what is being reported widely (here, here), and by OneNote program manager @William Devereux, who summarised it nicely on Twitter.
If you’re a OneNote 2016 desktop user, why not set yourself a challenge and try switching to the OneNote for Windows 10 version for a week? Both versions can happily coexist and access the same data files, so you won’t lose any data and can easily switch back and forth between them, even running them both at the same time and perhaps with different notebooks open. To change the default version of OneNote, see here.
As has been covered many times previously on ToW, the OneNote app has a lot of fans who love the product and use a lot of its features, especially when it’s used in the Classroom. Defectors to other platforms sometimes bemoan the lack of OneNote (or a decent alternative) as a hurdle in using their chosen environment.
Talking about OneNote can be confusing, though, as there are the two PC versions – OneNote 2016, the Win32 app that’s evolved ever since the first version shipped as part of Office 2003, and the shiny new codebase that is OneNote for Windows 10, the Store app which also shares a lot of its UX with the Mac, mobile and web versions. Differences are explained here.
Major users of OneNote may have noticed that over the last couple of years, the traditional Windows app hasn’t received a whole lot of new functionality, but the Store version has had regular updates with extra features… though it is a much simpler app anyway, so there’s more to improve. The
Recently, the OneNote team announced that there will be no further development of the traditional OneNote 2016 application, and that it won’t be installed by default in the next iteration of Office (though it will still be available as an option, in case you can’t live without it).
New features are planned for the Store version – like support for tags, and what looks to be a tweak to the search experience, which will provide additional search refinements. Whether it’s as good as the somewhat obscure but quite powerful Search capability in the 2016 app remains to be seen.
To get the latest version of the OneNote app, first check it’s up to date, or join the Office Insiders program. Windows Insiders also get early access to OneNote versions, and there’s an Experimental Features option (in the ellipsis “···” Settings & More menu, Options).
Paul Thurrott – an unashamed fan of the OneNote for Windows 10 app, preferring it to its elder sibling – also reported on the news. Paul points out that the UWP version has better support for ink, that syncing is faster, performance is better etc. Tech Republic has some further commentary too.