Getting organized using OneNote note flags

Getting organized using OneNote note flags.

written recently about some of the more exotic capabilities of OneNote,
but I thought I would spend a little time on Note Flags. Note Flags are
one of the fundamental features of OneNote that makes the power of
having an electronic notebook apparent. Oddly, although we consider
Note Flags one of the fundamental features of OneNote that everyone
should be using, I still meet people who either never use them, or have
not discovered the awesome power of Note Flags Summary. And they are
still using OneNote – go figure 🙂

You can apply a note flag to any text or ink or picture on the
OneNote page. A flag can be anything you want – its a way to tag some
information. Where note flags get powerful is when you start to use
Note Flags Summary which is a query which you can run across all or
part of your notebook to roll up all the flags you have made so you can
follow up on them later. More on that farther down.

Unfortunately I still can't post pictures here (which I discovered after writing this whole post), so bear with me. I've linked to the images here.

First, the two main buttons for Note Flags are on the Standard toolbar and they look like this (if you haven't used them yet):

(See noteflags.png)

The one on the left is a drop down control that shows you the
default set of note flags. The one on the right is the all-powerful Note Flags Summary. Pay attention to that one.

Here's the default set of Note Flags OneNote ships with:

(See noteflags.png)

These are pretty limited because we expect people to customize them
(using the “Customize My Note Flags…” command you see there). You can
customize them for whatever you want since everyone has different
needs. For example, here's what my list looks like:

(See noteflags.png)

As I mentioned, you can apply a note flag to any text or ink or
picture on the OneNote page. So a sample note page might look like this:

(See noteflags.png)

All the formatting you see came as part of the note flag definition
(you get to choose an optional icon, color for text, and optional
highlight color). I applied these flags just by using the hotkeys
Ctrl-4, (Action item) Ctrl-7 (Meeting to Set up) and the dropdown for
the last one (Tel. Number). As shown above, the first 9 flags get
hotkeys using Ctrl- and a number. The others you have to use the button
for. You can “tear off” the list of flags and make them a toolbar for
easy application (or just View/Toolbars/Note Flags) – this is great for
Tablet users who can't access the hotkeys in Tablet mode.

Note Flags Summary: your life has just changed

Where this really gets powerful is when you use Note Flags Summary.
Here, I have clicked the note flag summary button and have the “scope”
set to the current folder. The pane shows upon the right:

(See noteflags2.png )

You can see below in the detail shot that the summary has picked up
all the flags on this page plus those on all the other pages in this
section and other sections in this folder. It has pulled them here
together so I can see them all in one place. On paper, this would
require me to flip through several pages and sections of a notebook and
recopy my “flagged items” onto a new page – a huge time sink. As it is,
I see four new tel numbers, which I will add to my contacts. I see
three meetings to set up, which I will set up using Outlook. I also see
a lot of things to do:

(See noteflags3.png )

If I forget the context of some of these other items, it turns out
each thing in the list is actually a hyperlink to the page it came
from, so it is easy to remind myself what the context was for “Clear
out dead files from server” for example. I can just click through the
list and the page will be shown on the left in the main OneNote window.

It gets better. What if I want to zero in on the remaining things I
still have to do? Here I have checked the box to “show only unchecked
items”. Things that are not actions (not “checkable”) and actions I
have already done and checked off are filtered out. Now I have my ToDo

(See noteflags3.png )

If I like, I can use the “Create Summary Page” button to create a
new page for these, perhaps to print them out and stick them in my

(See noteflags3.png )

Note that by default creating a summary page copies all
the shown note flags to a new page, leaving the original flags where
they are for context. This is useful when you just want to make a
temporary summary page for printing or emailing which you can then
delete to keep all your flags in context. In Tools/Options/Note Flags
you can change this so that in effect the flags are moved
to this page (they remain where they were originally but “dimmed” so as
to not interfere with Summaries) if you prefer to manage these
centrally and don't care where they came from.

Its worth noting that you can adjust the scope of the summary quite
easily. This makes Note Flag Summary a very powerful way to gather up
random thoughts and information you have flagged all over your
notebook. You can mine your “information database” for interesting
nuggets and make it much more valuable than simply an electronic analog
to your paper notes. Adjusting the scope:

(See noteflags3.png )

I know people who copy loads of information from the web and flag it
with various flags to organize their research (e.g. topic A, topic B),
then when they want to see what they have collected on topic A, they
just do a note flag summary and limit the list to the note flag for
topic A. That's a really fast way to sort through the information you
have collected. You can even get clever and apply more than one note
flag to a piece of text – that way it will show up in more than one

It's also worth mentioning that you can sort your note flags in
various ways – if you divide your projects so that each one has its own
OneNote section you can group your flags that way too:

(See noteflags3.png )

Which gets you this view, in case you need to see how things break
out by project. Of course you can also change the scope to just see the
current section in case you want to narrow things down to the project
(or client) you are working with at the moment. As with most things in
OneNote there is more than one way to get what you want.

(See noteflags3.png )

Happy flagging. I know from talking with many of you that there are
as many ways to use note flags as there are users. Please share any
novel uses you might have  [Chris_Pratley's OneNote WebLog]

Leave a comment