November - December 2016

Written by Mark Evilsizor
From his column Church Tech

Never underestimate the power of the note taker. In any meeting, this is the person who maintains the agreed upon understanding of what happened. It’s a powerful role.

Note taking is important. It helps us to concentrate, stay organized, and maintain records of things we experience. Did your church board approve a healthy new pay raise for the pastor? All it takes is a check of the minutes (notes) from the board meeting to find out. That could be a good thing if your church treasurer happens to have a faulty memory on payday.

There are many ways to take notes—pen and pad, smartphone, tablet, or word processor—and a variety of software solutions that can be used. Today, let’s look at one in particular that I really like from Microsoft. It’s called “OneNote.”

You can use OneNote from its website or by downloading the app to your phone, tablet, or desktop. That is one of its niceties; it’s free and available on all of your devices. Notes are with you wherever you are.

As you begin using OneNote you’ll notice its tidy organizational structure. It requires you to organize notes into notebooks, and within each notebook there are sections. This shouldn’t be foreign to most of us, since it’s much like using a notebook with tabbed dividers. To further this analogy, within each section are your pages. The user interface is crisp and clean and the structure of your content is immediately obvious.

Many of the people I help say the most difficult part of keeping their digital life organized is remembering the location of the folder where they placed a file. Did I drop it in My Computer? Desktop? My Documents? DropBox? With OneNote this difficulty is removed. Your whole encyclopedia of notes is at your fingertips and easily searchable.

Your whole encyclopedia of notes is at your fingertips and easily searchable.

Within each OneNote page you can include any type of media you like which is suitable to the device you are using. If you have a tablet you can scrawl your notes with pen or finger. If you have a keyboard you can type your notes. It features the same frequently used formatting capabilities as your favorite word processor. You can create bullet lists, make headings stand out, or highlight action items. You can even insert checkbox “to-do” entries so you can later revel in all the checked boxes that represent your accomplishments.

Recently, I was talking with an arborist about her need to easily keep track of activity on each of the 300 trees under her care. We discussed the potential for specialized (and likely costly) software that might work. But as we chatted, it occurred to me that OneNote would be a good fit. From her desk she can set up a “Trees” notebook. Within this she can create a section for each genus, e.g., Betulaceae (Birch), and subsequently add a page for each tree, which will serve as a diary for the life of the individual plant. At the top of the page, she can note the particulars of how it was acquired and when it was planted. Then, when she walks the grounds, she can use her smartphone to snap photos of each tree’s current state. She can also use the microphone on her phone to record notes directly into the page of each tree. When she returns to her desk, she can listen to her notes and create follow up checklists for each tree.

I use OneNote to take notes at work, and a meeting is never satisfying unless we get busy on the whiteboard. IT concepts are often more understandable when illustrated with simple diagrams. After a meeting, I can use my tablet to snap a picture of the whiteboard directly into my notes. When I return to my desk, I can then create any action items that need to be pursued.

There are other features as well. You can add drawings or spreadsheets, and you can even collaborate by sharing notes with colleagues. Overall, this app offers versatility that makes it a useful tool for personal or business situations. So, if you need a friend to help tidy up, track, organize, and share information, I recommend you give OneNote a try.

Mark Evilsizor has worked in Information Technology for more than 20 years. He currently serves as head of IT for the Linda Hall Library in Kansas City, Mo. Views and opinions expressed are strictly his own.

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