Have you heard of Microsoft One Note? Have you used it? If you haven't I highly recommend checking it out.
What is One Note?
Microsoft first created One Note to be the killer application for their tablet PC initiative. And while tablet PCs are used in a few industries, they never took off like Microsoft wanted. But One Note is an incredibly useful application even off the tablet PC. It's always surprised me that Microsoft doesn't advertise One Note more.
One Note is much more than just a note taking program. Imagine having an endless set of bookshelves within which you can place as many three ring binders as you'd like. And each of the binders can have as many tabbed sections as you'd like. And each tabbed section can have as many pages as you'd like. But it doesn't stop there. What if each of those pages didn't hold just text? What if you could copy any web page right into the notebook? What if you could record meeting notes and place them right on the page? What if you could include pictures? Videos? Any files? One Note allows all this and more!
I don't even use a paper notebook anymore. I take my laptop with me to all meetings and put my notes directly into One Note.
One Note provides its own guide which gives great how-to's on what you can do. The easiest way to begin using One Note is to open the guide and read through the "Getting Started with OneNote" pages.
One thing you have to get used to is that there is no "Save" button. Everything you do is saved to a file in real-time.
Over the years I've kept a notebook per company I've worked for. And within each company notebook I've kept a tabbed section for each project I've worked on.
A powerful feature of One Note is that you can share a notebook in two ways: A live sharing session can be opened over the internet (completely secure with password protection) and the individuals in the session come away with their own copies of all notes from the session. And/or a One Note notebook may be placed in any network location or on a SharePoint site and an entire team can use the shared notebook. This is what I've set up for my teammates and myself at Miles Kimball Company. We keep all of our documentation in a shared notebook.
Using the shared notebook feature of One Note I've placed all of my notebooks onto a USB key. By doing so I can simply plug my USB key into any computer that has One Note installed on it and access my notebooks from that machine. This makes it easy to use my notes at home and at work. When using a shared notebook One Note creates a copy of the notebook on the computer you are using. And it synchronizes it with the shared location whenever the location is available. This setup automatically gives me backups of my notebook from one machine to another and my USB key. If any computer fails or I lose my USB key I'll always have a copy of my notes somewhere.
When taking notes for projects I typically start by creating a meeting tab and taking notes within each initial meeting I have. One Note syncs with Microsoft Outlook. So any tasks created while in the meeting will automatically show up in my Outlook Task List.
One Note also allows you to create re-usable templates from any page you've created. I've created a project specification template for myself. As a project develops I keep my project specifications right within each project tab. The specification page allows me to include any type of file as part of the specification. I keep the following files right within my specification page: Excel spreadsheet schedule, Visio UML use case, Visio User Interface Diagram, Visio Database Diagram, and Visio Class Diagram.
One Note allows me to simply drag any part of a page, the page itself, or even whole tab from any area/notebook to any other area/notebook. This is what I consider to be the real power of the program. As a project develops I can re-arrange my notes easily and quickly.
I also keep secure information in One Note. Any section of One Note can be password protected with strong crypto alogorithms.
And One Note has powerful search capabilities which let you find your notes quickly and easily. The search option even implements speech to text and will find search words within recorded notes!
Now - as of Office 2007 - there is also a mobile version of One Note. If you have a Microsoft Windows Mobile-based Smartphone or Pocket PC you can sync notes between your mobile device and your computer.
Unfortunately the mobile version of One Note is very stripped down. But if you need to quickly take some notes you can get the idea(s) down and then move them into the more full featured One Note when you get back to the office. Or, if you're sitting at your desk and want to take a copy of your notes with you just add your notes to the mobile tab. And the mobile version allows you to take a picture with your device and add it to your notes. And you can also record notes with your mobile device.
Combining the mobile version of One Note with the original makes it even easier to keep track of all your projects and daily activities.