Digital Notetaking with OneNote

For the last two years, I’ve been working on the advisory board for the Microsoft Technology Enriched Instruction (TEI) project. The goal of the project is to help university faculty find ways to integrate technology in meaningful ways to support student learning and help their students develop 21st century skills. It’s been a great experience for me and challenged me to more clearly think through how and why I use technology in my own teaching and scholarly pursuits.

I have long been a proponent of digital notetaking tools. The ability to capture and organize ideas and access them on all my devices has provided a huge boost to my productivity and organization. For years I’ve been a happy Evernote user. It has been a great tool, and I’ve enjoyed using it. In the TEI project, however, we’ve been exploring some of Microsoft’s tools for education and I ran across OneNote. In many ways, OneNote has a lot in common with Evernote. I’d heard of it, of course, but because I’ve been primarily a Mac user (there is currently no desktop app for Mac OS), I hadn’t explored it in any depth.

OneNote Screenshot

In building this tool into our TEI workshops, I’ve begun to understand some distinct advantages that OneNote provides – particularly with a touch-enabled Windows device, like the Microsoft Surface. There are three primary features of OneNote that have led me to convert 5 years with of Evernote notes into my OneNote notebooks. I’ll touch briefly on each of these features below coupled with some quick screencast videos of me demonstrating how they work. Even if you’re a Mac user, you may want to consider these features – all of which are available for free to Mac users through Microsoft’s SkyDrive cloud service.

The Metaphor

In Evernote, the primary metaphor is what they call an “everything bucket.” Essentially, you can add notes, documents, Web pages, etc. into your account. You can then add tags to describe the contents of the items. One can then search using tags or with keywords. More recently, they’ve added the ability to create collections or notebooks of related content.

In OneNote, the whole application is designed around the metaphor of three year binder notebooks. In each notebook, you can create tabbed sections with any number of pages within each section. This type of metaphor just really appeals to me and connects with the way I think about organizing my life. Watch the video below for an overview.

OneNote – Overview of the App

Embedding Media and Web Materials

This feature set applies to both Evernote and OneNote. In either service you can embed any type of digital media into your notebooks. They also both offer a button that you can add in your Web browser to clip Web content right into your notebooks. This video will demonstrate how to add different files and Web content into your notebook.

Embedding Media and Web Clippings into OneNote

Handwriting

The killer feature of OneNote for me is the appeal to add handwritten notes and diagrams in your notes (this of course requires a touch enabled tablet or laptop). You can add handwritten text into a note and just leave it at that. You can also convert handwritten text to typed text. You can also use a combination of typed and handwritten notes. For me, this is what really encouraged me to make the move to OneNote as my notetaking app of choice. In this video, I demonstrating some of these features.

Handwriting and OneNote

There are oodles of notetaking apps available for both Windows and Mac, as well as mobile devices. OneNote has been a wonderful addition to my productivity arsenal. The key, I think, is to find the tool that best resonates with how and where you like to work.

When do you start your day?

I wouldn’t say I’m a morning person, but I’m definitely no night owl. I get working around 8am and by 4pm, I’m next to worthless. On those days when I teach a 4:30 class (or heaven forbid, a 7:15pm class) I literally have to get away for a few hours during the day so that I’m not exhausted before I even begin class. Recognizing these patterns in my work life, I’m beginning to wonder whether I ought to get started even earlier. Today while I was doing some yard work, I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Mikes on Mics. The guest on the show was Andy Traub, author of The Early to Rise Experience. Andy made a great case for the benefits of the quiet of the morning to jumpstart your creativity and productivity. I appreciated that he kept coming back to the point that it’s not fun to get up at 5 or 5:30 in the morning. But the benefits that can accrue may outweigh the difficulty.

After listening to the podcast, I bought the book. I haven’t started it yet, but I’m looking forward to receiving the daily email audio segments as I try it out. I’ll report back as I try the experiment. In the meantime, when do you start your day?

When do you start your day?

I wouldn’t say I’m a morning person, but I’m definitely no night owl. I get working around 8am and by 4pm, I’m next to worthless. On those days when I teach a 4:30 class (or heaven forbid, a 7:15pm class) I literally have to get away for a few hours during the day so that I’m not exhausted before I even begin class.

Recognizing these patterns in my work life, I’m beginning to wonder whether I ought to get started even earlier. Today while I was doing some yard work, I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Mikes on Mics. The guest on the show was Andy Traub, author of The Early to Rise Experience. Andy made a great case for the benefits of the quiet of the morning to jumpstart your creativity and productivity. I appreciated that he kept coming back to the point that it’s not fun to get up at 5 or 5:30 in the morning. But the benefits that can accrue may outweigh the difficulty.

Feeding the 3rd Brood! by Karen Brazier

After listening to the podcast, I bought the book. I haven’t started it yet, but I’m looking forward to receiving the daily email audio segments as I try it out. I’ll report back as I try the experiment. In the meantime, when do you start your day?

 

 

ProfHacks begins

“Cairn” by Sha Sha Chu – http://www.flickr.com/photos/shashachu/

The career of an academic is an interesting experiment with balance. In contrast to  many careers and professions, professors have the ability, to a great extent, to chart their own course day to day, year to year. In doing so, however, they must find a delicate balance of time and energy in three roles: teaching, scholarship and service. It may be relatively easy to prioritize tasks, goals and projects within one area of focus, it is often more challenge to prioritize across these areas. For example, is it more critical for an untenured faculty member to provide feedback on a students’ dissertation proposal, prepare for the class meeting the following day, or complete revisions on a manuscript?

This dynamic nature of the professoriate was something that attracted me to this world, but also befuddles me from time to time. Somehow I managed to navigate the gauntlet and achieve promotion and tenure. My success, at least in part, is due to my efforts to systematize my day to day work and planning. I’m certainly no expert though. I consider myself more of a hack; someone who continually experiments, refines, and hopefully improves the quality of my work and consequently, my satisfaction in my career.

This weblog is a space for me to share what I have and will continue to learn about working more efficiently, productively and effectively as a professor. It will be a space for others to both garner new ideas and share their own. It will also be a space for me to clarify my own thinking and test out new ideas and processes.

So what can you expect to find here? Some weeks, I may only post one new resource, idea or experiment. Other weeks will probably be more productive. I assume the content of the site will ebb and flow with the academic year. You can expect posts around productivity tools (both digital and analog), resources, screencasts, interesting ideas, and book reviews. The content will center primarily around the work of academics – researching, teaching, writing, organizing, and planning.

I hope we all find utility with the content of this site. I hope that you’ll comment and share your own experience, ideas, and perspectives. In short, I hope the prof hacks will make our work more productive, meaningful, measured, and fun.

Task Management Software

One critical aspect of staying productive for me is managing my tasks. Like you I would suspect, I have a number of different projects on my plate at one time. It can be very difficult to keep moving them all forward without a system to keep track of where you are and where you want to go. For me, a good task management app is critical to help me to keep all the plates spinning – and especially to keep them from crashing to the floor. 

The Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology developed by David Allen has really helped me to keep myself organized over the years. One of the key aspects of this approach is to develop a trusted system to organize and track all there is to do. One of the first and best apps available to implement the GTD system was Omnifocus. I’ve used Omnifocus for years to create projects, tasks, start dates, end dates and to develop systems for weekly and monthly reviews. I never quite felt, though, that I had my arms totally around the capabilities of Omnifocus. I was always aware of the fact that I was only scratching the surface of it’s capabilities. I eventually ran into two limitations that led me to explore other alternatives, however. First, it is only available on Mac and IOS. Second, there is no Web interface to access your data. As I have grown more fond of my Surface and increasingly work at a number of different computers, these limitations have really hamstrung me. So, as much as I’ve enjoyed using Omnifocus, I needed a new tool.

There are a number of different tools, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, available for productivity nerds. I really like the collaborative capabilities of Asana, but for whatever reason the metaphor and user interface didn’t click with me. I like the look of Remember the Milk, but it’s just too limited for what I need in a system. I really thought I’d found a winner with Wunderlist, and even paid for the premium service, but the workflow of adding and working with tasks just didn’t work for me. Finally I found Todoist, and I couldn’t be happier.

Todoist is a cross-platform app that includes a Web interface and several different native applications. The data syncs seamlessly across all my devices for a totally seamless experience. New users can sign up for a free account that is probably all that 90% of users will need. I chose to upgrade to the Premium service for $29 a year to add some key functionality for me. Honestly, even if I didn’t need this functionality, I probably would’ve upgraded anyway, just to support the development of this great service.

 

I’ve set up Todoist with a number of different projects along with their attendant tasks. I’m able to focus on just those tasks I’ve assigned to be due today, or I can look at 7 days at a time. I love that on the app icon on my iPhone it includes a badge with the number of items due today. It’s great to see at a glance how much more I have on my plate on a given day. It includes a number of other features that I don’t use yet, but may explore as I become more comfortable with my system. For example, you can add labels to tasks. One thing I’ve been considering using this for is when I’ve delegated a task to someone else. If I add their name as a tag on a particular task, then I can just view a particular tag to see what that particular person owes me. You can also add different priorities to tasks as well. 

I’m sure I’ll continue to refine my workflow and the way I use Todoist to manage my projects and tasks, but it’s working great for me right now. I highly recommend this rock-solid service. What tools do you use to help you manage all that you have on your to do list? 

 

 

The Microsoft Surface as a Productivity Device

One of the things that intrigues me most about personal productivity is the idea of designing efficient and effective workflows. By this I mean developing common sets of processes to accomplish different tasks. For example, I often need to read and comment on my students’ writing. In the past, I relied on printing their work and marking it up with a pen. I would then pass these back the following week in class. This worked fairly well for me and my students, except for three issues:

  1. My writing is terrible – I even had trouble translating my own writing when students couldn’t read my chicken scratch
  2. This process delayed my getting comments back to students in a timely manner – particularly on rough drafts that they hoped to revise prior to submitting the work
  3. Unless I made photocopies of the commented work, I didn’t have a record of comments I’d given them at different stages of the process – a problem with a major piece of writing like a dissertation proposal that goes through many revisions

So, these issues were frustrating enough that I was determined to plan a better workflow.

To mitigate these concerns, I began to use the robust commenting features built in to Microsoft Word. Between highlighting snippets of text, tracking changes, and adding comments in the margins, I was able to replicate the same kind of process without some of the challenges inherent in working with paper/pen.

When the iPad was released several years ago, I began an experiment in trying to shift this workflow to a tablet device. I loved the lightweight form factor and ability to read the work more like a document on a table in front of me instead of reading on a vertical screen of my laptop or desktop. I was especially jazzed about the idea of being able to add hand drawn comments and scribbles via a capacitive stylus. Fortunately, a number of robust PDF editing apps were developed for the iPad. I so wanted to figure out and enjoy this workflow, but after two years of near constant exploration, I ran into some new (and old) workflow challenges.

  1. I had to convert every piece of student writing to a PDF file, then either email it to myself or save it to Dropbox in order to access it on the iPad
  2. It was often even more difficult to get the commented documents off the iPad and back to the students
  3. Using the capacitive stylus to leave handwritten comments made my poor handwriting even more difficult to read.

Essentially, with the iPad I introduced even more problems to my workflow than in either of the first two approaches.

When I began working with the Microsoft Technology Enriched Instruction (TEI) project, I had the opportunity to explore a range of Microsoft software, tools, and devices. About two months ago I received a Surface RT and began to explore this as an iPad alternative. It didn’t take me long to realize that the Surface is an entirely different device than an iPad. While the iPad is an excellent consumption and entertainment device (my kids love using it for all kinds of activities), trying to use it as a real productivity device was a constant headache for me.

Here’s what the workflow looks like on the Surface.

  1. I either save my students Word documents to a Dropbox or Skydrive folder (or set it up so that the students can upload files there directly)
  2. I open them up in the full version of Word (that’s included for free on the Surface RT) and use the full set of track changes, comment options, etc. to mark up the documents
  3. I can use the same capacitive stylus with the writing recognition tool built in to the device and it does an amazing job of translating my chicken scratch into crisp, clear typed text
  4. I simply save the file and send it back.

The addition of this one device has literally transformed the way I can provide students with feedback on their writing. The workflows I use with the Surface are not only way more robust and simpler than the iPad, I actually find that this 2 pound device has replaced my laptop and desktop for all but a few key functions. The best part is that not only can I develop these workflows easily, I actually look forward finding new opportunities to use this productivity tablet.