Creative Journaling with the iPad: Part 3, Getting started with Microsoft OneNote

As I concluded in the previous article in this series, my preferred application for notes, brain-dumps, sketches, and even password management is OneNote. Microsoft has been perfecting it’s OneNote software for almost 15 years, and it shows. As a user of all compute devices, I appreciate that they make a version for Apple (iOS and Mac OSX), Android, Windows and the web. Even better, my notebooks will sync across all of them so I can work on whatever device is handy.

Goodnotes is oriented toward being a straight up digital replacement for spiral notebook(s) you create a new notebook for each topic. OneNote uses a hierarchical organization system. Notebooks -> Section Groups (not available in iOS) -> Sections -> Pages -> Sub-Pages is the grouping order. You can (and should) have multiple notebooks but if you’re careful with your  Sections you can easily fit everything into one.

As of late, Microsoft has realized that creative types want the freedom of artistic expression to be a main feature of their journals. OneNote has always had drawing tools, lasso select, auto-shapes and more but now those features are up front and they’ve been enhanced with stickers, straight edge tools, a picture gallery and more.  Just look under the Draw tab for a ton of great features including glitter, star and wood grain inks, custom pens, and more. One of my favorites is the Ink to Shapes feature. Click the button and draw a standard sloppy circle. It will magically become a perfect circle.


Another recent edition is enhanced palm rejection. This means you can rest your hand on the screen while using the stylus, in the same way you would rest your hand on paper when drawing with a pencil. If you have an Apple pencil this feature is activated automatically. For those of us using capacitive (non-active) styluses, access the Drawing Mode menu and enable the feature along with selecting the way you hold your writing instrument.


Tip: It is important to be sure your hand is resting on the screen before you touch it with the stylus tip. 

Under the insert tab you’ll find options for adding pictures, files, audio recordings, math equations (yes, you read that right), and even stickers. For the most part, these options are how you get data from other software into OneNote on the iPad; some apps will also allow you to share data (photos for example).


The view tab has tools that let you add grids and rule lines to your pages; you can also change the background color here. One of the most useful functions on this page is password protection. Create a section for passwords and then put a password on that section. Make a page for each of your various accounts and you’ll have made a password manager that works on all of your devices for free. I also use the feature when sharing notebooks with people to keep them out of specific stuff.


Assuming that you want to get started with a notebook for your job, I suggest creating the following sections. You will of course need to add items for your specific profession, but these should apply to generic business.

  • Passwords – Password protect this section and then add a page for each of your accounts. Don’t forget to include links to the sites, documents, etc. and a good description so you can find them by searching. OneNote supports the iPad fingerprint reader.
  • People – Here you’ll keep tabs on the people who you interact with. People you manage, co-workers, vendors, contractors, and bosses; you’ll want to record details about them all in this section. What they like and don’t, personality traits, and information they provide about their lives can all be valuable later. Tip: insert hyperlinks to these “people pages” on pages in the other sections for quick reference.
  • Projects – Make a page for each project you’re involved with so that you don’t loose track.
  • Meetings – If everyone took good notes in meetings we could probably have a lot fewer of them.
  • Tasks – This is where I track all the little actions I have to do that are not part of a project. I need to pull a report on sever storage once a quarter and I’ve detailed how to do it along with the script I use in this section.
  • Instructions – Manuals, written instructions, and even videos off YouTube get posted in this section. Onenote will index all of this stuff (even the dialog from video and text in pics). This means that the next time you search for ” use postage” the manual will pop-up.
  • Ideas – Self explanatory, everybody gets ideas about how to do something better, easier, or faster; the trick is in remembering them at an appropriate time.
  • Issues – If you want to solve problems or have one you need help solving, track them here to ensure you don’t waste time repeating fixes or worse yet forget all together.
  • Work Log –  I insert a table with the following columns: Date, Description, Reason, Requested By, Attachments, and Notes. At the end of everyday I spend 10 minutes jotting down what I spent my time on.

Whether you use OneNote, Goodnotes, or one of the hundreds of other note taking apps available for the iPad, what’s important is that you use something. Like I’ve said in other articles, next to exercising, organizing your life and work is one of the most stress relieveing things you can do.  Once you have a system working it only takes a few minutes a day to stay on top of everything.

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