Going digital…and staying productive !

Digital notebook + paper : the perfect combination to stay productive !

Those of you who follow this blog know that I am constantly looking for effective settings & workflows to make the most of OneNote as an efficient notebook.

Nevertheless, after a few years using intensively OneNote as my sole notebook, I have to admit that I am not yet fully satisfied with its usage.

Granted : having always and anywhere all my notes at hand, with the ability to retrieve even the most remote in the blink of an eye is a boon. It always impress my colleagues, and makes me think I am super organized !

But I also noticed that this marvelous tool is also a source of distraction :

  • Distraction linked to the Hardware :
    • Battery : interrupting your workflow to find & plug a battery charger
    • Device : occasional bugs leading to shutdown (rare), or restart (frequent)
    • Stylus : pairing issues, low battery, digitalizer issues
    • Windows updates : when occurring in the middle of your day work


  • Distraction linked to OneNote :
  • Issues related to coexistence of two versions :
    • Notebook opened in one version, but not the other
    • Feature discrepancy
    • Distinct Quick notes sections
    • Send to OneNote’ printers (one for each version)
  • Lack of physical visual cues (no physical notebook “thickness”)
  • Occasional bugs (with the lasso for instance), or sync issues (rare)
  • Temptation to play with the new features (!)


  • Distraction linked to the PC environnement
    • Incoming notifications (mails, OS notifications…)
    • Temptation to consult your agenda, inbox, or browse the internet !


Recently, I read two articles that sparked a personal reflexion about my use of technology, and its impact on my efficiency.

So, here are a few tips to remain focused and productive :


Meetings :

Don’t try to write the meeting minute while you are attending the meeting !

When I got my SP3, I thought I could ink my notes, and simply convert them into text before sending the meeting minute, saving transcription time : that was an illusion because the OCR can’t cope with mixed text & sketch, nor with simple indentation.

So I switched to typing, but this was not satisfactory because when you are behind a screen, you are not attending the meeting !

Finally, I decided to come back to inking, and write neatly in order to be able to send the note as a meeting minute (without the burden and delay associated with elaborating the meeting minute afterwards) : that was also misleading, because focusing too much on writing neatly and the page layout of my “would be” meeting minute was preventing me from actively engaging with the attendees.

In short, I re-discovered that I should focus on the present time (meeting), rather than moving forward my work (meeting minute) : carpe diem !

LIRE AUSSI  Become a OneNote Ninja with this Powerful workflow !


Suggestion :

One radical solution I have come up with, is to bring a sheet of paper and a pen, and let my digital notebook off.

This way, I can focus on the discussion, look to the other attendees in their eyes, and take notes whenever necessary.

After the meeting, I can scan the sheet of paper with Office Lens, and/or summarize my notes in OneNote, and then write the minute meeting.


Visits & Audits :

When visiting (or auditing, or travelling), it can be tempting to capture “enriched” notes with :

  • Ink
  • Pictures

Anyone having travelled to visit / audit several places consecutively, with insufficient time to write visit/audit report after each visit will agree that pictures help a lot when trying to mentally head back in each place to remember some details of the visit, and refer to them in its report.

With OneNote and a tablet, it seems that you have the right tool to write AND embed pictures (annotating the pictures if relevant), but :

  • Not all devices can take decent pictures (my SP3 doesn’t)
  • Taking pictures with Office Lens on your smartphone (it usually have a better camera) and sharing with OneNote – while apparently a good solution – has the drawback to slow down your workflow (need a connection to a network, and takes time to synchronize)

In addition, once captured, you will certainly need to crop the picture, eventually rotate it…

Bottom line is you get distracted, and become less effective !


Suggestion :

Focus on the visit, take simple notes.

If you need pictures, take them with your smartphone, and its embedded camera : less options is less distraction !


Office work :

Finally, there is a last situation where – say – you are not on a time constraint to do things (well, we always are, but that’s another story !!!) and may think you can work 100% digitally, yet efficiently.

There again, despite the initial belief that it would save time, I have noticed that limiting myself to only one digital support is far from ideal. Even with dual screen, and/or split windows (or docked notes), it makes sense to use a sheet of paper alongside with OneNote : you then benefit from two mediums : one where you consult information from, the other where you elaborate ideas, thoughts, options or whatever.

Of course you may still capture the work you elaborated on the sheet of paper, with Office Lens or Rocketbook. (closing the loop to stay digital)


Conclusion : despite all the benefits of a digital notebook, relying on physical paper is sometimes useful to stay efficient.


Sorry, you will still need a pen !


Further reading : attention, students : put your laptop away !

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