Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Feedly and OneNote

Collecting Content Ideas - Feedly and OneNote

Feedly became my blog  consolidation tool of choice when Google Reader shut down in 2013. If you are still looking for a good alternative, see the LifeHacker post "Five Best Google ReaderAlternatives". Feedly allows me to track and read 132 different blogs. Blogs are organized into categories and each morning I get a count of fresh articles.

I collect ideas as small as a sentence, up to entire articles. OneNote is critical to my workflow, but it does not work with Feedly the way that you might expect.

Here is how to collect ideas leveraging Feedly and OneNote. 

Categories become Hashtags on Twitter

OneNote 101: Copy and Paste

PRO: Open an article on Feedly, select the text your want, right-click to copy, then move to OneNote and right-click to paste. The quick and easy method to capture ideas. The text is searchable and OneNote provides the URL pointing to the Feedly subscription.

Sample Text Snip: 

One of the best things about having a WordPress site is the ability to customize and enhance it using plugins. That is why I wanted to share some of my top picks for plugins for small business owners. I did this last year as well in my post, Top 21 WordPress Plugin Picks for 2014, […]

CON: Quick and Easy usually means something is missing. The URL (highlighted above) points to the Feedly subscription, not to the source article. If you collect notes and post on the same day this may not be an issue. But wait a few days, or mark the article as "read" and the link will not take you to the article. You will have to spend time searching for the information. OneNote provided a link to Feedly (correct functionality), but what you really want is a link to the source.

Quick Tip: Scroll to the bottom of the page in Feedly and click  "Visit Website" then copy and paste from the original source.


Feedly - Three Alternatives to Save and Share Content
+ 1 Bonus (IFTTT)

Option 1 - Save For Later

When reading an article Feedly has a small icon that will add a simple flag to indicate "Saved For Later". You can see all of your Saved For Later articles by clicking the menu link in the left navigation. In the All Content view the flag shows up in the first column. When you click the "All" menu item, Feedly returns the list of unread items, or if everything is read, returns the list of all articles - newest items at the top of the list. Flags work for quick and easy collection. 

Option 2 - OneNote Integration

CON: This function does not work for me (OneNote 2013, on a corporate network), and it requires a subscription. When you click the OneNote icon, Feedly will save your article directly to your notebook. I'll provide a free alternative below as a bonus.


Option 3 - Social Sharing

PRO: Several other sharing options live under the overflow menu (three vertical dots) on the far right. Select your favorite tools and they will appear under the menu. Sharing an entire article in your favorite social media channel is simple.

In the image above you can see an email icon and a the Twitter icon. When the email icon is clicked your email client is triggered and you can add contacts to the To: line. You can edit the Subject and the body, and Twitter inserts a link to the article.

When the Twitter icon is clicked Feedly creates a pop-up window with the title of the article, the URL, and if you chose it on the Preferences page, a hashtag based on the name of your grouping. You can edit prior to sending. 

Select your favorites, they are added to the Menu above Feedly articles.
(Click for larger image)

CON: Certain pop-up functionality may be blocked on a corporate network. For example, I cannot access external email accounts (Outlook.com, Gmail, etc), so the email feature cannot be used when I am at work. 


Option 4  - Bonus - If This, Then, That (IFTTT) Recipe

I hate paying for simple integration tools (like the OneNote link in Feedly). If This Then That (IFTTT) lets you design simple "Recipes" to perform these tasks. Plenty of pre-scripted recipes are available for Evernote, Google Docs, Gmail, Buffer… If you can’t find one you like, build your own!

My recipe takes any Feedly article that I mark "Saved for Later" and creates a new page in a OneNote notebook that I keep online. The Body of the recipe can be customized from a pick list. I capture ArticleTitle, ArticleURL, ArticleContent etc. and everything is stored in date order in my notebook.


Bottom Line

Feedly is my tool for managing blog subscriptions. Ideas enter the top of my workflow and are stored in OneNote. OneNote allows me to sort, tag, and recombine ideas for my blog. I can create content, provide proof from experts, and make proper attribution at the same time. Knowing how OneNote works with Feedly, and knowing a few alternatives to improve idea collection will make your workflow powerful.


Thursday, May 28, 2015

OneNote and Excel

Microsoft OneNote and Excel Tables

Yes, they know each other, but they are not really friends. 

While using OneNote to track my blog information I ran into a simple problem. The table that I was using grew just a bit too large. I wanted to track simple things: page name, permalink, whether the format was updated (titles and font sizes were messed up on older posts), and the topic of the post. Just a few columns multiplied by a couple hundred lines... 

Of course, Excel would handle the job with ease, so I went to the Insert tab in the ribbon, clicked on spreadsheet, then New Excel Spreadsheet and BOOM! a very nice link and table is inserted into my OneNote page. 

The only issue - it doesn't work very well.

Excel in MS Word

If you insert a spreadsheet into Word 2013 you get a very nice Excel table - with a great deal of Excel functionality. On the Insert menu click Insert Object, Create New, then select Microsoft Excel Worksheet.  Once you have finished your data entry, click outside of the Excel object and the table drops into your document. Save, re-open, click to edit... it all appears to work. 

Excel in OneNote (Click for larger view)

The OneNote Experience 

OneNote has a mouse-over in the top left cover of the table to allow you to edit the spreadsheet. Click the edit button, Excel opens. Add data to the table, save and close, and the table refreshes in OneNote - simple and easy. Did you notice that the table is now an image and is not editable? Did you notice that the hyperlinks are not functional?  

Click the edit button again to make updates, Excel opens... make your updates save and close the file. Then something else happens. 

Filename: Link to OneNoteSample8.xlxs

Rather than opening up the same file, or opening an embedded version of the file like MS Word, it opens Excel, and inserts a copy of the table. You can edit Excel as needed, then save and close and OneNote will update the table. But, now you have two Excel files on your PC. The first file will not reflect updates made in the second file, nor will the second reflect changes made in the third. 

One Way Street

Open the Excel spreadsheet first, make edits, then save and close. Go back to OneNote and... nothing. The changes do not carry back from Excel to OneNote. Let's say you we keeping scores for a bowling league and had an Excel spreadsheet posted in a shared location. Users could make edits, but you could never really pull that information into OneNote. Of course, you could Open Existing Spreadsheet, but now you have multiple OneNote pages with similar information. This really is not an issue in MS Word, because the table is embedded in the document - so you can only edit in one place. 

Filename: OneNoteSample9 (ugh). 

The Solution 

Usually I try to offer a solution, or a simple work-around. This problem doesn't seem to have a good method. 

Excel provides method to query a source file and refresh the data as needed - you can keep a working copy on your desk and the source can remain in the cloud at a shared location. It does take a couple of clicks to update, but the process makes sense. OneNote seems to get about 60% of the way to that solution. 

The Recommendation

An integrated toolset would be great, but leveraging Excel from inside of OneNote really doesn't work. Build your complex tables in Excel and enjoy all of the functionality that it brings. Then you will need to resort to the old school method of Linking to the file (Select some text, on the Insert tab click Link, then navigate to the file in Explorer and click OK). 

If the source file moves, the link breaks, but at least there is only one Excel file, only one source of truth, and the hyperlinks work!


Friday, May 15, 2015

OneNote Image as Background

OneNote - Image as Background

My online class had a very simple assignment: use their template, provided in PDF format, to create a Strategic Execution Map using a Wall Based Process. You know, the standard "let's whiteboard / sticky-note this solution" process. It works for any brainstorming or ideation or process flow review session where a group needs to create, sort, group, re-sort, re-group ideas (or requirements, or process steps, or...).

I could have marked up a collection of self-stick wall pads with Post-It notes, then taken a photograph of each, then inserted the photo into OneNote, but I wanted a short-cut. (My God Jim, I'm just a country-doctor".)

Why Set an Image as Background

Pictures and color are powerful. Plain white pages, not so much. By setting a image as background you can:  
  • Set mood via color, or image
  • Set branding - set a logo or a key visual element on every page
  • Create Visual maps - adding notes and links right on top of the image
This works in OneNote because containers "float" on top of the background image. So here are the steps - and a couple of variations to make it work:
  1. Add a page to any section
  2. From the Images category, click the Pictures command
  3. Navigate to the image you want to insert, Select, then click OK
  4. Right click on the image and click "Set Picture as Background" 
  1. Add a page to any section
  2. From the Images category, click the Online Pictures command
  3. Navigate to the image you want to insert, Select, then click OK 
  4. Right click on the image and click "Set Picture as Background"  
  1. Add a page to any section
  2. Click on an image in your web browser
  3. Right click and select Copy, then return to OneNote and right-click and select Paste. The picture from the internet will also insert the source URL.
  4. Right click on the image and click "Set Picture as Background" 

Nope, it doesn't work.  None of them. Total #Fail.

Right-Click Menu - Command is Missing (Fail!)

Do you see the outline of the container in the picture above, just inside of the resize handles? (Click to enlarge the graphic for a better view). Collecting images this way works great, but step #4 breaks.

In all three processes above, OneNote creates a container and inserts the image - which seems totally logical. (Remember this is a Microsoft product, so features and benefits usually cut two ways.)

Key Trick: The Image Cannot be Inside a Container

New and Improved Instructions:
  1. Add a page to any section
  2. From the Images category, click the Pictures command
  3. Navigate to the image you want to insert, Select, then click OK
  4. Right-Click on the image (inside the container) and select Cut
  5. Move your cursor outside of any/all containers (choose a empty portion of the page) and click Paste
  6. Size and Position the image as needed
  7. Right-Click on the image and select Set Picture as Background

Set as Background command. Success!

Notice in the screen clip above that the container frame is missing. Now your image is fixed to the page, and you can create containers right on top of the background. Insert text, draw lines, highlight key elements, the background stays in place. Some may want to use Visio or PowerPoint functionality, but the learning curve and the overlay rules are a bit tedious.

Fancy Tip

Add a small image onto your background (a circle, diamond, or number) in a regular container. Then Click the Link command in the Link category on the ribbon. Add a URL, but no text. The small image is now a hyperlink.

If you were teaching anatomy, you could put the human body as a background, add numbers 1 through 10, creating hyperlinks to definitions, audio-visual, multimedia, etc.  Sorry, no graphic here, but you can mouse-over the hyperlink to test this Fancy Tip.
A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

PowerPoint Bonus Tip (Feature or Bug?)

You can also set PowerPoint Slides as a background image:
  1. Add a page to a section
  2. From the Files category, click File Printout
  3. Navigate to the PowerPoint you want to insert and click Insert
  4. Size and Position the slide(s) as needed
  5. Right click and select Set Picture as Background (Repeat for additional slides)

Yes, in all of the magnificent brilliance of design, this instruction set will print your PowerPoint deck into OneNote (I swear they look like they are in containers) and then let you right-click and set each slide as a background image. (Author: Rubs eyes, mutters quiet condemnation , left eye starts twitching).

Have you ever wanted to take notes right on top of a PPT presentation? There you go. 

Bottom Line

Whether you want to set a background color via templates, or add an image or logo, or PowerPoint presentation as a background, OneNote can do it. Don't think about the logic, just give it a try and start layering your notes on top of your custom background.


Layout and colors provided in PDF
Text containers layered in OneNote