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

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

OneNote Meetings

OneNote Meetings for Efficiency and Effectiveness

Did you ever attend a meeting and not get minutes until three, five, seven days later? Did the minutes match your recollection of the meeting? Do action items line up, are commitments captured? Do you keep your entire life in email - every message, every task, every appointment? This may work great if; your meetings are super effective and everyone steps up to meet their commitments, your email system has unlimited space and you have a good method to search.

But people don't meet all of their commitments. Action items get deferred, then forgotten. Have you been archiving and deleting old messages because your email system is limited? Even if email space is unlimited, searching email messages is a problem. 500 emails about "Project Gadget" with similar content and keywords - needle, meet haystack.

Consider OneNote - simple, flexible, and customizable for your meetings. You can improve your workflow, improve communication of action items and key decisions, and maybe encourage absentee resources to attend your meetings.

This post will review a simple process to take notes for a meeting - starting in Outlook, working in OneNote, then returning to Outlook to distribute the meeting notes. For notes or brainstorms collected after the meeting, we will show you how to create a link to the original meeting. 

OneNote Tags (covered in our blog post: OneNote Tags and Summary Page) offer line item marking of notes that require additional follow-up. As you work through your notebook and Tag your content you may find an entire page of notes that need to be linked to a meeting.

Outlook Integration to OneNote

Microsoft Outlook Appointments include a command "Meeting Notes" in the ribbon. (Click on any graphic in this post for a larger version).

Ribbon in MS Outlook Appointment Screen

Clicking this command will  open a dialog box allowing a choice to share meeting notes, or to take notes own your own. When you select take notes on your own you will be prompted to Select a Location in OneNote to begin taking notes. Several sections will be offered, and you can scroll down to see all of your notebooks if you need to choose a location that is not in the quick pick list. 

OneNote will insert data from the invitation with a couple of cool features.

First, is a link to the Outlook item - which does exactly what is says, clicking the link will bounce you back into Outlook and open the meeting invitation. You can also return to this page from Outlook by clinking the Meeting Notes command in Outlook.

Details from the invitation message will also be carried into OneNote. Click Expand and you can see the message. In my case this is usually conference call details, Lync meeting details, and maybe an abbreviated agenda. Please note that any attachments in the invitation are also carried into OneNote.

Meeting Details Inserted from Outlook into OneNote

Finally, a Participants List will carry over. The meeting organizer is listed at the top, then all invitees. When integrated with Lync, and approved by your system administrator, the "Attended" check box may auto-populate. If this integration is not setup, you can simply check the boxes next to the attendees (which also identifies resources that did not attend).

OneNote has accomplished several key tasks in this simple process: 
  1. It captured key meeting details
    • Topic 
    • Organizer 
    • Date/Time 
    • Location 
    • Invitees/Attendees
    • Meeting Message and any attachments
  2. It created a new page and container to capture notes in your chosen section
  3. It created a link back to the original invitation
Now, take notes as usual during your meeting. 

Once your meeting is over, run a quick spell check, skim your notes for clarity, then click File | Send | eMail Page. OneNote will trigger a new Outlook email message with: 
  1. All Invitees listed in the To: field
  2. The meeting topic in the  Subject field
  3. The entire OneNote page as the body of the email message (if your audience uses OneNote you can also send them a page in OneNote format that can be inserted directly into their notebook.
  4. A link to the OneNote page (which you may want to delete if the location is not shared)
  5. Consider a sentence at the top of your message asking your audience if you missed any detail, or if anything need clarification
  6. If the notes are long, consider pulling all Action Items or key points to a summary section above the meeting details. 
Click for larger view of the details.

Using the Outlook Meeting Notes in OneNote process is a simple practice to have your meeting notes distributed immediately, including all action items, follow up items, and enough detail that people that may have missed the meeting can remain in the loop.

Oops - Working Backwards

Maybe you took notes during the meeting and did not create the link from Outlook. Or, you had a brilliant idea about something discussed in the meeting... three days after the meeting was held. Or, you attended a meeting where the organizer was lax about taking and distributing minutes. What can you do to link your notes to the meeting?

Start on your page in OneNote and click the Meeting Details command. If needed, you can choose a meeting from a different day. You can also refresh meeting details. Use the blue arrow keys to move backwards to the meeting date, highlight the meeting, then click Insert Details.

Forget to Link Meeting Notes? Try this!

OneNote will insert the meeting information at the top of your page, with all of the information described above. Now, your notes are tied back to the meeting and you can distribute if you need to.

A couple of caveats: 
  • If you sent your meeting notes previously, you may want to resend this page as a correction or an update. If the details are new, may sure you highlight changes from the previous version of the minutes. Or, send the new ideas as part of a new conversation.
  • Using the "Refresh" command will update the meeting details. You may want to think this through before using the feature. 
    • Example 1 - I have a business partner that reschedules meetings, rather than creating new appointments or creating a recurring appointment. When he moves the meeting, it creates an empty time slot in your calendar, when you probably have spent some time on their tasks. If you need to account for time and effort you may have to create your own Outlook meeting in the original time slot, with a link to the notes.
    • Example 2 - I have a PM that keeps all meeting notes in the invitation. Each meeting changes the content. The paper trail is constantly evolving, so actions, decisions and accountability is blurred. Use OneNote and iterate the meeting minutes to be able to trace changes over time.

Bottom Line

Using Outlook and OneNote for Meetings will boost your efficiency and effectiveness. 
  • Meeting details are all captured in one place (OneNote)
  • Decisions, action items, commitments are all captured
  • Meeting notes are delivered immediately, via email 
  • Links to and from Outlook and OneNote are set - simplifying data retrieval
  • Your process is professional, fast and easy