If you have a new computer with Microsoft Office 2010, you should spend a few minutes figuring out Microsoft OneNote 2010, one of the great programs of our time. I’ve written about it before – there’s an introduction to it here, and some information about sharing notebooks here. Open the program and spend time with the default notebook with startup tips, or go to the Microsoft website and watch some videos and tutorials. It will repay the time.

The concept is simple: OneNote collects information on the fly from any source you can imagine, and helps you find it again later when you need it. That’s any information. OneNote can hold your grocery list as easily as your research or trial preparation.

Think about your closet. Some people throw things into a closet in an unsorted pile, haphazard and cluttered. Some people organize their closet obsessively, everything in its place. OneNote will work equally well regardless of which style suits you.

Everything about it has been designed with elegance and forethought. If you copy a sentence from a web site and paste it into OneNote, it will include a link to the original page automatically. If you right-click on a web page in Internet Explorer, you can send the page to OneNote with a single click. Click on the OneNote button in the ribbon bar for an Outlook appointment and you’ll be taken to a OneNote page where you can record meeting notes – and the page will be permanently linked so you can go back and forth between it and Outlook. (More information here about OneNote and Outlook.) You can drop pictures into OneNote; it has a full palette of drawing tools for doodling; you can record an audio note in OneNote and it will transcribe your words.

It takes a short bit of study to understand the organization of notebooks, sections and pages. You’ll have an “ah-ha!” moment when it sinks in, at which point it is intuitive forever after.

If you have sorted out your Windows Live ID and begun to use Microsoft’s online Skydrive service, it will be reasonably clear how to store notebooks online so they can be synced to OneNote on multiple computers. Although I’ve had to troubleshoot that with some people, it almost always works flawlessly. It’s possible to share notebooks with other people, a process which is nowhere near as intuitive and seems more prone to error; that can be enormously valuable for some people, in which case it is well worth it to survive the learning curve and overcome any glitches. When notebooks are stored online, they can also be accessed from iPhones (but not Android phones – shame, that).

Here’s an article that summarizes more OneNote features. Trust me! OneNote is a treasure that you already own, as long as you learn it and remember to use it until it becomes a habit.

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