OneNote and Outlook - A Marriage Made in Redmond

There's sort of an attractive natural synergy between OneNote and Outlook.  Outlook is Microsoft's premier personal information manager (PIM) and OneNote is the place to collect all kinds of unstructured data.  The integration between the two products has evolved over time and, naturally, varies a bit depending upon the versions involved.  Let's take a look at the integration they offer...

OneNote 2003 and Outlook 2003

The pairing that started it all (at least for OneNote).  With OneNote 2003 you could e-mail notes directly to your contacts, even if they didn't have OneNote.  OneNote 2003 would happily package up a OneNote page and attach it to an Outlook HTML e-mail message but just in case your recipient was OneNote deficient the contents of that page would be beautifuly rendered right there within the e-mail message.  Anybody with an HTML compatible e-mail client could read it just fine.

Creating an Outlook task in OneNote 2003OneNote 2003 also introduced the ability to create tasks in Outlook.  But Service Pack 1 of OneNote 2003 (a rare service pack that added new features) took it a few steps further.  Now you could not only create Outlook tasks from OneNote but also the ability to create Outlook Contacts and Appointments.  That was pretty cool!

The romance was a little one-sided though, even though OneNote could pull meeting details from Outlook 2003's calendar Outlook didn't make any effort (or provision) to send those items to OneNote.  So really you had to initiate pretty much all of the interaction from the OneNote side.

Even the task creation wasn't very reciprocal - you could create an Outlook task item from OneNote but if you marked that task item complete in either product, the other product did NOT update to reflect that - you essentially had to mark it complete twice...since there wasn't any live syncing.

OneNote 2007 and Outlook 2007

 With the 2007 versions of the products the relationship matured considerably.  Outlook now has a button that lets you send the e-mail you're reading directly to OneNote, where you can store, annotate and share it.  It's a great tool for doing research - in fact frequently I find that a client sends key information or action items in an e-mail which can then be used as the basis to start a new OneNote page.

When you send an e-mail message to OneNote from Outlook 2007 it defaults to the Unfiled Notes section.  Once there you can move those pages to other sections if you wish (and you will) by dragging and dropping them to the more appropriate notebook or section.

Follow-up Flags in OneNote 2007Since follow up flags got a lot more powerful in Outlook 2007, OneNote 2007 rose to the challenge.  Now you can create tasks from OneNote that use Outlook's follow-up flags.  That means being able to have more granular control over due dates.  And better still these created tasks are LINKED.  So if you mark that task complete in OneNote 2007 it will show as complete in Outlook 2007.  And if you mark it complete in Outlook 2007, it will show as complete in OneNote 2007.  Joy!


Meeting NotesBut the story doesn't end there.  Outlook not only lets you send e-mail to OneNote but you can create a link from a calendar appointment to meeting notes in OneNote.  Click the Meeting Notes icon on the ribbon and a page is created in OneNote that contains the meeting date and time, location, any attendees that Outlook knows about and any notes that you have already entered in the body of the appointment item.  Even better, a link is added to the OneNote page that opens the associated Outlook meeting item.

There isn't an obvious reciprocal link back to OneNote, but as it turns out if you just click the Meeting Notes button again on the toolbar you'll be taken back to the previously created OneNote page for the meeting! 

Tricks of the Pros

One of my favorite things to do when taking meeting notes, in a meeting with a whiteboard, is to use my digital camera (or camera phone) to take a photo of the whiteboard before it's erased. I can then incorporate that image right into my meeting notes in OneNote.

BONUS: If there were handouts I can use my scanner back at the office to scan those handouts in as images directly into the OneNote page, or as a PDF file linked to from the OneNote page.

OneNote 2007 also retains the ability to create an Outlook appointment item from a bit of text on a OneNote page.  That feature is occasionally handy, but not nearly as useful as the Meeting Notes capability we just talked about.Contact Notes

OneNote 2007 and Outlook 2007 also do a passable job of helping you manage your Contacts.  Within Outlook's Contacts folder there is a Contact Notes button that when clicked sends the Contact information to a new OneNote page and creates a link from the OneNote page back to the Contact item in Outlook.  As with the Calendar item you can click the Contact Notes button again from Outlook to be returned to the related page in OneNote.  Once you're in OneNote you can add all kinds of content about the person - photos, notes, links to other people, web clippings about them, just about anything you want.

OneNote 2010 and Outlook 2010

The current happy couple.  In Office 2010 OneNote is included in every package (unlike 2007 which only had it in the Home & Student and Ultimate packages) which means OneNote will be more ubiquitous and a lot more people will be using OneNote and Outlook together.

Most of the features we came to adore in the 2007 package are still here, though the somewhat anemic "Create Outlook Appointment" and "Create Outlook Contact" capabilities have been removed for now.  It's not really as big a loss as it sounds, all those features did was initiate a new Appointment or Contact item with the selected text as the subject.  No link was created and no other content was parsed.  If you're really keen to have this feature back it probably wouldn't be too hard to script your own using AutoHotKey.

Outlook 2010 DOES, however, let you create Linked Contact, Task and Calendar items - just like 2007, only better. Just open the Contact item (or Appointment item) click the "OneNote" button on the Ribbon and a new page will be created in OneNote that has your Calendar, Task or Contact details on it - ready for notes. You'll even get a handy link that takes you right back to the Outlook item you created this from.

With OneNote 2010 (and 2013!) it's still easy to e-mail a page of notes to somebody right from the Home tab of the Ribbon. Just click the "E-mail Page" button and, as in previous versions, OneNote will open an Outlook e-mail message with the note page in the body as a HTML content. OneNote will also attach a .ONE file containing the page - in case the other person has OneNote too (increasingly likely now that OneNote is in every suite of Office).

One of my favorite OneNote 2010/Outlook 2010 features though has to be the linked tasks that was introduced with the 2007 version (see above).

Tricks of the Pros
One of the limitations of the Flagged Tasks feature is that the task gets put on your To-Do Bar as-is. There's no indication of what notebook, section or page it came from. So if you have a flagged task that just says "Follow-up" that's all your task in Outlook will say too. Not very useful.

I get around that by adding a little text to the task in OneNote before I flag it. If it's on ACME Corp's page I'll make the item "ACME: Follow-up" and then flag that. Contoso's page has a "Contoso: Follow-up" item. Much easier to tell the tems apart on the To-Do Bar that way.

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