The search for the ultimate productivity system continues

I spend far too much time thinking about systems. I have a system for everything – my email accounts, my household, my work, my studies and for how all those systems interact. Sure, everyone has a system for those, you might say. For me though, it is my preferred form of procrastination, in the sense that I have a tangible result (a new system!) at the end of it, as opposed to just whiling away the time on YouTube.

Let’s take a look at the evolution of my productivity system. I started out with OneNote in 2011, integrating it with Outlook Tasks in 2012. That plodded along for a bit, until I realised that tracking tasks in Outlook is ridiculous and I needed something web-based. I fiddled around a bit with some to-do list managers and settled on Wunderlist. I kept trying to link it with OneNote, but that turned out to be a useless fight.

I then started messing around with Trello, essentially duplicating what I was doing in Wunderlist. I waffled between the two until Microsoft bought Wunderlist, and now created To-Do, which will eventually replace Wunderlist but has very few features at the time of writing. There’s also Planner, which is the Office 365 version of a combination of Trello and Jira I guess? I don’t know.

I feel like I’m in limbo. At work, I’m currently using Planner with the team to track project tasks, linked to the relevant Notebooks, Groups and SharePoint libraries (accessible through the OneDrive mobile apps). I did link Wunderlist to Planner, but that just seemed weird.

I’m still using Wunderlist for daily task reminders, bill reminders, shopping list and food prep. I’m using Trello to track the food inventory of my household. I’m (kind of) using the normal Outlook calendar to track appointments. In other words, my system is a mess and I need to throw everything out and start over!


So I stopped doing assignments for the GEOINT MOOC. I know I said a short while ago that I was really starting to enjoy the MOOC, purely for the reading notes structure, but that has been overwhelmed by my intense dislike for discussing stuff on the internet.

Maybe I should define what I mean by discussing stuff. I’m totally cool with discussing stuff in a Q&A type way – in fact, I owe alot to this type of interaction for why I am so comfortable with coding today.

I just don’t like the general “let’s all go crazy around this topic for an hour before we move onto the next one” type vibe that most discussion forums have. That’s personal preference. I have absolutely nothing against the course/lecturer/institution, it’s just that the format did not work for me. So I’ll be keeping my Notebook with the notes in from the course for future reference, but otherwise, I’m out.

Mic drop

OneNote: The Future

Having OneNote accessible everywhere is great. From starting out by storing the Notebook on my flash, to now having all my Notebooks on my OneDrive syncing across my work laptop, my home PC, my tablet and my Nokia Lumia 1020, I always have access to my notebooks. The only issue I have with OneNote is that I wish it had been advertised more, as it would have helped me so much when I was studying between 2007 – 2010. As it is, when I start studying part-time, OneNote will be front and centre.

OneNote is the first application I open when I start up my laptop. I use the OneCalendar add-in when I fill in my timesheets to see which project I worked in on which day. I’ve gotten most of my colleagues into using it to various degrees. I have a Notebook for my personal matters, one for this blog containing ideas for posts, and one from the Family Room messenger app on my Windows Phone. I used a notebook to coordinate planning for my sister’s 21st birthday last year, and yes, I will be using OneNote to plan my wedding as well.

In conclusion, when I say that OneNote has changed my life, I am not exaggerating. Now to get the ultimate note-taking tool


OneNote: The Continuation

I carried my OneNote knowledge into my current job. Nowadays, I use one big “Work” Notebook, which contains all of the projects I have worked on since starting with my company. It’s organised into section groups (one for each unit e.g. Asset Management, Water Engineering, Land Development, Environmental, Transport etc) containing separate sections for each individual project. Each section has an “Overview” page containing a brief description of the project and what my role on the project is, and underneath that are all the Outlook tasks, appointments and emails associated with that project.

I still keep detailed notes of the methodology I use for a task, and include screen clips using OneNote’s inbuilt screen clipping tool where necessary, especially for things like setting up an application, or how to connect to a server, or some random ArcMap tool settings. This approach has helped me save a lot of time, especially when repeating a similar task but on a different project.

One of the main reasons I bought a tablet was so that I could take notes on it. I use my Samsung Galaxy Note 8 in meetings to take minutes. I’ve used the pen as well now that handwriting support was added a few months ago, but my handwriting is atrocious since I’ve been OneNoting for almost 4 years now…

OneNote: The Beginning

I realised today, as I was typing up a post on Visual Studio, that I’ve never done a post on OneNote. I discovered OneNote in the first week of my working life. I had just started my GIS internship, and we were waiting for IT to grant us admin access to the computers so we could get on with the GIS. I was bored, so I was clicking around on the computer looking for things to do, when I noticed an application in the Microsoft Office group called OneNote 2010.

Clicking on that application that day changed my life. That is not an exaggeration. I’m pretty sure that I actually have 5 years working experience despite having only worked for 3 and a half years now because of OneNote. I’ve always loved studying, taking notes, and collecting as much knowledge as I can. That was actually one of my results from the Gallup StrengthFinder test.

With OneNote, I started clipping articles from the internet for research. Everytime I had a GIS question I couldn’t figure out, I would ask my mentor in an email, save her emailed answer in my Notebook, and add supporting information I found on the internet as subpages. Every Outlook task that I was assigned, I linked into OneNote so I would have a record of the task along with her detailed instructions. I created a “Notes” subpage under each task detailing the methodology I used to complete it.

I quickly learnt that if I had to change methodology, I shouldn’t delete the notes I had made – rather, I would use strikethrough to indicate that I had gone down the wrong path, and I had corrected it. This helped me greatly when I was on the verge of repeating previous mistakes. That didn’t really matter though, since I could always check out the previous page versions to see what I had done.

We would have regular “learning” meetings, where my mentor would cover certain topics. I would link the appointment from Outlook, and then type my written notes in OneNote once I was back at my desk. I also used it to make lists of things to do by using the tags.