Microsoft OneNote 2016 for Windows Setup Guide

After going through the free resources for ideas on How to set up OneNote for GTD and not finding anything convincing, I decided to give a shot at the “official” setup guide from David Allen. In this post, I will share my experience with this material, but I will not be able to share its content other than this excerpt:

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In addition to the promise of configuring OneNote for actionable material (i.e., beyond non-actionable reference information), this guide should theoretically also help me to fine-tune and/or simplify my existing setup. Something I desperately need indeed given my current laborious system which requires too much manual processing.

After briefly going through a refresher of the GTD methodology and its best practice, the guide dives into the subject matter. For those not familiar with the method, some suggestions on where to get support for a basic understanding are provided as well. This guide is indeed about how to set up your tools – using OneNote, in particular – not how to implement the GTD method per se.

I am not sure there are any. With sections for the contexts and pages for each next action (within that context), it looks exactly like a paper notebook. In fact, it would be a very bad notebook in terms of wasted paper; the paper-based notebooks, or even the GTD® Organizer use only a line – not a page – for each entry (see OneNote as my GTD organizer). There might be a rationale for this, but I could not find it (other than the ease of moving them between sections).

Okay, to be honest, there are a few “tips” that are OneNote-specific; still, they are far from being as valuable as the idea of using OneNote tags the way it is described in How to set up OneNote for GTD?. For example, to link the next actions (listed as individual pages under the various context sections) to their project (another page under the Project section), the guide suggests three methods:

  • Add a keyword for the project in the next action description
  • Create a tag for each project and tag the project and all related items
  • Add a hyperlink (back to the project page) on each next action page


Another suggestion – not recommended because it would be too time-consuming among other issues – is to link the project in OneNote to the related next actions (stored) in Outlook. The idea is to use Outlook instead of OneNote for the next actions, keeping the latter only for the project list and project support (among other things). Here too, they list three ways to accomplish this. Nonetheless, there is more emphasis on discouraging you from going ahead with this Outlook integration than providing you with the advantages.

There are other “tips”, such as how to assign a due date, but frankly, this is not what I was expecting from a productivity system. There are no tricks on how to improve your productivity; they all add more work/manual processing. Instead of just asserting that OneNote does not include any list manager functions, I thought I would find some of the promised “adaptations” to compensate for this shortcoming. But, disappointingly, there was no creativity to be found in this guide. Otherwise, instead of stating “many of the provided tags may be more effort to add than the value they provide,” they would have suggested using them as described in How to set up OneNote for GTD?.

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