Two tips for Microsoft OneNote

Given some shortcomings with OneNote (see GTD in OneNote, my failed attempts), I thought of re-considering my choosing OneNote as my GTD organizer. So, listening to the sirens’ song, I searched for an alternative platform (not a phone app, though). I have already mentioned one (see Who said there is no Ultimate GTD App?), but it was implemented with Microsoft SharePoint – a web-based collaborative platform that integrates natively with Microsoft 365. However, I am not using the latter; it is not free. Fortunately, I could find some videos comparing OneNote with other software (with or without GTD involved) and could see the Pros and Cons of each solution. Interestingly, some people were putting forward some (minor) features 1 as a Pro for their choosing the other software (or, more specifically, a Con for not using OneNote). Intrigued, I checked whether OneNote supports these features. Here are the results of my quest.

Toggle lists

Toggle lists are collapsible lists found in Notion that make it easy to keep things tidy in your pages. You can even convert a list of items to serve as a toggle list. These lists use arrows that, when clicked, will expand the contents within it. A second click hides the contents to keep those pages clean.Jack Wallen

As alluded to above, one person – that I will not name – explained in a YouTube video that he moved from OneNote to Notion because of the famous toggle feature of Notion. He claimed that it makes it really convenient not only for organizing [his] notes but just making them easier to read and more structured. Of course, this implies that this little bit more advanced feature is not available in OneNote; that is why you end up with an unstructured mess that quickly develops when you’re using OneNote.

Of course, I searched whether this was true or not. And, once I figured out the good keywords, it was a piece of cake:

By Office Tutorials

There is a little hiccup, though. This does not work inside tables! Actually, it does, but for some reasons that I could not grasp, there is no way to double-click on the “hand” that appears (if/when it appears). The trick, here, is to use the keyboard shortcuts of OneNote. Instead of double-clicking the “hand” or the small plus icon, I can use Alt+Shift+1 or Alt+Shift+0, respectively. And voilà!

Links to pages

You can link to other notes in Obsidian by using the [[file name]] syntax.

While both Obsidian and OneNote allow you to create internal and external links, one YouTuber pointed out the convenience of creating internal links within Obsidian (the so-called Wikilink) with the aforementioned syntax (i.e., [[). Simply, type [[ in the editor and then select the file you want to create a link to 2. Done. Remarkably, if there is no existing file when you type [[New name]], Obsidian will create that page – called New name – automatically and link what you just typed to this empty page (that you can populate later).

In OneNote, until now, to create a link to a page, I was going through this multi-step process:

  • Type the name of the page (I want to link to)
  • Go to that page
  • Right-click and choose “Copy Link to Page”
  • Go back to my initial location
  • Highlight the text I want to link to that page
  • Use this sequence of keyboard shortcuts: Ctrl + K (to create the link) and Ctrl + V (to paste the link previously copied)
  • Clicked on OK

Eight steps (if I count the two keyboard shortcuts separately)! Granted, this could be done in only four steps (see video below; already a twofold increase in my productivity), but there is an even faster way to do it; the same way as it is done in Obsidian! Amazingly, this also works to create new pages. How cool!

By Andy Park

Now, I will simply type the name of the page I want to link to in between double square brackets; except if I have many pages with the same name (in that case, I will use the four-step method instead).

This is an eightfold increase in my productivity!

Bonus tip

In keeping with tables and the problem with clicking the “hand” (or even making it displayed; see above), I found another keyboard shortcut that will save my day. I indeed always struggle with moving rows up and down in tables inserted within tables. There is no difficulty in doing so in a simple table, you click and hold the “hand” and you move the row wherever you want it to go. Simple. But, if the table is within the cell of another table, the “hand” does not show!

The keyboard shortcuts to accomplish this were listed in the aforementioned list of keyboard shortcuts of OneNote. They are:

  • Alt+Shift+Up arrow key
  • Alt+Shift+Down arrow key

In fact, they are intended to move the selected paragraph(s) upward or downward but work like a charm for moving the rows of a table up or down as well.

Coming next: My OneNote GTD setup 2.0


1 I insist here on the “minor,” because these alternative software have core features that are truly not available in OneNote. Spoiler: for instance, databases are a powerful Notion feature; a functionality not available in OneNote. Similarly, Obsidian has a graph view that lets you visualize the relationships between your notes; there is nothing like this in OneNote. ^
2 Obsidian will bring up a little menu that lists some of the more recent files you’ve worked with in your vault to link to, or you can start typing the name of something specific. ^

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