There are many tools which can be used for Personal Knowledge Management (PKM), but for me Microsoft OneNote is one of the main tools. Of course, I also use other tools such as Google Desktop (desktop search), Google Reader (RSS) and del.icio.us (social networking), but in term of idea management, OneNote is the tool for me.
There is a big difference between the way I use OneNote and the way I use other tools. Tools for technologies like RSS and social networking mainly deals with other people’s thoughts. For example, I can use an RSS reader to read other people’s blog entries and then use social networking to mark those which I find interesting. In most cases, I also use desktop search to search other people’s thoughts which are stored as files in my hard disk.
OneNote is different because I use it to manage my own ideas. While OneNote can be used to manage links to others’ blogs and web sites (like social networking), I find it most useful when dealing with my own thoughts and ideas.
There are several features of OneNote which make it useful for idea management:
- The data is organized in sections and pages
All data is organized neatly in sections and pages. The sections are displayed as a row of tabs in the upper part of the display, and within each section there are several pages displayed in the right side. This organization is convenient for me because I can put all my stuffs in one place (that is, inside OneNote) and then arrange them to be easily findable. Since everything is in one place, it is more difficult to miss any piece of thoughts I’ve written.
- All typings are automatically saved
This is a convenient feature which is not available in most other software. In OneNote, I never need to worry about pressing Ctrl-S because all typings are saved automatically. This way I can concentrate on just writing my ideas.
- Writing can be done anywhere in the page
Unlike word processor in which I can only write in certain areas of the pages (limited by paragraph format, margin, paper size, etc), I can write anywhere in the pages within OneNote. This is useful for developing ideas because I can easily place different thoughts in their appropriate places within the pages to interconnect them.
- The content can be searched fast
If I forget where I’ve written something, I can quickly find it by doing fast search across all sections and pages. For idea management, it is more useful than desktop search because desktop search will return results from the whole hard disk, most of which are other people’s writings. Using OneNote’s search, I can be sure that the search results are all my thoughts.
- Flexible outlines can be made
Outlining is the feature I like most from OneNote. Using it, I can easily write my thoughts and arrange them in hierarchies. I can then collapse or expand the outlines to see the big picture or the details. I can also move each item easily from one part of the list to another. This flexibility is important for me because it enables me to develop my ideas quickly and easily.
There are still other features of OneNote, but these are the most important ones which make me stick with it for idea management. I know that many people use mind maps to develop and maintain ideas. I’ve also tried them and find them useful, but frankly I use OneNote over mind maps almost every time. Aside from my browser (my beloved Firefox), OneNote is the software I spend most of my time with.