If it Ain’t Broke, Break it!

It’s been a while since we restructured our OneNote to fit the ‘SecretWeapon’ methodology (https://thesecretweapon.org/).  Overall, this has been a qualified success.

As we come to the close of the year, and the start of a new one, it is time to take inventory of the past, and gaze into the future.  Looking backwards, we started to see the impact the very large notebooks is having.  In some cases, it has resulted in corruption of a notebook (very bad).  Generally, though, where we see the practical impact is on mobile.  It appears that anytime that OneNote does a full stop on a mobile device, it has to perform a reload of data.  When we are out and about, and internet speeds can be choked, this can be quite a nuisance.  In particular, it truly interferes with the “quick note” concept – that is, get things out of our head quickly and get back to what we were doing.

Looking forward, Microsoft definitely talks to collaboration being the key to the future.  As such, our notes should be available to anyone who would benefit from them. For instance, our notes on a specific project should be shared with the whole project team.  However, if we are using the single notebook approach then we cannot share just a subset of our notes.

So, these two perspectives – large notebooks are slow notebooks, and visible information is good information – require some deep thought on how to properly organize the OneNote environment.  The biggest drawback is simultaneously the biggest strength of the ‘big notebook’ strategy: we don’t have to remember where we put something because Search is smarter than we will ever be.  If we break up our big notebook and put the pieces in Team sites scattered across the ether, we have to tell Search all of the places our something could be.  Further, we must load all of those notebooks  into OneNote before we can search them.  Ooof.

In that spirit, we are going to use 2019 as another experiment – an experiment where we break and then try to renew the Keep It Stupidly Simple (KISS) rule. We will break out notebooks and put them up for display.  While doing this, we will work on KISS strategies on how to find things when we need them.

Column Formatting SharePoint: Severity Levels

The Microsoft website has a detailed description on how to Use column formatting to customize SharePoint.  In particular, it shows how to apply formatting based on the value in a field using a CSS class.  Unfortunately, the article does not list the severity levels available.  A little poking around at the style sheets uncovers the following severity codes:

  • sp-field-severity–good
  • sp-field-severity–low
  • sp-field-severity–warning
  • sp-field-severity–severeWarning
  • sp-field-severity–blocked

Also of note, the example code for that section does not properly reflect the necessary code to reproduce the example.

Status field with done colored green, blocked colored red, and in review colored orange

"class": "=if(@currentField == 'Done', 'sp-field-severity--good', if(@currentField == 'In progress', 'sp-field-severity--low' ,if(@currentField == 'In review','sp-field-severity--warning', if(@currentField == 'Blocked','sp-field-severity--blocked', ''))))"

If you read the JSON, the example overlooks the Has Issues condition.  The JSON should actually read:

"class": "=if(@currentField == 'Done', 'sp-field-severity--good', if(@currentField == 'In progress', 'sp-field-severity--low', if(@currentField == 'In review', 'sp-field-severity--warning', if(@currentField == 'Has issues', 'sp-field-severity--severeWarning', 'sp-field-severity--blocked'))))"

As well, the icon section leaves out Blocked. It should be:

"iconName": "=if(@currentField == 'Done', 'CheckMark', if(@currentField == 'In progress', 'Forward', if(@currentField == 'In review', 'Error', if(@currentField == 'Has issues', 'Warning', 'ErrorBadge'))))"

Excel: Banding alternate rows, even with conditions

Excel tables have a nice little feature that lets you band alternate rows to help visually read the data.

However, to use this, you have to convert the data to a Table.  Since this is not always practical, there is an alternative using Conditional Formatting.

The formatting rule is:


This applies the formatting you choose only to those rows that when divided by 2 have no remainder, i.e., even numbered rows.  This is especially useful in preventing the shading from go all haywire when the user deletes a row.

But what about conditional formatting on larges swaths of cells that hampers banding?

Easy enough. You can combine formulas to make the conditions still work with banding.

The formulas are as follows:




Quick tip: The banding with condition formula needs to be above the condition-only formula, with the standard banding formula at the bottom of the conditions list.

This gives you conditional shading that is continuous with the underlying banding across the full data set.

Agile Hierarchies

I had the chance to speak with Dr. José Roldán last week, at the Universidad de Sevilla. We discussed a paper he co-authored last year studying the impact of Cultural Values on Organizational Agility.

The paper considered four cultures and their agility:

  • Clan – Strong sense of community and collaboration (example: Tom’s of Maine)
  • Adhocracy – Innovative, creative and flexible (example: Facebook)
  • Market – Values productivity and results (example: Oracle)
  • Hierarchy – Command-and-control (example: military)

Looking at these, the first three would seem to be conducive to agility. The Clan culture has a focus on sharing knowledge across the organization would be an advantage in responding to change. Adhocracy’s leveraging innovation makes change critical to their success. A Market culture has an external focus that allows it to recognize change in its earliest stages.

The highly formalized and regulated structure within a Hierarchy culture should make the organization the least adaptable to changes.

Surprisingly, the research found that the Hierarchy culture actually had a positive effect on the organization’s agility. It may be that the stability offered by the culture is beneficial during times of crisis. The top-down approach allows the organization to respond faster than “management by committee”.

These reminds me of something I read about how special ops teams plan and execute. During the planning stage, the group is flat – each expert brings their talent to the forefront. Once the team begins to execute, the group has a single leader to avoid conflicting instructions at critical times.

Impact of Organizational Culture Values on Organizational Agility

Felipe, Carmen M., José L. Roldán, and Antonio L. Leal-Rodríguez. “Impact of Organizational Culture Values on Organizational Agility.” Sustainability 9.12 (2017): 2354.

To Do Just not Done Yet

Last year, Microsoft released To-Do which was derived from Wunderlist.  The promise was all to-do’s in one place, a focus on today’s activities and integration with Office 365.  I looked at it as a possible bridge for OneNote Windows 10 while that version of OneNote awaits tag search.  What I found was much to-do about nothing.


  • To-Do offers a quick snapshot of the Tasks residing in Outlook.
  • Since the Tasks actually exist in Outlook, additional functionality can be found in Outlook (e.g., sorting and filtering).
  • My Day does allow the user to focus on just what you have chosen for today.


  • No reporting on the past dates.  For example, if you want to review last week’s tasks for completing your time sheet, you can’t do that in To-Do (but you can do that in Outlook).
  • Although it can sort, the sorts available just are not that useful (but again, you can do it in Outlook).
  • To-Do task notes cannot include links, such as to your work notes, or a relevant web site (wait for it – Outlook!).

Essentially, if you use To-Do, you end up spreading activity management across three applications:

  • Focused activity list: To-Do
  • Notes on activities: OneNote
  • Review completed activities: Outlook

Right now, I can do all three in Outlook. But for other reasons, I prefer to keep everything in OneNote:

  • Focused activity list: OneNote
  • Notes on activities: OneNote
  • Review completed activities: OneNote

So, To-Do offered no functionality or features that were not already available in OneNote.  Using To-Do means opening another window and scattering information across multiple applications.  This seems to go against the rule of Keeping It Stupidly Simple.

OneNote Tips: Keep OneNote on OneDrive

Of course, what makes OneNote useful is being able to refer to your notes anywhere – from your office, from home, or even during a meeting at the client site.  To do this, you need to store your notebook on OneDrive.  Your OneDrive account can be tied to your personal account, or to your work account.  There are pluses and minuses for both options, so take a minute to figure out which works for you.  Personally, I use my work account, since that is what I sign into on my work machine.

To use OneDrive, right-click on the Notebooks listing towards the top left. From the drop down, choose properties. In the Notebook Properties window, you have the option of changing the location of the notebook.  If the notebook is not already there, use the Change Location button to navigate to your OneDrive.

Now you can access OneNote from your iPad or phone, as well as your main desktop machine.

OneNote Tips: Search People, Places and Things

In a previous tip, we said that we only use tags for verbs (actions).  So, how do we find all the notes related to a client? Or notes created while in Connecticut? And what about that trick we learned about moving pages around in SharePoint?

This is where the OneNote search function comes in handy.  As opposed to tagging these items, we take advantage of Search to find nouns. For example, if you use a code to identify projects, you can search for that project code.  The search results will show all notes in currently open notebooks that contain that code.

You can also enter someone’s name, which brings up all notes with that person’s name.  This leverages the Meeting Notes feature, which includes the invitees to meetings. Thus, any meeting attended by that person will show up in the search list.

Here is a mini-tip: If I fail to find a note after two searches, I make a list of the searches I used.  Once I find the note, I add the keywords from the failed searches to the note.  This makes it more likely that I will be able to quickly find the note next time I go looking for it.

OneNote Tips: Date Actions

Tagging the actions allows us to use the Find Tags feature to create a To Do list, aka Tags Summary.  OneNote sorts the list alphabetically, which is not the most useful arrangement. To make the list a bit more practical, we can place a date at the front of the action item.  For best results, we use the ISO date format (YYYY-MM-DD).  Now when we refresh the Tags Summary, OneNote sorts the actions based on the date.

In the demo, we go back to our meeting notes and apply dates to the actions.  For me, I use the date that I need to perform the action, not the due date (although these are often the same).  I also have my computer default date format set for YYYY-MM-DD, which allows me to use Shift+Alt+D to easily enter today’s date.

Once again, we refresh the Tags Summary to see all of the actions sorted by date. When planning my day, I simply work the list down through today’s date.  As I finish each task, I click the To Do tag checkbox to mark it completed.  Using the option Show only unchecked items in the Tag Summary removes the completed items, keeping my To Do list nice and clean.  Alternatively, if I do not finish an item, it remains on the list until completed.


OneNote Tips: Tag Actions

Tags let you quickly find items across all of your notes, sections and notebooks.  You can apply a tag to a word, a line of text or even a full paragraph. If you take a look at the default tags provided with OneNote, there is quite a variety – To Do, Idea, Project A, Project B, Music to Listen To.  Here again is one of the challenges in adopting Microsoft technology – it does so freaking much that it is overwhelming.

So, let’s go back to the first rule: Keep it Stupidly Simple.  With that in mind, our guide for tags will be to use them only for verbs. Thus To Do is a pretty good tag (but we’ll soon make it even better). However, Idea and Project A – not so much.  But you say, “Why not? Won’t more tags make it easier to find things?”  Hold that thought and for now just stick with verbs.

Doing this is pretty straight-forward.  Review a note and determine if there are any actions that need to be taken.  In the demo, our notes show that we need to bring in the RTR documents.  Placing the cursor next to this line item, we go up the ribbon and click To Do. Note that this places a check box next to the action item.  We can do this for each action item that came out of our meeting.

Just to the right of the To Do button in the ribbon, you will also see Find Tags. Clicking that button opens up a panel that lists tags across all of our notes.  This becomes a handy To Do list.

Which brings us to the reason “more tags” does not necessarily make things easier to find.  If you tag every project, every customer, every thought, every thing, two things happen.  First, you spend a lot of time on each note trying to identify everything that might benefit from a tag.  Second, the handy To Do list gets so long that it is no longer useful.

Never fear, though. We will soon cover how to find every thing.

OneNote Tips: Use Meeting Notes

Meeting Notes are a great way to capture your notes along with critical meeting information such as subject, time and attendees.

To take advantage of Meeting Notes, go to the Calendar view and locate the meeting.  After selecting the meeting, in the Calendar Tools > Appointment menu, click the OneNote icon to create Meeting Notes.  A dialog box opens asking if you want to take notes for everyone (if you are the organizer), or take notes on your own.  Click one of these options to continue.

At this point, OneNote opens up a new note.  The title of the note will match that of the meeting subject.  The new note also includes meeting details: meeting date, location, original message and participants.  Notice that there is a link to the original Outlook message.  So, if you are reviewing your notes and want to respond to the original invitation, simply click this link. Since the new meeting note also includes the participants, you can use the OneNote Search function to find past meeting notes with specific attendees.

Below the heading Notes you can enter personal notes from the meeting, either taken directly during the meeting or transcribed from your handwritten notes.  Be sure to include any key words that will help you find these notes in the future, such as project name and agenda items.