Skip to content

5 Keys to Using OneNote for Project Management

4 minute read

OneNote Yellow

Instead of investing in costly project management software, how about using a free program like Microsoft OneNote?

OneNote digital notebooks are available on all your devices and can be used for a variety of projects. Whether you are planning a wedding, heading up an office presentation, or writing a thesis paper, OneNote bends to your needs. This post focuses on tips for the office, but personal and school projects can be managed with OneNote using many of these same key principles.

Key Principle #1 – Get Your Team Proficient at OneNote

Project management does not happen in a vacuum. Collaboration is key, and your team should be comfortable with the tools being used to reach the collective goals. Therefore, getting the team proficient with OneNote is key.

Fortunately, expensive training is not needed. If your office already uses Microsoft Office, your team will quickly adapt to the software with a few resources to help point them in the right direction. To help get the team up to speed and even brush up on your own skills, see the helpful articles Microsoft has published here. Want more interactive guides? Check out these guides from Microsoft—they were made for educators but will be helpful for anyone. We at BetterCloud have also put together these 10 Tips and Tricks that Will Make You a OneNote Ninja to help. A few minutes spent up front to get everyone comfortable with the software will allow better collaboration when deadlines are looming.

Key Principle #2 – Customize the Look and Feel of OneNote

Opening an ugly program is like walking into a dirty office; it stifles creativity and halts productivity. With OneNote, you can customize many visual aspects so the program looks aesthetically pleasing and to your liking.

The easiest form of customizations can be found on the View tab. Here is where you can change from the default view to full page view, or dock the page to the side of your screen to take linked notes while doing internet research.

For even more fancy customizations, navigate to the backstage view by clicking on File, then Options. One of the more popular customizations can be found within this Option area by clicking on Display, then clicking to uncheck the item “Show note containers on page.” Unchecking this option will hide the note containers on your pages, even if you click on the page. The note containers are still there behind the scenes, but hidden from display.

See the photo for the backstage view.

OneNote screenshot


We have also created a post showing you exactly how to Change the Default Font Type and Size in OneNote. I cover six easy ways to customize your notebooks in my post here: 6 Easy Ways to Customize Your OneNote Notebooks.

Depending on the project you are managing, simple customizations like changing the page color or adding rules could be a game changer. Don’t forget that you can right-click on any section and change the tab color, which is super helpful for organization.

Key Principle #3 – Use Custom Page Templates

It’s likely that there are going to be repeated items throughout the lifecycle of managing your project. Recurring meetings, interviews with clients, brainstorming sessions, list making, and task processes could be just a few. I cover page templates in detail in this post, Page Templates in OneNote 2016, but the long story short is that you need to be using page templates for your project management. You can customize any of the pre-existing templates or start from scratch on one of your own.

To quickly get started, click on Insert and Page Templates. You will dramatically reduce time spent duplicating information. Take a look at this video to help you out.


Key Principle #4 – Have an Organization Strategy

With notebooks, sections, pages, and even additional sub-categories, organizing options for your project management notebook are virtually limitless. But with this freedom comes responsibility. Determining an organization strategy is key to staying on top of all the tasks and deadlines. I’ll break out three focuses you could have in your organization strategy (feel free to use a combination of more than one).

Linked Table of Contents

Before you go adding a bunch of pages, create a page at the top of each section that is a clickable table of contents. Better yet, create one page that links to all pages, regardless of what section. To link text to another page within the notebook, use the Insert tab and click on Link. Select the section and page you want to link to. See this quick tip on creating a linked list/table of contents.

We also discuss three ways to link in our post, 3 Ways to Link in OneNote. A quick video on links should be helpful for this or similar linking.


We have previously discussed how to use tags in our post, How to Create and Manage Tags in OneNote, but it’s worth reminding you about them now. Using tags when organizing your project management notebook will help the important tasks and information be available whenever you need it.


Using the search feature in OneNote is the safety net to find what you need. When all else fails, use that search bar to find what you need.

Key Principle #5 – Clean Up and Close Notebook

Wahoo! You are done with your project. Now it’s time to clean up your notebook and delete any empty pages or sections. Now would also be a good time to combine pages if it suits you. When a quick clean-up is done within the notebook, feel comfortable to close it. Closing a notebook will help keep your notebook list uncluttered and focused on your current projects.

With these five keys, you are well prepared to manage your next project with OneNote.

Sign up for our newsletter