Surprising use for OneNote

I am spending some time planning out a video to pull together my advice on how to use OneNote for effective meetings based on the fundamentals explained in the Manager Tools podcast.

In the process I have re-listend to most of the meeting related podcast episodes to get a good handle on what the nuances of their advice are, and which pieces of advice came from which episode. I was thinking of just cribbing notes as I played the audio and then leave it at that, but the nitpicker in the back of my brain wanted a better solution.

I love OneNote.
I love how it supports audio recordings.
(And I love it on a Surface Pro even more)

I was thinking I might be able to use the “audio recording” feature to record the podcast as I played it so that my typed notes would be an index into the relevant portions of the audio. If you don’t know what I am talking about here, bear with me, it will all be clear by the end of this post.

Sadly, this approach didn’t end up recording the system sound, so I only had my typing noises from the mic synchronised with the notes. Not much use.

I was almost ready to give up, but then I conceived a different approach that worked out quite nicely.

If you ever had audio/visual study materials that you want to annotate and be able to selectively review, you’re going to love this. And remember, OneNote is freely downloadable so you have no excuses:

Start with a new notebook, and ideally do not store it in the cloud (pick a “Computer” storage location, not a “OneDrive” one). Two reasons: you do not want to use your bandwidth to sync large media files into the cloud, and it doesn’t allow for files larger than 100MB to be annotated in the cloud.

Step one: Insert a media file into the page
Insert a File from the "Insert" ribbon
OneNote has limited support for file formats, so make sure your media is in a plain format – mp3 and avi work great.

Step two: Pick the Attach option for the file
Attach - I have no idea what Printout would look like
Note that this will embed a copy of the file into your notebook; this is unavoidable, but well worth it for what you gain.

Step three: Select the media and play it
Select the Media and Play it back
By selecting a media file in the page you can access the playback options; start the audio.

Step four: Take notes as you listen as liberally as you need to
Take notes as you listen
As the file is playing OneNote will time-code your writing to the playback position. It is recommended to start new lines for notes when possible to get a finer granularity index.

Once you are done listening to the file and have made all the notes you care for, hover over the lines of your notes. You might notice a little playback icon in the gutter (see last screenshot).

Whenever you press this button, it will start playback of the annotated file at about 10 seconds before you started typing the line. If a note upon review does not make any sense to you anymore, this will give you a very quick jump-point back into the audio at the time you decided to write the note. You can get back to the context in which your note originally made sense to you as the click of a button.

And it even works when you place multiple audio files in the same page. Written notes are attached not only to a timecode, but to the specific file instance that was playing at the time, no matter where it is on the page.

And when you play back the file, it will highlight the lines of your notes at the correct times they were written, so you can see a full-media replay of your note-taking.

And… this also works for video files (avi); playback will pop up a separate video window, but other than that the notetaking and time-coding works exactly the same as for audio.

All you students out there of all ages… you are welcome.