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The Silver Bullet in my Productivity Toolbox

Work Smarter

It is my goal to help people live in less chaotic environments, boost productivity, and ultimately give people more time to focus on the things that really matter to them. OneNote and Evernote are two of many tools in my toolbox for increasing personal and professional productivity. Both are great, but I will tell you which of the two digital notebooks is my silver bullet. Before delving into my perspective, I want to begin by saying not everyone needs a digital notebook. It really depends upon a person’s situation and goals. The goal of this post is to clarify if you could benefit from using a digital notebook, and if so, helping you consider which one would be best suited for you by sharing my first-hand experience.

A Second Brain Plus Bonus Limbs

Evernote is often described as a second brain, which is why it uses an elephant as its logo. OneNote though is a second brain, and in my opinion, with bonus limbs to boot.

OneNote is that amazing. To maximize the advantages of both these programs, though, it may require the implementation of a system. Many people have integrated David Allen’s GTD system, into their OneNote and Evernote workflows with outstanding results. For further understanding of GTD, I provide an overview in last month’s post.


Also, when going through the learning curve of figuring out a new program, you may actually need training to discover and apply the bonuses I have experienced. I could share many stories of how OneNote helped me pull a rabbit out of a hat. I will circle back to training at the end of this post. But first, I want to explain why you might want to consider a digital notebook for yourself; then I will share my experience and opinions of why OneNote is my productivity silver bullet.

Assess Your Situation and Goals

For example, if my client’s goal is to turn a storage area into an office or to downsize from a house into an apartment, then I would not suggest a note-taking application. Productivity tools such as digital notebooks are suitable for clients who want greater control over their workload and time. But even then, I would further consider how the application would fit into their current workflow; their computer proficiency; their operating system, Mac versus PC; and their willingness to learn a new technology.

Reasons to Consider a Digital Notebook

If you are type A and you have a lot you want to accomplish; if you have a busy work life, many family responsibilities, and you can’t seem to find time for yourself; if you want to impress your boss by exceeding expectations and get promoted. If any of these reasons resonate with you, then a digital notebook may be your solution.

But what is the difference between OneNote and Evernote? Which do you choose? I prefer OneNote, but you may find Evernote more suitable. Read further to find out the reasons why OneNote works best for me.

My OneNote and Evernote Journey

I have used OneNote since 2007, and it allowed me the capacity to juggle a full-time job and a family while I attended university full time. OneNote enabled me to effectively work in what Stephen Covey describes as the 2nd Quadrant of productivity, where the big juicy goals get accomplished.

Stephen Covey Preparation

In 2016, I decided to dive deep with Evernote to see if it could hold a candle to my passion for OneNote. But it never did. As much as I tried it was like putting a right shoe on a left foot.

It is not my intention to turn anyone off of Evernote. For some of my clients Evernote could be the perfect solution for them. My Evernote versus OneNote experiment, provided me with great insight, and I am able to use that knowledge to assess what program would best suite my client’s abilities, preferences, needs, and workload. So, the productivity solution I recommend for you, may be different from what I use.

RV or Tent? – Choose

I love using analogies to explain my perspective, so I compare a person’s style of note-taking to their preference for tenting or RVing.

Tent vs RV

One’s preference for traditional paper/pen over digital note-taking is similar to those who prefer tenting instead of RVing, in my opinion. Some people prefer to rough it. They are even okay with tenting in the rain. But there are those, who want the ease and comfort of an RV. Many people may graduate from a tent to an RV, because their family grows and a tent is just not sufficient for the types of camping they want to do. Similarly, many people find pen and paper no longer sufficient and need digital notebooks because they have too many balls in the air.

But how do you know which notebook is best for you? Keeping with the camping analogy, do you prefer a 5th wheel or a camper?

5th Wheel or Truck and Camper? – Choose

In my experience I see OneNote like a 5th wheel and Evernote similar to a truck and camper towing a boat. If you want to go fishing in the back country, which would you choose? Evernote.

Camper versus 5th Wheel

If you want the comforts of a recliner, and other bells and whistles, then OneNote is the choice. Maybe that is why I don’t love Evernote in the way I do OneNote – I don’t like fishing! I prefer “glamping.”


Which makes my point – many people do love to fish, so Evernote would be a perfect fit for them. Seeing how passionate others were over Evernote. I decided to put OneNote aside for a year to see if I could discover why. Though, I knew I would only experience productivity nirvana if I upgraded to the Premium subscription of Evernote.

My Stab at Evernote

When I upgraded to the premium version of Evernote, I studied Stacy Harmon’s Evernote system. and read the Secret Weapon Manifesto which provides a GTD structure for Evernote notebooks. I also listened to podcasts and took adhoc courses. But, despite my effort I found designing, implementing, and sustaining the my Evernote system tedious compared to OneNote. Stacy’s helpful videos with the goal to help me “learn to love Evernote” didn’t. But my Evernote experience only helped me clarify why I prefer OneNote. Here are a few of my reasons:

Evernote Required Constant Workarounds to Organize My Notes

Stacy Harmon suggests in her example below, how we could number our notes to help force a sequence.

Stacey Harmon Evernote


But OneNote allows me to easily order my notes by dragging them where I want them to go without numbering. The time spent numbering Evernote-notes distracted me from the work I wanted to be focusing my attention on.

Evernote Limited where my Notes could be Placed on my Page

But OneNote allows me to add text boxes or multiple graphics anywhere that makes sense to me. I can drag or resize these objects without hassle. This functionality has benefited me in brainstorming or clarifying my research. See how I clipped images and applied side notes onto one page. It took me less than 30 seconds!

OneNote Productivity

Evernote makes it difficult if I want to take screenshots from disparate parts of the internet and lay them out on the canvass similar to my example above, I would struggle. Instead, the images would have to each be saved, then uploaded one at a time. The photos would appear humongous (literally 100x larger than I want) and are not easily re-sizeable. To manipulate the sizing and number of photos, I had to use a workaround using Evernote’s table feature, as shown below:

Evernote functionality

Evernote had Cumbersome Annotation Functionality

But OneNote allows me to annotate alongside multiple objects with ease, as my example below shows:

OneNote Annotation Example

See how OneNote puts the note beside the image.

A real-life example of how annotation beside an image was handy for me was when I was getting furniture custom made. I had a number of screenshots I collected from the web to show furniture ideas to the builder, with my notes beside each images.

Evernote allows me to annotate objects, but it opens me into a new screen. Then the notes are placed on the top of the object rather than beside it. And you need to work within a table to annotate outside of an image.

Evernote Annotation

See how Evernote puts the note on top of the image (in red).

Evernote Does Not Convert my notes to PDF with Ease

But OneNote lets me combine multiple pages of notes into one PDF, without any fuss. Evernote does not convert notes in that manner unless I merge multiple notes together. Also a multiple PDF document saved in Evernote does not easily export and save to your local or cloud drives. The work around I have had to use is emailing it to myself first!

Evernote can Email Notes, but Not Like OneNote

I like that I can quickly email a colleague a page of my notes with all my markups, and I can add an addition message from my own email client. I like having a record of all the emails I send. For adhoc sharing, this is perfect.

OneNote Email Page

Evernote is not ideal for Task Management

But OneNote allows me to create a list and convert that quickly to Outlook Tasks. The tasks are conveniently connected to the additional information held in OneNote. For example if you are planning a trip, all the to-do details, such as research, are in OneNote, but each task, such as “book airline ticket,” “book hotel,” etc., are parsed out and managed in Outlook Tasks. Deadlines can be given for actions and “waiting for” items.The Microsoft programs all work together like a well-oiled machine.

Evernote Lacked Hierarchy

But OneNote allows me to outline levels and list hierarchies with ease with the page tabs. Being able to create a hierarchy of your ideas is not only important for organizing information but for conceptualizing it. Hierarchies are important for communicating concepts to other people.

OneNote page hierarchy

See how the page tabs indent to show hierarchy of ideas?

Evernote did allow me to create bulleted lists, but outside the page, it only has two levels of hierarchy. This limit impeded the organization of my thoughts.

Evernote Felt like a Noisy Email Account

OneNote has a much cleaner minimalistic look. You can tuck away the ribbon and side panel with the notebooks making it less cluttered. Evernote is noisy with numerous adhoc tags and numbering to force sequencing. See , how it can become an email account on steroids:

Evernote Cluttered


What Do I like About Evernote?

Now that I have turned back to OneNote as my preferred digital app, I am only using Evernote as a digital filing cabinet for my non-actionable files. These are my arm’s-length reference materials such as: recipes, vital documents, and web clippings of interest.

Evernote save recipes

Recipes find on the web

Sending information to Evernote from the web is similar to how I previously saved items to the favourites tab in my browser. Saving to Evernote is more ideal because information is searchable and will be there even if the website no longer exists in the future.

OneNote is for Mac Users, Too

Many people with Macs have found that Evernote is more ideal because OneNote is a Microsoft product, and the functionality for Macs was limited. However, OneNote for Macs has come a long way. I agree, it is not as robust as it is for Windows PC users, but it is still something to consider if you want a digital notebook to help you manage your workflow in a sleek manner.

Take OneNote on the Road

If you want to access your OneNote from multiple accounts, than the 5 Gb you get with a free OneDrive account may not be sufficient. I say that, because you will likely start depending on it for everything, and then you will get a warning that you have used up your 5 Gb of storage. I feel upgrading to the 50 Gb for $3 C per month is very reasonable.

Onedrive plans Nov 2017

Just think of the convenience and peace of mind that your notes are safe in the cloud. Worth every penny. You can get a quote based on your region here.

Call me to help You Learn OneNote

There are a lot of resources on the internet to learn OneNote, but one-on-one training is the most beneficial. I can assess your workflow and show you the features of the program that might take you years to discover and apply. Thus, from me you will learn OneNote smarter and skillfully, and as described earlier, you will get the bonus limbs.

Part of the effectiveness will be learning how to integrate it seamlessly with other Microsoft applications such as Outlook, Word, Excel, Onedrive, SharePoint and PowerPoint, and apply best practices of GTD.You will learn the GTD framework to establish a structure for your workflow. Your productivity will be increased because you will have one capture zone.

Productivity Specialist

My unique problem-solving ability and teaching skills will help you establish a seamless digital system that will give you more control over your family and business affairs. Check out my package rates and contact me to get started with one-to-one training to learn OneNote.

1 Comment

  1. Meghan says:

    What a very informative article Melody! A great comparison of the two products. I appreciate the depth of information offered here!

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