Leveraging OneNote: Mastering Outlines and Lists

Leveraging OneNote

Lists have been around on computers in different forms for decades now. Nearly every text editor has the option to make bulleted or numbered lists. OneNote also has this capability, but in OneNote 2016 the lists and outlining options have a few bonus features. These extra tools take lists from rows of text to flexible elements.

Make Lists

You can get started with a list from the Ribbon or by using the keyboard shortcuts. To start a new bulleted list, press CTRL + . and press CTRL + / to start a new numbered list. The Ribbon offers a diverse range of different options such as arrows, letters, symbols, or even custom list options. Keep in mind these custom lists may not be supported on every OneNote app.

You have your list picked out. Add a few list items using your standard keys for new line (enter) and indent a line (tab). You may notice that if you press tab after you add some text to a line OneNote will make a table in the list and not indent the line. To reduce the indent of a line, use shift + tab or backspace twice.

The OneNote Shine

So far nothing has been new or unique to OneNote. Where OneNote really begins to shine is when manipulating a list. Hover your mouse cursor near the bullets and you will see a diamond shape appear, which acts as a drag handle. Grab that icon and you can reorder lists and all the sub-items of that list item. List items can be dragged up, down, left, and right to arrange your list items how ever you like.
Select and move lists
Select and move lists

That drag handle can also be used to collapse the list item and its sub-items. Double-clicking the icon collapses the list item into a single line and adds a “+” icon before the bullet or number to signify hidden content. When adding meeting details to OneNote, the same “+” icon is used to show when details are hidden.

These two options, drag arranging and collapsing, are not revolutionary. However, people who work a lot in lists will make these daily tools, which shave time off everyday tasks. Since rearranging the items in a list is so easy, working with big outlines or lots of smaller lists is quick and easy. Arranging all the items exactly how you want is so easy that you may begin using lists for more and more things.

New use cases for lists could be: team task tracker, project timelines, brainstorming sessions, daily to-do tracker, and so much more. I find myself using OneNote just to take advantage of how robust the lists are. I can use other apps for simple lists, but arranging items and sub-items is never as easy as OneNote makes it.

Collapse with double click
Collapse with a double click

The Downsides

Unfortunately, all the awesome features of OneNote’s lists exist only within the Windows and Mac desktop applications. The drag handle that appears for arranging and collapsing does not exist in any other OneNote app. Collapse support does not exist and any collapsed list will become expanded when viewed on any app other than the Windows or Mac desktop apps.

Sadly the UWP version of OneNote, with its balance of touch and mouse support, does not show the drag handle and does not support collapsing lists. While this is a non-issue for most people, OneNote power users will be disappointed with the lack of feature continuity between the two Windows versions Microsoft offers.