Saying I'm easily distracted is an understatement. My attention span falls somewhere between "gnat" and "five year old on Halloween night." But, most of the work I do requires me to do research, which can lead down a rabbit hole where I realize that three hours have passed and somehow I ended up researching not only something obscure, but that had nothing to do with my original research. I've tried disconnecting from the internet, but that was incredibly inconvenient if I was waiting on an email with instructions or something. I've tried site blocking sites, but 90% of the time, I'd have to do something small, waste 20 minutes trying to figure out how to white list what I needed, get frustrated, and end up turning it off.

Note: Office always felt so clunky running on my less-than-fancy laptop. But then the much lighter and speedier Microsoft 2013 came out on much speedier Windows 8, and there's a huge difference. If you've had a similar experience with clunkiness, I encourage you to try Office 2013.

Fixing the Research Problem with OneNote

Researching on the internet can turn into a black hole-however using OneNote I finally found a way to research, go through my research, and organize said research while limiting the distraction temptation.

Set a timer, search and click on links like a maniac squirrel with opposable thumbs, when the timer goes off, save everything to OneNote.

You can print any web page to OneNote, but personally, I don't like the way OneNote handles the printing to OneNote. However, I found a really easy way around this: Use the Readability "Read Now" bookmarklet, then the Bring to OneNote extension. As an added bonus, any article I use the Readability "Read Now" bookmarklet link on, gets automatically saved to my Readability archive as well.

This helped me in a few ways:

  • The idea of having to take the extra step and move things to OneNote helped me cut down on the amount of articles I end up reading which are completely irrelevant to my project, but still interesting information I was reading.
  • Unlike bookmarking, I could actually quickly and easily find what I was looking at again-OneNote is designed to be just like a Trapper Keeper with notebooks, pages, and sections. It's incredibly intuitive to use, and when you add intuitive to use with the search and tagging functions OneNote has, you can actually find your saved items again.
  • I could close my browser and read through my research with my browser window closed, make notes on the research, and even start a draft. Yes, I know "wow! I can do tasks in order!" sounds silly, but for the easily distracted, this is a HUGE help.
  • It's separate, but not TOO separate. If there's a link in one of the articles I was reading that I want to look into, the link is still there and I can still click on it-but it's not mandatory to keep my browser open. I can tag all of the links to check out further, wait til I processed what I have, make a decision on if I REALLY need to look at that link or not, and if I do, I can batch all of them together, check them out at once, and repeat the process.

Microsoft Office as a Middle Ground with Word/Excel + SkyDrive

I love the idea of being able to have my documents synced to cloud storage and be available any time, any place. But, once again, using Google Docs in my browser can become a problem.

Fortunately, Microsoft has done an awesome job of integrating SkyDrive into Windows-I can save documents to a SkyDrive folder, have them anywhere, yet still work outside of my browser. Problem: solved.


The Ability to Stop Tweaking and Start Working

There's just about ALWAYS one or two formatting things that I want to do in Google Docs that Docs just doesn't do. Always. This always resulted in 25 minutes trying to find a workaround, quite a bit of swearing, giving up and opening the doc in Word, realizing the formatting is even worse now because of the cross-compatibility, more swearing, than trying to fix it.

With Office, I always know I can do whatever it is I need to do, usually with less than 3 clicks total. Quite a time saver and stress reducer.

OneNote especially cut down the amount of tweaking needed. One of the main complaints about Evernote (one that has spawned 85 zillion different services and extensions to make this work) is that you can't connect Evernote directly to Gmail or Google Calendar. So frustrating.

But this functionality is built right into OneNote with Outlook. You can insert Outlook meeting notes directly into OneNote. You can archive emails from Outlook directly into OneNote. You can quickly flag notes as tasks directly in Outlook so you can see what emails to respond to, what tasks you have to do, and your calendar all in one go. (Very GTD-nextion action oriented.) You can even (and this was the one thing I could NEVER make work in Evernote) link an Outlook Contact directly to a OneNote page. So easy. So automatic. No tweaking required.


Reducing the Friction to Work

Maybe it's just me, but opening a blank Word document and getting going always feels so intimidating to me…leading to procrastination. And here's where OneNote comes in once again to save the day:

With OneNote, I can write out an outline, flush out any notes and ideas, and even write a preliminary draft without a problem. Then using the Microsoft OneNote-Word compatibility, I can save the former idea page that's now a preliminary draft as a Word doc, open it, and bam! No more empty page overwhelm-your preliminary draft is there and you can just take it from there.


Fixing the Quick Email Check with Outlook

While granted, I usually actually HANDLE email in Gmail, I've found that when it comes to "waiting on an important email," keeping an Outlook window minimized really helps. Opening my browser window to check email or leaving it open while waiting on that email is an invitation for disaster-I always, always, always, end up opening another tab, which reminds me of something else, so I open another tab and so on and so forth. With a minimized Outlook window I can be immediately notified on when I DO get the important email, but can keep my browser closed. And since I use Gmail for the actual email handling, I can quickly read the email in Outlook, mark it as unread or flag it, and then when I'm ready to actually deal with it, it will show up as unread or starred in Gmail.


A Warning

Microsoft Office is amazing, but it comes with a downside: you really have to spend about 15-20 minutes reading at least a quick overview of how Office works. The upside? Microsoft really DOES make everything as easy as possible once you spend that 15-20 minutes on it. Example: Microsoft Word's Styles.


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