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iOS Shortcuts and Email interfaces to OneNote

One of the tools in the MS Office suite we use at work that I find myself using more and more is OneNote. It is my “everything bucket.” 

Unfortunately, Microsoft’s OneNote can not be easily targeted by the powerful automation affordances that Apple provides (Apple Script, Keyboard Maestro, iOS shortcuts). Meaning, while OneNote runs on my Mac, iPhone and iPad, adding notes requires opening the application, finding the note I want to edit and adding the relevant information.

That little bit of friction—switching contexts/application from whatever I’m currently doing so I can open OneNote, find the right pages, etc.—stinks. It means breaking my concentration. Losing my flow.

A typical use case for me is that I’ll be working on a project and realize that I want to bring something up at my next developers meeting with my team or raise an issue during my manager meeting. I have different notebook sections for each of my recurring meetings as well as a “To Discuss” page in each one of those notebook sections. Being able to just quickly send these ideas/notes into the relevant page would be great. 

To its credit, OneNote does support emailing content into the application which is marginally useful but you have zero control over where that content goes within your OneNote notebook. So that’s not super helpful here.

Enter Microsoft’s Power Automate. Using Power Automate you can append/prepend content to a given page within Microsoft OneNote via email using a subject line filter:

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Power Automate seems very janky. It is a 1.0 release but it seems more beta. That said, this Flow —as it’s referred to in the Power Automate jargon —gets the job done. It can sometimes take a few minutes for the contents of the email to appear on the page. Note, also, that this only seems to work when using OneNote for business. Apparently there is also a non-business version. Leave it to Microsoft to create silly distinctions like that in their product line.

So but anyway, being able to email agenda topics to my relevant pages is very helpful. Still, it feels very un-Apple like. Enter iOS shortcuts and Siri.

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With this handy little shortcut on my iPhone, watch and iPad and I can just say “hey Siri, discuss with devs” and she’ll ask me what I want to discuss and then sh will send that text via email  to the right OneNote page.

I’ve got a few of these different Flows setup. “Discuss with devs” and a few “Discuss with” so and so’s where so and so is one of a handful of names of people with whom I meet regularly. 

I’ve been using these for about a week now (since upgrading to iOS 14 on my iPhone) and it’s been amazingly reliable.