Just over a week ago, I received a call from my wireless carrier. I had walked into their store a few days earlier and inquired about available discounts. The sales rep helped me to get setup with the correct discount through my employer, and I was on my way. Now, a customer service was calling me to request proof of eligibility. He needed something official, such as a pay stub, to prove I was actually entitled to the discount. Living on the bleeding edge means one doesn’t have much paper lying around, so I told him I’d pull up an electronic copy of a recent stub the next morning at work and send it to him. He gave me a fax number (seriously), which I promptly popped into a note in OneNote on my phone with a reminder to take care of it.
Microsoft has repeatedly billed OneNote as one place for all the notes in your life, from grocery lists to reminders, across all your devices. In fact, if you’re a Windows phone user, then you can even voice dictate a note by saying “Note” or “Take a Note” followed by your note. Bing/Cortana will dutifully capture your dictation into a new note in OneNote, complete with an embedded clip of the voice recording.
That’s all fine and good, but fast forward one week, I opened my notebook to look up something completely unrelated, and stumbled across (you guessed it) my “reminder,” much to my chagrin. I took care of faxing the paperwork, muttering curse words all the way, and deleted the note.
OneNote is an awesome note-taking solution, but as a reminder tool, it sucks. A note isn’t the same thing as a task, and I’m angry with myself for conflating the two, but OneNote makes it stupidly easy to do. That missing component in OneNote is an actual, y’know, reminder, one that surfaces some kind of notification at the right time, and preferably one that keeps nagging you until you take action. The desktop version of OneNote handles this pretty neatly with an integration that flags tasks in OneNote but actually lets Outlook manage the tasks. That way, they show up on Outlook’s unified task list, and Outlook handles the reminders.
The problem with extending something similar to its mobile platform is that, at present, Microsoft doesn’t have just one central, consumer-facing framework for task notifications. Instead, it has three. Microsoft’s consumer Calendar provides marginal support for tasks, but it’s kind of an afterthought feature that puts tasks in a specialized view; they’re not particularly easy to find or set on the phone, and there’s no way to trigger them with voice. OneNote seemed to be Microsoft’s strategy in Windows Phone 8; it’s slick but woefully insufficient in this regard. More recently with Windows Phone 8.1, Cortana seems to be the preferred way to set reminders using the phone; however, she’s currently relegated to a private notebook, and her reminders don’t translate back to your calendar or PC at all. The end result is a rather disjointed mess, where work tasks are generally tracked in Outlook on your PC and buried in the Calendar app’s task view on your phone, while personal tasks may be siloed in Cortana’s notebook, the Calendar’s task view, and/or in OneNote.
No wonder I can’t ever seem to get things done.