Going Paperless: 5 Tips for Using Evernote for Life’s Little Emergencies

Evernote can be a valuable tool for going paperless. Once paperless, I’ve noticed I have more flexibility when it comes to dealing with life’s little emergencies. What follows are some tips I’ve found to be particularly helpful in those panicky situations.

Tip #1: A checklist for recovering data

Back in January, I did a dumb thing which resulting in crashing my iMac hard disk, to the point where the disk had to be completely wiped, the OS reinstalled, and my data restored from backup. As bad as it sounds, I considered it a successful failure because I was prepared for it: all of my computers are backed up to the cloud automatically1. And I have a checklist for just such an emergency which is kept in Evernote.

Evernote, of course, was not accessible on my iMac when the drive crashed, but it was available on my iPhone, iPad and Google Chromebook. I was able to pull up my data-recovery checklist and work through it. While it might seem obvious what to do in a disaster recovery, I learned in my flying days that having a checklist is particularly helpful in panic-prone situations. It gives you a clear and simple, step-by-step process to follow to get to where you are going. Everyone’s checklist will look somewhat different. My checklist consists mostly of two parts:

  1. Step-by-step instructions from restoring data from my cloud backup service.
  2. A list of applications that need to be reinstalled, in the order of importance to my daily use.

I ran through my checklist back in January, and despite that initial panicked feeling I got when I realized the drive needed to be wiped, my system and all of the data was fully recovered and operational two hours after I accidentally pulled the plug–and that includes the time it took to download all of my data from the cloud.

Tip #2: Keep software license and activation codes in Evernote for easy access

I sometimes find that I need to reinstall some piece of software and have to reactivate it when the installation is complete. It is almost inevitable that I am in a hurry in these cases, and I used to be slowed down by the fact that I had to go searching for license codes or activation codes for enabling the software.

So I started keeping these codes in Evernote. I typically get them into Evernote in one of two ways:

  1. Using the Evernote Web Clipper to clip the screen that displays the license or activation code when the purchase of the software is complete.
  2. Forwarding the confirmation email containing the registration information to Evernote.

Once the note is in Evernote, I usually toss it into my Filing Cabinet notebook, and tag it with “licenses” to make it a little easier to find.

Finally, I have a Saved Search that looks for all notes tagged with “licenses.”

License Search

When I need to reinstall software–or if I need to contact their technical support–I’ll run my saved search and pull up the appropriate note so that I have it readily available should I need it.

Tip #3: Use a Timeline notebook to capture medical timeline information

I have 2 little kids, 4 and 2 years old. It seems that little kids are experts at picking up their friends illnesses, and hurting themselves. What I’ve found is that when taking the kids to the doctor for unplanned visits, there is a fairly common set of questions that I am asked. It helps to have this information at your fingertips, so I started using my Timeline Notebook to capture some of this information.

For those not familiar with this column, see my post on how I use Evernote to remember everything for more detail on my “timeline” concept. The gist of it is that since every note gets a date stamp, you can think of all of your notes as on a kind of continuous timeline. My timeline notebook is used to capture things that really don’t fit anywhere else. For instance, if I look at my timeline for one year ago today (June 5), I find:

[The Little Miss] said [The Little Man’s] name twice this evening, deliberately, both times.

So when the Little Miss is older, and is curious about when she started talking, I can tell her the exact date when she said her big brother’s name intentionally for the first time.

I use the timeline for other things. For instance, if the doctor prescribes the Little Man an antibiotic, I’ll put this in the timeline on the day he started taking it:

[Little Man] started taking amoxicillin for ear infection. Takes it twice a day for 10 days.

I might also include a photo of the bottle, the prescription, or both.

If I have to take the Little Man to the doctor while he is still on the medication, the doctor or nurse will ask, “Is he on any medications right now?” I can pull up my timeline and see when he started his medication, as well as when he finished it, what it was, and if I have the prescription scanned in, the dosage.

I’ll also note things like when the kids aren’t feeling well, even if they don’t visit the doctor, so that if they end up going, it is easy to tell the doctor how long they’ve been feeling that way.

Tip #4: Using Evernote to diagnose a potential problem

A few weeks ago, the “low pressure” light came on in our car. I checked the air pressure and found the pressure to be pretty low in the left-rear tire. I went to the local gas station, filled up the tire and the “low pressure” light went off.

Last weekend, I noticed it was on again. I thought it might have been a different tire, but when I checked yesterday morning, I found it was the same one. Fortunately, I recorded in my Timeline notebook, the first incident, just a quick note that read:

Left-rear tire down to 20psi. Filled to 40psi.

The note had the date and I could see how much time had passed between fillings. It helped me identify the fact that the tire probably has a slow leak, and needs to be patched or replaced before we go on a road trip at the end of the month.

I do this for other things, too, not necessarily related to emergencies. When I replaced the batteries in my wireless keyboard, I jotted a note in my timeline notebook. When I replaced them again, months later, I knew not only how long it was between replacements, but because I have a keystroke logger, how many keystrokes it took to drain the battery.

Tip #5: Keep information about your home in Evernote

I’ve written about this one on a couple of occasions. I have photographs of all parts of my house, inside and out, which I keep in a “digital house” notebook. I have annotated these photos (see example below) with additional information.

Digital House


My goal is that I should be able to deal with and answer any conceivable question far from home, so long as I have access to Evernote. Examples of possible questions I can answer in this manner:

  • What is the model number of your microwave oven?
  • What is the capacity of your water heater?
  • How wide is the upstairs hallway?
  • How tall are the bookshelves in my office?
  • Which of the circuit-breaker switches turns off power to the kitchen?
  • When was the drywall patched in the downstairs closet?
  • What is the VIN of the Kia?

Each of these tips comes from personal experience, and from my desire to lessen the frustration and panic when these little emergencies arise. It is amazing how having access to this kind of information can do that, and Evernote has never failed me in this respect.

If you have a suggestion for a future Going Paperless post, let know me. Send it to me at feedback [at] jamietoddrubin.com. As always, this post and all of my Going Paperless posts is also available on Pinterest.

  1. Back in January, I was still using iDrive for my cloud backups. In May I switched to CrashPlan.


  1. just to add to JTR’s list of “potential questions,” one that I ask myself on a fairly regular basis — and of course never when I’m actually at home where I could look — is “what size filters does the HVAC system take?” Evernote’s saved me a phone call or trip home many times over the past years for this one question alone.

  2. I also am trying to go paperless, and there are three things that might be worth adding to the points you made:

    1. On the information about your home: I not only keep the model numbers of devices, but actually store the pdf files of the manuals. Most manufacturers allow you to download manuals, and I usually do that right away after purchase.

    2. On the checklist for recovering data: I actually have a checklist of services where I need to change my password or disconnect mobile apps from in case either my laptop, phone or tablet are stolen.

    3. On keeping serial numbers: I do the same. But for increased security I actually encrypt those notes.

  3. Jamie,

    When I started using Evernote a few months ago I did not think it held so many possibilities.

    Thanks to your many posts about “Going Paperless”, I am using Evernote more thoroughly now. What I noticed is that the most important is not the software, but the way you use it.
    For instance I never thought of storing the digital form of manuals, or licence numbers, in Evernote. Same thing about taking a picture of labels, model numbers, etc.
    Now it’s a second nature with me and thanks to Evernote’s Premium OCR feature in PDFs, finding what you need is a breeze !

    Same thing about scanning and storing old papers that you keep somewhere but don’t know when and if you are going to use them again – it’s easier to dispose of the paper, but not only : all the reference PDF or Office files I keep on my hard drive are now organized and tagged.

    I have also started creating notebooks for the projects I have to manage, and it’s very useful to gather data et follow checklists.

    I can only hope Evernote will keep on going and will get better, and stay independent (one thing I look forward to is having Penultimate available on Android platforms)

    Once again, thanks for so many useful tips and posts. It has given me a whole new way of dealing with what used to be too much information !

    Regards from France 🙂

  4. Hello,

    A great post. I had some software license information stored in a product I used to you – Yojimbo. So how can I easily get it into Evernote? Well…

    Yojimbo allows export to a text file, so each software license record was exported as a separate text file. So far so good. But I want the contents of the text file as the body of the note in Evernote, rather than as an attachment.

    I didn’t realise that Evernote comes with AppleScript support! So I was able to write an AppleScript that did the following
    1 – Open selected text file, read in file name and contents of file
    2 – Create a new note in Evernote. The title was the file name (minus the .txt extension). The body was the contents of the text file.
    3 – Assign it a tag.

    Easy 🙂

    It’s probably ‘fairly’ easy on Windows too 😉



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