Going Paperless: More Tips for Using Evernote as a Timeline (Plus Reminders!)

In my efforts to use Evernote to help me remember everything I have discussed in earlier posts how I think of Evernote as a timeline. I get questions on this subject from time-to-time and I thought I’d spend today’s column discussing this in more detail, and providing some additional examples of how I use Evernote in this capacity.

All notes have create dates

Whenever you create a note in Evernote, the note automatically gets a create date. The default is the date and time at which the note was created. More often than not, I find that the default create date is fine, but it is important to know that…

The create dates can be changed

Why would you want to change a create date?

Timeline 1

I tend to change create dates when I want to ensure the document in question is searchable by date. Most of these notes come from documents that I scan in. If I received a statement in the mail, the statement is often dated several days before the day I actually receive it. Then, too, I don’t always scan things in on the day they arrive.

When scanning in these types of documents, I will alter the create date to match the date on the document. For instance, if I scan a statement today, June 18, but the date on the statement is June 6, I will change the create date of the note to June 6. The reason for this is twofold:

  1. It allows me to use the “created:20130606” and “-created:20130606” type of search notation which makes searches much more accurate because Evernote is doing a real date search, as opposed to search for text in the title.
  2. It allows me to find documents quicker when someone references them by date. For instance, if I am on the phone with the business that sent me the statement and they ask me to refer to the statement of June 6, I have multiple, simple ways of finding the document. I can look at my “timeline” for June 6 and find the document. Or I can do a search for notes created on June 6 and add additional tag and notebook filters as appropriate.

I’ve found that by making the create date of a note match the date on the document itself, I can find just about any note I’m looking for in 2 or 3 seconds.

I do this for bills and statements I scan in. I do it for insurance policies. I also do it for old letters and other correspondence that I have scanned in,

All notes combine to create a timeline of events

If you looked at the create date of all of your notes in Evernote, you would see a timeline of events. Even seemingly unrelated events can prove useful when searching your timeline. When did I make that phone call? I know it was after my son’s birthday party, so let me find the note for his party and then start looking at notes after that. Graphically, the timeline of all notes might look something like this:

Timeline of Notes

Each dot is a note with a line representing where it falls on the overall timeline. The different colors might represent different notebooks, or different tags, or a combination thereof. Within Evernote, I find it most useful to look at timelines using the List view:

Evernote Timeline

In the view above, I am looking at all of my notes and have sorted them by Created date, from present to past. You can see from the titles that there is a big mix of things, but that the timeline notion itself forms a pretty complete picture of my life and goings-on.

Filtering your notes also filters your timeline

As I said above, all notes form a timeline. When you filter notes, you are also filtering your timeline. Using the illustration I did above, a filtered timeline might look something like this:

Filtered Timeline

The blue dots and lines might represent bills, or things your kids did while growing up, or oil changes, or whatever you choose. When I look at my filtered timeline in Evernote using the list view, say, when I filter on where I’ve been (my foursquare check-ins), I see something like this:

Filtered List View

Other things I capture in my Evernote timeline

I’ve written before about how I use the notion of a timeline to capture things like when my little girl said her first word, when my boy’s first teeth came in, and other life events. I capture these things in a “Timeline” notebook because they don’t really fit in other places in my structure and this gives these arbitrary notes a useful home. That said, all of my notes, regardless of what notebook they are in or how they are tagged form a complete outline. I can see that my little girl said her name for the first time about a year ago, but I can also see where I had dinner on that same day, or what story I was working on that same evening.

I’ve started to use Evernote to capture other things on my timeline. Here are a list of just a few of these things:

  1. Maintenance. I try to capture various maintenance that I do that isn’t captured in some other form. For example, when I take my car in for service, that gets captured when I scan in the receipt (I change the create date of that note to match the date of the service). Now, if I put air in the tires, I’ll create a quick note saying, “Put air in left rear tire. Was 35 PSI, now 42 PSI.” This is useful because if the “low pressure” light comes on in the car, I can easily see when I last put air in the tires.
  2. Diagnostics. I get curious about how long it takes before I have to change batteries. So whenever I change the batteries in my wireless keyboard, I make a note. Then, when I have to change them again, I can see it was 5 months between battery changes. Even better, because I have a key logger that runs on my systems1 I can actually see how many keystrokes it took to wear down the batteries. I also do this when I change the batteries in other devices like the thermostat, or a smoke detector.
  3. Weather. I use an IFTTT recipe to capture the day’s highs and lows in Evernote for each day. These go on my timeline. It is interesting to look back at a given day’s worth of notes and easily see what the weather was like on that day.

How I use the new reminder feature to help with my maintenance and diagnostics.

By capturing data on my timeline like how long the batteries on my keyboard last, or how long between filling air my tires, I get a pretty good idea of when I will need to replace the batteries or fill the tires in the future.

Now that Evernote has introduced a reminder feature, I have started to use it to set proactive reminders of these types of tasks, based on the data I have already collected. For example, since it takes about 5 months to use the batteries in my keyboard, and since I just replaced them recently, I  added a reminder to that replacement note for 5 months in the future. Five months from now, Evernote will remind me to change the batteries in my keyboard.

It will remind me to change the batteries in the thermostats.

It will remind me to check the tire pressure in the tires.

These are little things, true, but this is also just the beginning, as my timeline continues to grow.

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. These does not keep track of what I type, it just counts my keystrokes.


  1. I am setting up a similar system based on your posts and I am grappling with whether to have one note per day that is appended with the time of each entry or have separate notes. I am assuming you use different notes, do you put the day, time date in the title at all for easy reading?

    1. Matt, I think of notes a discrete units. One note per piece of information as opposed to one note per day. I generally do not put the date/time in the title because I see it as a redundant extra step. I can switch to the List View and see both the create date and the title and that is good enough for me.

      1. I do a lot of logging too (a lot of Foursquare and tweet and photo titles coming in by Ifttt) and I’ve thought about making each discreet piece of information its own note. But I’m worried that doing so would clutter the views. I know Evernote provides us with lots of sorting and searching options, but it feels like a more natural mental process for me to scan through a period of time.

        My compromise is to keep monthly log files. Current information goes into a note conveniently named “Log.” At the 1st of every month, I cut and paste the previous month’s entries into their own note, e.g., “2013-05 Log.” I can still do universal searches on terms, as Evernote makes it easy to find terms deep inside a file. Evernote is flexible enough that there are usually a few ways to tackle projects and categorize notes.

  2. I wish that the ability to change the note creation date wasn’t exclusive to the desktop apps. I’ve been requesting this feature for the web version and iOS version for years. Give em a bump, Jamie!

  3. This last week, I emptied my huge file cabinet thanks to a new scanner and Evernote. I discovered the “Create Date” quite by accident and have used it to organize my information by date, which is cool.

  4. You use FourSquare to check in – any ideas if this will work with iOS FB check ins? I have not found any documentation on it.

    I too have been paperless starting this year. Personally and professionally it has made my life so much less stressful. I use the NEAT Scanner system for the bills and stuff and it also links with Evernote! So awesome. NEVER have I used one product that has changed my life as much as Evernote with the exception of the smartphone! WIth my smartphone and Evernote I am a force to be reckoned with.

    Thanks for all your helpful tips and pointers.


  5. Between this excellent post and one I believe you did a few weeks/months ago (where you referenced a “What I read” list), you’ve inspired me to IFTTT a daily reverse newspaper to myself. Each day at 5am (taking the cue from you), I’ll get a mostly blank document, where I’ll (hopefully) fill out details of my day. At the end of the day, I should have a “publication” that I can go back and reference as needed. Awesome stuff!

  6. I do hope they get us color coded capability – so at a glance I can see and filter with my eyes when scrolling thru documents

  7. I like the idea of using Evernote as a timeline but I would like to have a graphical web front-end which renders the notes in a nice way like.http://www.dipity.com/ but there are many more. Do you know such a font-end?

  8. Do you do anything specific to differentiate Bill received (Inbox) and those that have been paid?

  9. It’s too late now, but the original concept over 3+ years ago to simply add a Due Date column, would have been so much easier for Evernote, third-party developers, and the final users.

    Search Code 47ER92

  10. Excellent post. I also keep a timeline in Evernote to accumulate historical facts. For my application, I use a dedicated Timeline notebook. Each entry has a title in the form: Date – Event title, with explanatory text and links to any references in the note body.

    Like you suggest, I use special “History” tags to allow timeline filtering, e.g. History.Education, History.US, etc. To view my timeline, I just open the Timeline notebook. To show a subset, I select the appropriate History tags.

    Thanks again!


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