Going Paperless: 7 Ways I Use Reminders in Evernote to Avoid Embarrassing Myself

A few weeks ago, I took our car in for its regular maintenance. I had snapped a photo of the maintenance reminder in the windshield of the car and set a reminder in Evernote to ping me to schedule an appointment when the date got close. So far so good. After the service, the service manager tactfully pointed out that my tags had expired. Indeed, they had. Six days earlier, at the end of August. I didn’t remember getting any notice about it. Right there in the dealership, I did a search in Evernote, and within a few seconds, I located the note containing my scanned copy of my registration renewal. I’d scanned it into Evernote but forgot to submit it to the DMV. Well, I did so at once, and received the new stickers in the mail a few days later. But the incident brought to mind another place in which I could use Evernote reminders to avoid these embarrassing situations.

In today’s post, therefore, I thought I’d share some of the ways that I have been taking advantage of Evernote’s reminders to avoid similar embarrassments, and even stay ahead of the curve on things that I might otherwise forget about completely.

Context, not calendar

Of course, I do have a calendar, centered around Google Calendar, which I use for meetings and appointments and similar things. But I’ve found calendars to be almost useful for me when it comes to something in context. It is all well and good to put a note on my calendar reminding me to pay a bill on a certain day, but then I still have to go looking for the bill.

One of the biggest advantages I see to Evernote’s reminders is that they allow you to create a reminder in context to the note or document, meaning that when the reminder fires, you have the thing you need right there with you. For me, this is much more convenient than seeing something on a calendar.

Here are 7 ways that I’ve used Evernote’s reminders (some more than others).

1. Making payments that are not automated

Most of our bills are set up for auto-pay, which is one of the great time-savers of life. You don’t have to think about it. The bills just get paid. There are, however, a few bills here and there that come in on irregular schedules and for which an auto-payment option is not available. Fortunately, there are not many. Still, when most bills are paid automatically, there is a tendency to forget the ones that aren’t.

What I do, when these bills come in, is this:

  1. Scan them as part of my daily paperless process.
  2. Pay them right away, if that seems to be the easiest thing to do.
  3. If not, I add a reminder to the scanned note in Evernote, and set a date to be reminded to pay the bill.

After that, I can pretty much forget about it. Evernote will send me a reminder at the time I specified with a link to the note (e.g. in context) and I can pay the bill when I get the reminder. A typical example of something like this is the AAA renewal, and in Evernote it looks like this:

AAA Demo

Clicking on the note title takes me to the note itself so that I can access it easily when I am ready to pay the bill.

2. Capturing gift ideas for specific events

I’ve always been kind of last-minute when it comes to buying things like birthday gifts. Over time, however, I’ve learned to use Evernote’s Web Clipper to capture ideas for gifts for people. When I see something I think would make a good birthday present, I’ll clip it with the Web Clipper, and tag it with the name of the person. When it comes time to buy the gift, I can search by their name and find the things I clipped.

The problem, of course, is that I would forget that I had ever clipped an idea in the first place. Recently, I have added one additional step to this process: add a reminder to the note.

After clipping a note for a gift idea, I will tag it with the person’s name, and add a reminder to the note to be reminded a week or two before the person’s birthday, giving me time to order the gift (and if necessary, have it shipped). As an example, the Little Man is really into Transformers right now. I saw one that he might like and clipped it, tagging the note with his name and adding a reminder for late October:

Gift Demo

As before, clicking on the reminder takes you to the full note, so that you have it in context:

Gift Demo 2

3. Dealing with milestones in writing projects (signing contracts, reading galleys, etc.)

The writing/submission/publishing process has quite a few milestones in its lifecycle. There are contracts to be signed, galleys to review, author bios to update, etc. I use reminders to manage some of these items in context. Two examples:

When I receive the galleys1 to a story (usually in PDF format), I will create a note in Evernote with the PDF file. I will add a reminder to the note to indicate when I need to take an action on it (review it, return it to the editor, etc.). Then I don’t have to think about it. When the time comes to do the actual work, I’ll get an email reminder from Evernote and can link directly to the note (and file) in question.

Contracts for a story contain the rights you sell for that story and the particular duration of time for which you sell them. At the end of that time, the rights revert back to you. As a writer, it is convenient to know this so that you can do something else with the story. Whenever I get a contract, I read through it and note the date on which the rights revert to me. I then create a reminder for the note to which I’ve attached the contract with the date on which the rights revert. I can then forget about it. When the date rolls around (sometimes years later!) I’ll get a notification from Evernote reminding me the rights are once again mine. I did this for a short story of mine that recently appeared in an anthology, and you can see the reminder in my list of Evernote reminders:

Contract Rights

4. Making irregular follow-up appointments

Most of my appointments go right on the calendar because they involve meetings or events or things that Kelly plans for us to do with the kids on the weekend. But there are a few “in context” things that require appointments be made at a specific point in the future. I opened this post with an example: a reminder to make a service appointment for the car.

In this case, what I do is snap a photo of the “next service” sticker and store the photo in Evernote. Then I tack on a reminder to make an appointment for approximately the date of the next service:

Maintenance Reminder

You can see from the note above that my service was due for 9/13, and I set a reminder on the note for August 24, 2013. On August 24, I received a notification reminding me to schedule my service.

5. Send myself important notes about a person before meeting with them

At conferences and conventions and other events, I sometimes meet with people who I’ve only met once or twice before, or with whom I’ve only communicated online. It is nice to go into these meetings with some background of what we’ve talked about in the past. When prepping for these meetings, I will go through old notes and make a kind of cheat-sheet note. I will then set a reminder on the note for 30 minutes or so before our scheduled meeting.

The results is a reminder, shortly before my meeting, that contains little facts and notes about the person with whom I am about to meet. I’ve found this to be very helpful because I don’t always remember all of the little details, and it is nice to get this memory boost before going into a meeting.

6. Reminding myself to return phone calls

Outside of my day job, I find myself using the phone less and less. I recently retired my voicemail on my iPhone because it is a clunky, old technology that has been replaced with far better and more efficient ones.

Because of this, I find I have to remind myself to return calls, when they do come in. Where possible, I’ll simply email the caller back, as I find this much more efficient and less an intrusion in someone’s time. But sometimes, a call is required. If I need to remember to make a call, I’ll create a note in Evernote to remind myself to call So-and-So. Within the note, I’ll include the number, as well as a few bullets on the point of the call. Then I will set a reminder on the note to remind me to make the call.

In these cases, the reminder isn’t specifically to call at a certain time. It’s a backstop so that I don’t forget. I might set the reminder for a week from now and call the person tomorrow–at which point I can check off the reminder. But if I do forget to call, I’ll get the reminder notification in a week.

7. RSVPing to parties and events

I’ve wrote an entire post on this tip, but I thought it was worth at least mentioning once again. When invitations come in, I set reminders on them to remind me to RSVP. If the invitations are paper-based, I’ll scan the invitation and then set a reminder to RSVP. If the reminders are email based, I’ll use Boomerang to remind me to RSVP to the message after a certain interval. It works beautifully.

Evernote reminders have become a substitute for my own memory, and allow me to work through my days a little more stress-free because I don’t have to worry about forgetting little things. They also help me avoid embarrassing myself by forgetting to renew my car registration, or replying to an invitation. It took me a little while to figure out how to make the best possible use out of them. Now I can’t imagine Evernote without them.

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.

Last week’s post: Tips for Paperless Pets.

  1. For those note familiar with galleys, the galleys are a pre-publication version of the story sent to the author as a final check for any typos or other mistakes.


  1. Just reading this saved me…I always forget to automatically deduct my e-sf mag payments from my checking acct. This should help me remember (as soon as I set up the reminder!)



  2. You mentioned scanning bills as part of your paperless process. Do you then shred the paper copy? Isn’t there a legal requirement to keep bills for a set time? I read different answers to that question in different places.

    I’d LOVE to get rid of all my paper bills!

    1. Savannah, I do scan my bills and shred the originals. I’ve never heard of a legal requirement for keeping bills for a set time. I have heard suggested times. But what’s the difference if it is electronic or paper? If I ever need to produce a bill, however, I offer the electronic (scanned) PDF first. If a person insists on paper, I (very reluctantly) print it out. The truth is I have never had to provide a copy of a bill to anyone but my accountant, and she has always taken the PDF copies I’ve sent her.

    2. The lawyer in me went…Huh? I agree with Jamie. I’ve never come across a situation where you are required to keep physical copies of bills. Quite honestly, it may be the other way around. I would suspect business have to maintain copies of billing records for their accounting. Even if you had to prove, or disprove, something with a creditor, a scanned copy would suffice. I doubt any court would quibble much about authenticity unless your bill was completely different than what was in the creditor’s possession.

      I say…scan away.

      1. These days, paper bills and statements are really nothing more than pointers to computerized account information. They all have an account number on them. When you call with a questions, they might tell you to “have your most recent statement ready,” but it doesn’t matter what format it is in. All they are going to ask you is “What is your account number.”

        Incidentally, I recall getting a copy trust papers from an attorney recently and several of the pages ended in a line that read, “A copy of this form has the same effect as the original.” I think folks are catching on.

  3. Great tips, as always, Jamie.

    I am pretty good with calendar notices, but I like the idea of adding, or needing, context. I love the idea of using reminders to present notes before meeting with someone. I have to share that suggestion with my wife. She is all over the place and meets a lot of people. While you cannot control meeting people you don’t know, it’s good to have a reminder about the context of your meeting with those you do…or should…know. I think reminders, in conjunction with Evernote Hello would be good for meetings.

    I started using your tip about reminder of irregular events ever since I read your installment about using Evernote to track car stuff. I just got a nudge to renew my registration for one of our cars, and another with a service reminder. About a day later, a service reminder popped up on the screen in the car. Evernote beat the car to the punch.

    I have a “Gift Ideas” folder, but never thought about adding reminders to specific gift notes. Brilliant!


  4. Just brilliant! Already setup some reminders. Going to share with my college freshman daughter. BTW, my registration was 6 months expired and I never noticed it until a Good Samaritan passerby brought it to my attention. The day before he had received a large fine for the same issue. Talk about embarrassing and potentially costly.


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