Going Paperless: Add Reminders to Scanned Documents for Quick Action Items

One of the side-effects of being several years into going paperless is that on any given day, there isn’t much to scan. A corollary to this is that on the days that I do scan things, chances are good that I’m scanning something that I need to take an action on.

Before the good ol’ paperless days, papers that required some action on my part would go into a bin on my desk, which, if I remembered, I’d occasionally look through. Those days are long gone, and my paperless process for handling these documents is a big improvement. I thought I’d share it with folks today in case anyone else finds it useful. Here is what I do:

1. Scan the document

I still use my trust Fujitsu ScanSnap s1300i, which hasn’t failed me yet. Indeed, as of this writing, I’ve scanned 3,467 pages with the scanner. I still use a process similar to what I started with a few years back, although instead of taking me 10 minutes each evening, it might take 2 or 3 minutes every second or third evening.

2. Set a reminder on the scanned document

Once the document has been scanned, if there is some action I have to take, I set a reminder on the document. For instance, we recently got our personal property tax statements from the state of Virginia, and those bills come due in October. I scanned in the documents, and then, as soon as they were scanned in, I set a reminder for 1 week prior to the date the bill is due.

Reminder 1

3. File the document as usual

Once the reminder has been added, I tag and file the document as usual. With that done, I can pretty much forget about it because Evernote will remember it for me. And if I need to know at any given time, what reminders are lingering out there, I can easily take a look from inside Evernote. Evernote organizes these reminders by notebook, so here are the reminder currently active in my Filing Cabinet notebook:

Reminder List

Adding the reminders immediate after I scan in the document does 3 things that I find really helpful:

1. It takes the burden off me for remembering that I have something to do. Evernote will remind me, via email and via the alerts on my mobile device.

2. With the document scanned, it ensures I don’t misplace it (and then forget about it).

3. It reminds me in the context of the document itself. I like this better than adding an item to my to-do list that says, “Pay property tax.” That to-do list item would require me to go somewhere and find the document. By having the reminder as part of the document, I don’t waste any time. It’s right there when it comes time to take my action.

I’ve been using this more and more with things that I scan in, to the point where I’d guess that these day, half of what I scan gets a reminder. Of course, I’m not scanning a whole lot anymore. There is a sense of relief, once the document is scanned and the reminder is set. This is the epitome of what I think David Allen was getting at in his GTD book, when he talked about getting things out of your head. (It’s also about as close as I’ve managed to get to the GTD process, but that’s a story for another time…)

If you have a suggestion for a future Going Paperless post, let me know. 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: How and Why I’ve Automated Backups of My Evernote Data.

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  1. Hi Jamie,
    Once again an interesting post. I wonder if their is more advantage in putting reminders into Evernote then the disadvantage of having two to-do lists with a reminder.

    1. Henry, for me, I think of “reminders” as a whole as my trigger. It doesn’t matter where the reminder comes from. It might come from my calendar for some things, my to-do list for others, and Evernote for others still. The important thing is that I get the reminder. And with things that I need in context, I find it saves me a lot of time to get a reminder with the document right there, as opposed to be reminded by a to-do program and then having to take the extra step of hunting down the document that I need to take action on.

  2. I use reminders in a number of places and, like you Jamie, place the importance on the reminder itself rather than where it comes from. I receive reminders from Google Now, my email inbox, my calendar, but most importantly from Evernote.

    I’ll create meeting notes in Evernote and add a reminder to it to mark it for action. The action could be to review the note in preparation for the next meeting. It could be to remind myself of a due date. It could even be a reminder for follow up activity.

    I add reminders to notes that remind to either buy a piece of software or cancel the free trial period. I add reminders to notify me that subscriptions are up for renewal. I use them to alert me that my professional association dues are due.

    For me, the reminder function in Evernote is one of its most powerful features. Evernote not only “remembers everything,” but now reminds me of the important stuff too.

  3. Hi Jamie,
    Interesting post. I’ve never thought of using scanned documents as reminders. This should work on any PDF file that you need to work on too, shouldn’t it?


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