Going Paperless: How I Use Evernote to Remind Me of Everything

Several months ago, I ended the regularly scheduled series of Going Paperless posts, with the emphasis on “regularly.” I felt that I was beginning to stretch the ideas I was writing about. I decided that I would only write new Going Paperless posts when I had a good idea. And so today I’m back with a post on how I use Evernote to remind me of everything.

I make use of a very simple to-do list manager that consists entirely of plain text files. It works well for me, but it has one significant drawback: there is no easy way to do reminders in my system. Fortunately, I don’t need that feature as part of my to-do list system because it is built into Evernote, and I use the reminder features there extensively.

Reminders in context

One of the great features of Evernote is that it allows reminders in context. I have written about this feature before, but it is worth re-emphasizing it here. Let’s say I get a document in the mail on which some future action needs to be taken–car registration, for example. Without Evernote, I might toss a copy of the document in a pile on my desk, with a Post-It note reminding me when it was due. I might also stick a note about it on my calendar. But the calendar note would be separate from the document itself and if I saw the note on the calendar, I’d still have to go hunt for the document somewhere.

With Evernote, I follow 3 simple steps:

  1. Scan the document
  2. Organize it appropriately (put it in a notebook, and tag it, if necessary)
  3. Set a reminder on the note to remind me that I need to take some action on it.

In the case of the car registration, I set the reminder to 10 days before the due date. When I look at my list of reminders in Evernote (on my home screen), I see it there waiting for me to take action.

Evernote Reminder

Clicking on the reminder take me to the document itself. Having the reminder linked to the actual document is a powerful feature. It does two important things:

  1. It saves me from having to remember to do the thing. Evernote will send me a reminder when it is due.
  2. It saves me from having to search for the document when I am reminded, because the reminder is attached to the document. This makes it much easier for me to act on the reminder as soon as it happens.

A substitute for Post-It notes

Over time, my Evernote reminder system has become a substitute for Post-It notes. I use it for all kinds of things. And all of those things have some sort of context attached to them so that it is easy to take an action. For example, have a reminder to test and change smoke detector batteries when Daylight Saving time begins. The note itself is pretty simple:

Smoke Detector Reminder

The “Instructions” link is simple an Evernote note-link to another note, containing the instruction manual for the smoke detector. Clicking on the link takes me to that note, so that I don’t have to go hunting for it.

Smoke Detector

I might have simplified things by attaching the reminder to the smoke detector instruction note directly, but in this case, I prefer to have a “history” of the times I changed the batteries, and so the individual notes give me that history: one note for each change/reminder. They get filed in my Timeline notebook so that they don’t clutter other things.

For those interesting in more information about using note links, I’ve written in detail about using Evernote note links elsewhere.

Seeing Evernote reminders on my calendar with Sunrise

I use the Sunrise app for my calendar. One thing I love about Sunrise is that you can integrate all kinds of calendars into it, including your Evernote reminders. I’ve written about this before, but it is worth emphasizing here.

Because I have integrated my Evernote reminders into my Sunrise calendar, I see those reminders in my calendar view, not just in Evernote. Here is an example from a week in early January 2015:

Evernote Sunrise

It’s hard to tell from the screenshot, but the Evernote entry has an Evernote elephant icon on it to make it clear that it is an Evernote reminder. Having all of my reminders show up on a single calendar is powerful, and a big time-saver for me. It also helps ensure that I rarely forget anything. Even if I don’t see the reminder in Evernote, I will certainly see it on my calendar. And if I don’t see it on my calendar, Evernote will email me a reminder on the reminder date, and I am certain not to miss that.

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.

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  1. Thanks for this and the many other excellent posts. Did you think about setting up evernote not only for reminders, but also for GTD-like ToDos w/ contexts but no due dates? I wonder how this could fit into your system. Thx

    1. Yves, I have read Dave Allen’s book (many years ago) and have tried GTD with Evernote and other things, and I am ashamed to admit that I am a complete failure at it. It is far too much overhead for my simple ways, I’m afraid.

  2. Thanks for the articles, as always!

    I think my problem with this method is that the reminder will remind me on the day that it’s DUE.

    Suppose I have a paper due on January 1st. I set the “reminder” on Jan 1, but I need to be _working_ on the paper well before Jan 1st, correct? So what good does the reminder really do?

  3. Thanks for another great paperless post Jamie! I always love reading your stuff and you’ve really helped me fine tune my own paperless workflow. In fact, I also switched to todo.txt a month ago primarily because of the post you linked to. I tried numerous ways to use Evernote for my todo list (GTD, Secret Weapon, etc), but nothing seemed to work as well as a plain ol’ text file (and Dropbox).

    You probably already know the todo.txt format does allow for a due date by adding “due:yyyy-mm-dd” to your todo’s. Some of the free todo.txt apps (ie. todotxt.net) utilize the additional metadata and allow you to sort by due date or highlight past due tasks in red. This is helpful, but it’s still not “in your face” with an alert or reminder.

    Personally, I prefer to use my todo.txt file for tasks that are NOT date/time specific, and then I use my calendar for reminders. Now, I’m going to check out how reminders in Evernote might help me improve my process. I love the idea of using it for things that only occur once in a while, such as your example of testing the fire alarms, or car registration. Good stuff!

    1. Jan, I have mixed feelings about recurring reminders. For me, too much automation can be as much of a bane as it is a boon, and if I don’t have some way of interacting with the reminder, I find I ignore them.

  4. Hi Jamie, I was reading this post and the other one about the todos and I think in the app in testing right now: Gneo I don’t know but it is probablly useful for you. It’s easy, it’s fully integrate with Evernote and it’s reminders, of course.

    Regards and Happy new year 🙂

  5. I also use Evernote for reminders with context. I use Wunderlist as my normal day to day todo list as it has one feature I love. It gives me an iCal feed so I can add it to any calendar. I like Sunrise, but I don’t love it on the desktop. I hope Evernote can give us a feed to add reminders in a similar way.

  6. Where is this Evernote “home” at in the Windows software? I like to look at my notes in List View. I don’t see an easy way to view Reminders in this view. I also have trouble in the IOS app. I go to All Notes and click the Reminder icon (timer) at the bottom, but it doesn’t show me all the reminders.

    I love this concept of Evernote reminders, but either the implementation or my understanding is lacking.

    1. I have to look later at my Windows machine, but on the Mac any note that has a reminder in it will always be on top of the list of notes.


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