Category Archives: going paperless

Going Paperless: On the Qualities of Useful Paper

If Sherlock Holmes lived in a paperless world, he might have said,

When you have tried to eliminate all paper, whatever remains, however improbable, must be useful.

In the years that I have been on this journey to go paperless, I’ve found that there is some paper that, no matter how much I’d like to get rid of it, I still find useful. In the last year or so, two types of paper have managed to survive, and recently, I have given up trying to get rid of them. Like a virulent strain of bacteria, these have survived my attempt to banish them, only to come back stronger.

As I have often emphasized in these posts, going paperless is an ongoing and evolving process. I will never be completely paperless until the rest of the world is completely paperless–something I very much doubt I will see in my lifetime. Going paperless means process the paper I do get, and minimizing the paper I use, but there are still a few places where I find paper useful.

1. Moleskine notebooks

In the last few months my primary method for taking notes has reverted to paper. I use an Evernote Moleskine notebook to take notes in meetings, and on phone calls1. If I watch a video on YouTube, I’ll jot the notes down in my Moleskine. I’ve found a renewed fondness for scratching out the notes with a pen on paper, but it is not this fondness that drives my use of the notebook: it’s my memory.

A page from my Evernote Moleskine notebook

I have found that, as I’ve grown older, I remember things far better if I write them down as opposed to typing them out. I’d read articles that discussed how handwriting had good cognitive benefits, but until I tried it myself, I wasn’t convinced. Of course, it could entirely be a placebo effect, but I feel like I better remember my notes when I write them out in a notebook, than when I type them via a keyboard2 Actually, this makes sense. Back in college, I wrote all my notes for lectures and reading in a notebook, and on later typed them into Microsoft Word 5.5. for DOS3. I was younger, but writing the notes, followed by typing cemented them in my mind.

Getting my handwritten notes into Evernote

Just because I’m writing the notes in a notebook doesn’t mean they don’t find their way into Evernote. I use Evernote’s Scannable app on my iPhone to pull my handwritten notes into Evernote. Here is the same page of notes from above captured in Scannable:

Continue reading Going Paperless: On the Qualities of Useful Paper

  1. And because I will almost certainly be asked, I use a Pilot G-2 0.7 pen to write in my Moleskine
  2. Of course, this is me. Things might be wired differently for you.
  3. Still my favorite version of Word.

Going Paperless: Mobile Scanning with Evernote Scannable

I keep my eye out for apps that can help save me time and be more productive. So when Evernote recently released their new app, Scannable, I was eager to try it out. Not only was it designed to do one thing really well–namely, scan documents–but it filled a niche that I found I needed more and more in my efforts to go paperless.

For those who aren’t familiar with the app, Scannable uses the camera in your iPhone or iPad1 to scan documents into Evernote (or other apps). It makes it incredibly easy to do this. You simply start the app, hold the device over the document so that the entire document appears, and wait a few seconds while Scannable detects the edges, and snaps a photo. You don’t have to click button. Scannable does it all. It cleans up the image, makes sure the edges are straight, and then gives you the opportunity to send the document to Evernote or other applications.

How it works

First, you start the app. Then you hold your device over the document you want to scan, and wait a second or two. When the document is highlighted in blue, it means Scannable has detected it and automatically grabs the image. Note how the document below is highlighted and detected even on the edge of my table.

Scannable scanning

Once detected, you can continue to scan more documents, or deal with the ones you’ve already scanned.

Scannable action

When I finish my scanning, I send the document or documents to Evernote. Doing this, I am prompted for which notebook I want the documents to be filed in:

Scannable file

A few seconds later, my scanned document is available in Evernote.

Continue reading Going Paperless: Mobile Scanning with Evernote Scannable

  1. Sorry folks, right now the app is just iOS.

Going Paperless: Distraction-Free Evernote

Over the years, I have become a big-proponent of two aspects of software: (1) That it is entirely web-based; (2) that it is as distraction-free as possible.

The first item has been an interesting transition. I used to like the secure feeling I got using a piece of software I installed on my laptop. But now, the fact that I actually have to install something on my laptop in order to use it seems quaint. I have, for instance, been using Google Docs almost exclusively for all of my writing over the past 2 years, and I love that I don’t have to install anything. I love that the experience is the same regardless of what computer I am using. I love the that updates are automatic since the application runs in the cloud.

More recently, I have been looking for software that does a good job of getting out of my way. Eliminating distractions is a key part of this. Outside of email, the two applications I use most are Google Docs and Evernote. Google Docs has an excellent distraction-free mode. And recently, Evernote introduced a revamped web application that is distraction-free. I like it so much that I’ve almost given up the thick client for the web application.

Distraction-free Evernote

Here is what distraction-free Evernote looks like when I use it on the web:

Distraction-Free Evernote

I can just start typing my note, or drag a file onto the note if I want to attach something. Despite the clean, distraction-free screen, there is a still a lot of core functionality available when creating or editing a note.

Evernote Web Features

As I type, Evernote is saving what I type so that nothing is lost. You can see this at the bottom-right of the browser window. I green checkmark indicates that the document is saved. While typing, a circle rotates around the checkmark indicating that what you are typing is being saved.

And while there isn’t much else on the screen other than the note, there are still a rich set of features available. I can easily tag my notes, or refile them to another notebook. I can set reminders, or share the note, all from the simple screen.

Formatting the note

The distraction-free mode makes it easy to format the text of the note. If you hover over the small toolbar to the right of the note text, it expands into several icons that allows you to do some basic formatting like add lists, indent text, add a checkbox or a table, or even an attachment.

Evernote Format 1

Even better in my opinion, is the Medium-like feature that Evernote has introduced for formatting text fonts, and styles. You simply highlight the text that you want to format, and a popup format bar appears that lets you apply the formatting you want:

Evernote Format 2

Distraction-free searching

In addition to providing an elegant, distraction-free interface for capturing notes, the new Evernote for the web provides an equally elegant distraction-free interface for searching. Clicking on the search icon presents a simple search screen:

Continue reading Going Paperless: Distraction-Free Evernote

Going Paperless: Managing Social Media Profiles with Evernote and TextExpander

Once a year, I’ve gotten into the habit of reviewing and updating my social media profiles. You know, what I say about yourself on Twitter, or Facebook, or LinkedIn, and what I send to publications when they request biographies.

JTR Twitter

I generally only do this once a year, and I use 3 tools to manage the process:

  1. Evernote, where I store my profiles from year-to-year.
  2. TextExpander, in which I keep my updates profiles for easy insertion into email messages and other documents.
  3. The Press Kit page on my blog, where I made the profiles available to anyone who requires them.

The annual review of my social media profiles

I know that there are people out there who change their social media profiles frequently, but I strive for consistency of message. I also like to keep my profiles professional for the most part. So I review them once a year and decide what updates, if any, need to be made.

My profiles are easy to maintain because I use only 4 variants:

1. 140 character Twitter-specific profile

This profile is what I use for Twitter, and for any social media platforms based on Twitter which limit the profile to roughly 140 characters or so.

2. 140 character profile

This is a variant of #1 above, and allows me to have a very short profile available for outlets who request it.

3. 50 word profile

This is a profile I use when I have a little more space. I used this profile frequently when I wrote guest posts and a bio is requested to accompany the post.

4. 100 word profile

This is a profile I use for places that request a little bit more information, or want a little more background.

By maintaining just these profiles, I assure that the message I send out into the world about myself is consistent across the board.

I review these profiles at the end of each year, and I do it at the end because it provides a convenient marker for looking back at any new or significant accomplishments within the year that I might want to include in the profile.

I have written before about how I use Evernote to track my achievements. This comes in handy in updating my profiles each year.

Updating my profiles in Evernote

I update my profiles in Evernote, and rather than overwrite the old note containing the profile, I create a new note with the new profile, one for each of the four listed above. This allows me to see the overall history of changes I’ve made to my profiles over time.

I create one note for each profile, work out the kinks there, and use Evernote’s built-in character and word counts to make sure I’m sticking close to the lengths of each profile.

Profile Note

Once I am satisfied with the updates I’ve made to my profile, I copy the updates and paste them into the appropriate social media platforms.

Updating my snippets in TextExpander

One big time-saver I’ve found is to have my profiles and bios available as snippets in TextExpander. This allows two things:

  1. I can access them quickly, to reply to an email, or insert them in a web page, without having to hunt them down.
  2. I maintain consistency by not having to reinvent them each time I am asked for a profile or bio.

I use simple abbreviations for my snippets so that I don’t have to stretch my memory to recall them. Here is what the snippet for my 140 character (Twitter) bio looks like:

TextExpander bios

Updating my Press Kit page on the blog

The last step in the review process is updating my Press Kit page. I maintain this page as a place where media outlets and others can go to for accurate bios and author photos when needed for a publication or interview.

The Press Kit contains the most up-to-date profiles and bios that I have. Granted, I often only update my bios once a year, but as I try to keep them simple, the changes tend to be small and subtle


Having the information centralized and managed from Evernote is convenient because it makes it easy to search, and to see changes over time. Having the snippets in TextExpander probably save me more time than I imagine throughout the course of the year, especially as I am asked for these things with increasing frequency. Having them on the Press Kit page makes for a convenient self-service model.

Most importantly, for me, is the fact that the profiles vary in length, but not in message. They are consistent with one another, and that helps to ensure that I am sending out a consistent message for all of my profiles.


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 I Use Evernote to Remind Me of Everything.

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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.

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

Coming Next Week: A Brand New Going Paperless Post!

Back in October, I announced that my regularly scheduled Going Paperless posts were coming to an end. The emphasis was on regularly scheduled and the reason was mainly because I felt like I was beginning to reach too much for ideas for the posts I decided that instead, I’d only write one when a good idea struck me.

I have a good idea for one now, and you can expect to read it next week, on Tuesday, December 16, if you are so inclined. (While you are reading the post, I will be wandering about Disney World with my family.)

Just wanted to give everyone a heads-up. You may now resume your regularly scheduled week.

Going Paperless: Using Evernote at Home and with Family

This is part 4 of my set of categorization posts which collects my Going Paperless articles into various categories to make them easier to find in the context of a given topic. And today’s topic is using Evernote to go paperless at home and with the family. As before, there may be some overlap with other categories, as some articles don’t fit neatly into just one box. They are listed beginning with the most recent articles.

Going Paperless: 14 Productivity Articles for Evernote

In part 3 of my set of categorization posts, I collect 14 Going Paperless articles I’ve written that relate directly to productivity. As with the other index posts, this one lists the articles beginning with the most recent. There may be some overlap as some of the articles fall into more than one category.

Next, I’ll have an index of posts for using Evernote around the house and family.

Going Paperless: All About Searching in Evernote

This is my second in a series of posts indexing my Going Paperless articles into categories so that it is easier for folks to find an article on a specific subject. Searching is a big part of Evernote, and knowing the ins-and-outs of searching can make Evernote a more powerful tool for Going Paperless. Here are the articles I’ve written on searching in Evernote. As with the previous post, these articles are listed most-recent first, but that doesn’t mean the older articles don’t contain useful information.

Happy searching!

Going Paperless: Paperless Organization in Evernote

A few weeks ago, I mentioned how my regularly scheduled Going Paperless posts were coming to an end, but that I’d continue to write posts off-schedule, as I had time and found something worth posting. I thought I’d start with a series of “index” posts that collect some of the articles I’ve written into categories. And since I am asked about organization more often than just about any other topic, I’ll start with the posts I’ve written related to organizing notes in Evernote. What follows is a list of Going Paperless articles I’ve written on organization. I list them most recent first, as the more recent posts are more up-to-date. But that doesn’t mean the older posts aren’t useful. In case here they are:

Next time, I’ll have a index of Going Paperless posts related to searching in Evernote.

10 of My Favorite Going Paperless Posts

Since I’ve given up the regular schedule of posting my Going Paperless posts1 I thought it might be interesting to go through the 120+ posts I’d written and choose my 10 personal favorites. These are the posts that I had the most fun writing and that I also think are among the better posts I’ve written, both in terms of quality and subject matter. Your mileage may vary. Here they are, from most recent to least-recent:

  1. Quick Tip: How I Do a Daily Review in Evernote (February 5, 2014)
  2. A Primer for Going Paperless in 2014 (November 26, 2013)
  3. A Framework for Searching in Evernote (October 29, 2013)
  4. My Paperless Cloud (July 9, 2013)
  5. Digitizing Old Letters (June 11, 2013)
  6. How I Title My Notes in Evernote (March 5, 2013)
  7. A Day In the Life of a Paperless Writer (September 18, 2012)
  8. Automating the Creation of Meeting Minutes Using IFTTT and Evernote(September 11, 2012)
  9. Creating a Digital Version of Your House Using Evernote, Penultimate, and Skitch (June 26, 2012)
  10. Tips On How I Use Evernote to Remember Everything (May 8, 2012)

Do you have any favorites? Let me know in the comments.

  1. But not the posts themselves. They’ll still come from time-to-time.

Going Paperless: The End of Our Regularly Scheduled Broadcast

All good things must come to an end. And after 2-1/2 years and more than 120 posts, this regular column has come to the end of its regular run. I stress the word “regular” because I’m sure that I will still write Going Paperless posts. They just won’t be on a regular schedule anymore, and will likely be much less frequent than they have been.

There are a few reasons I’m bringing the regularly scheduled program to an end now:

1. It’s becoming harder to come up with interesting topics each week. Doing this weekly means I’m coming up with about 50 new topics a year. It gets tough, coming up with interesting new topics each week. I try hard to only write about things that I actually do with Evernote and with Going Paperless. While there are plenty of other topics I could write about, my lack of experience with them would be somewhat disingenuous.

2. Readership has been steadily declining. Peak readership for these Tuesday posts used to come in at around 6,000 – 7,000 visits per day. This has been on a steady decline since the beginning of 2014. These days, a Going Paperless post probably sees 4,000 – 5,000 visits per day on a good day. I think part of the reason for the decline is #1 above. I’m stretching it in the topics that I cover. But part of it is natural attrition and interest moving away. It tells me it is time to move on to other topics.

3. I want to dedicate my limited time to other writing. While the Going Paperless posts have been waning, my freelancing writing has been picking up, and I want to be able to spend more time doing that, without the stress of coming up with a new topic each week. Lately, I’ve been struggling to keep to my schedule of posts every Tuesday. I’ve had a few more skipped weeks than usual, and more delayed posts as well. This is a sign that I’ve got too many irons in the fire at the moment.

So where does that leave things?

1. I will continue to blog here regularly. The blog isn’t coming to an end, just the regular Tuesday Going Paperless posts. If you like the other stuff I write here, stick around.

2. I will write new Going Paperless posts from time-to-time. I have no set schedule for this, but when I feel like I have a useful tip to share, I will share it here.

3. The Going Paperless posts are not going away. They will remain here for folks to read through and use, as will the shared notebook in Evernote.

Finally, a thank you

I wanted to  say thank you to everyone who has read these Going Paperless posts, everyone who has left a comment, provided feedback, made suggestions, and offered opinions. You have made this column what it is: a place where people can come to see how one person is trying to go paperless, and a place where the tips and tricks can be shared and discussed in a friendly atmosphere. I am grateful to all of my readers here, and while the regular Going Paperless posts are coming to an end, I hope that you’ll consider sticking around for some of the other posts I write here, and offering the same insights that you have over the last 2-1/2 years.


As always, this post and all of my Going Paperless posts is also available on Pinterest.

Last week’s post: 5 Tips for Creating Digital Baby Books in Evernote.

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