New Year’s is just a few days away, and with the new year comes resolutions. With that in mind, I thought I would kick of the rebooted Going Paperless series with a post on Going Paperless in 2016. If anyone has been thinking about going paperless, here are 4 tips for getting started.
1. Remember, you are going paperless
I call the process going paperless because, for me, it is an ongoing process. I have never been entirely paperless, nor is it really a goal of mine to be entirely paperless. Two things stand in the way:
- While I might go paperless, the rest of the world still uses paper. Paper comes into my life through the mail, at work, from stores, and other services. I need ways of dealing that paper.
- I have found that some things are just easier with paper. I use a Field Notes notebook to jot down reminders to myself because I remember them better if I write them than if I type them.
Going paperless means eliminating all unnecessary paper from my life to streamline things. It is an ongoing process for which I am always look for ways to improve.
2. The basic toolkit
It doesn’t take much to get started. If I were starting today, I’d want 3 tools in my toolkit:
1. Evernote. Evernote acts as my digital filing cabinet. Any significant paper I get finds its way into Evernote. It also serves as the hub for much of the automation that I’ve built up around going paperless. While I have an Evernote Business account, Evernote provides a free version that you can use to get a feel for how it works. It’s flexibility is among its best features. It is also available across multiple desktop and mobile platforms. And its cloud storage means that I can access my stuff from anywhere.
2. A scanner. A scanner is what you’ll use to convert physical paper into digital documents. I’ve been using the same desktop scanner for over three years now: a Fujitsu Scansnap s1300i. For those in the market for a scanner and looking for some guidance, I recommend looking for a scanner that meets the following 3 requirements:
- The ability to scan both sides of a page in a single pass. This will save a lot of time.
- A sheet feeder that will allow you to scan multiple pages.
- The ability to scan directly into your digital filing system. In my case, this would be Evernote.
While a physical scanner makes things easier, it is not required to get started. The Evernote mobile app has the ability to take photos of documents. Evernote’s Scannable app does this as well, and can save a few steps along the way.
3. A staple remover. I can’t tell you how much stapled paper I’ve gotten over the years. A staple remover has saved me a lot of time when I go to scan documents.
3. Start with new paper
When I started going paperless, I made the deliberate decision to begin with new paper only. It was years before I decided to go to my filing cabinet and begin scanning old paper. I had 2 reasons for this:
1. By focusing on new paper, I kept the scope of the effort manageable. I’ve found that I can tend to bite off more than I can chew, and going paperless can be a very big effort if you allow it to be. I was curious to figure my on process, and I used new paper coming into my life as way to experiment. It allowed to see if going paperless would work for me.
2. I did not want to spend time scanning paper I never look at. As it happened, I almost never go back to look at something I’d filed in the filing cabinet. If I am not going use it, then why scan it in? This worked to my advantage because I discovered that about 95% of what I had in my filing cabinet, I never needed to look at. Eventually, I did go back and scan some old stuff in when I moved my home office, but even then, it turned out to be a fraction of what I’d had. The rest of it I was able to get rid of.
4. Don’t worry about structure; it will evolve over time.
A lot of discussion around systems like Evernote focus on the best way to organize your notes. How do you tag them? How do you structure your notebooks? Let me suggest that when you are starting out, you don’t need to worry about this on day one. Evernote’s search capability is so good that I can generally find anything I am looking for in a few seconds even without using tags or knowing what notebook I filed the note in. Tags and notebooks structures are important, but for me, it was better to spend time figuring out how I would use Evernote in practice before I began figuring out the structure of how I’d organize things.
Remember that is an ongoing process, keep it simple to begin with, and get a feel for how it works for you. And if you have any questions about getting started, drop them into the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.
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.