Going paperless: 3 tools of the trade

This is the first post in my new series of weekly tips on going paperless. These tips are based on my own experience and what has worked best for me. If you are interested in finding out why I went paperless in the first place, you can read about it here. At this moment, I have about 20 weeks worth of tips posts. I hope to accumulate more before I run out. The first few weeks will be on basic topics and then I’ll move into other areas of interest. All of these tips can be found under the “Going Paperless” category on this blog. If you have any suggestions, let me know.

After more than a year of going paperless, I’ve found that there are three essential tools that I probably couldn’t have gotten along without. These are my tools of the trade and I’d recommend them for anyone considering going paperless. First, I needed a place to store the “paperless” (or digital) documents. Second, I needed a way of scanning in existing paper to digital form. And finally, I quickly discovered I needed a way of removing staples from all those old paper documents.

1. Evernote – my digital filing cabinet

Evernote1 is software that allows you to capture notes in a variety of forms. These notes are stored locally on your computer, but can also be accessed in the Cloud. Evernote has applications that work on most mobile devices as well, including iPads, iPhones and Android. With Evernote, you can organize your notes in notebooks and tag them. You can capture images, audio and video notes, and attach documents like PDFs to your notes. With Evernote’s premium service, your scanned PDF documents can take advantage of Evernote’s “PDF Search” capability which makes your scanned PDF’s searchable, a very useful feature, I’ve found.

I chose Evernote because it met all of my high level requirements for paperless storage:

  1. It works on a Mac.
  2. It can store your data in the Cloud so it is accessible to you anywhere.
  3. It works on iPhones and iPads
  4. It is highly flexible when it comes to organizing your documents
  5. It has a robust interface for capturing notes
  6. It makes it very easy to search your documents
  7. It provides enough security2 to satisfy my own security requirements

I use Evernote’s premium service which costs $45/year and gives you a number of additional features, like the PDF searching. It also gives you and additional monthly upload quota of 1 GB/month. Evernote does not have any limit to how much data you store, only a limit to how much you can upload in a given month. That said, you can use Evernote for free with a smaller monthly upload quota.

There are other products out there that perform similar functions and I looked at several of them. But for my needs, Evernote came out on top.

2. Canon ImageFormula P-150M scanner

Of course, to go paperless, I needed a tool that would allow me to scan existing paper to digital form. Since I’d already picked Evernote as my filing cabinet, I started to look at scanners that would work with Evernote. I wanted something small, but something that could do multiple pages at a time. I also wanted a scanner that would do duplex scanning (scan both sides of a page). What I found was the Canon ImageFormula P-150M. I’ve written about this scanner before.


It is a portable scanner, very lightweight. While it is not a heavy-duty scanner, it meets my needs quite nicely. It can scan 14-15 pages per minute. It can do duplex scanning in a single pass (it has two imagers). Best of all, it has a scan button that can be programmed to scan into a variety of programs, one of which is Evernote. This made it a no-brainer for me. Part of the purpose of going paperless was to make life a little easier. I knew I wouldn’t stick with it if scanning in paper became too complicated. With my Canon scanner, all I have to do is set the paper and push a button. The document is scanned into a PDF, which is sent automatically to a note in Evernote. I can then title and tag the note and move on. And because I use Evernote’s premium service, that scanned note becomes searchable within minutes of scanning it in.

The one downside to the P-150M that I’ve noted (and I’ve now used it to scan in hundreds of papers) is that the page seperator doesn’t always properly separate the pages. That is, sometimes it will try to pull through two pages at once, instead of one. I’ve discovered this most often happens when the pages have been folded or creased in some way. Smoothing out the folding before scanning usually fixes this.

3. Staple remover

When I started to go paperless, I’d hardly ever used a staple remover in my life. But I found that I occasionally had to scan in documents that had been stapled together and having a staple remover has been a godsend. I pluck out the staples, smooth out the pages, scan them in and move on.

Bonus tools: a good shredder

One other tool I’ve obtained, but certainly isn’t required, is a good shredder. After I scan something in, I make a quick determination if I need to keep the original or not. If I don’t, I toss it into a pile, which I ultimately shred a couple of times a week.

There you have it. 3 essential tools for going paperless. Next week, I’ll be posting tips on a daily “process” for going paperless, based on my own routine that I’ve worked out over the last 16 months.

  1. I should say up front that I am Evernote’s Paperless Ambassador. I was so impressed with Evernote when I first started using it that I wrote several blog posts about it. Eventually, I was asked to become part of their ambassador program, which I was happy to do because I think it is a great product. I am not an employee of Evernote.
  2. I get a lot of questions about security concerns with storing data in Evernote. Rest assured, I will cover some “security tips” in a future topic.


  1. Very nice. One thing that I’m looking for is a recommendation on a sheet-fed scanner that doesn’t jam due to holes from removed staples or folds in paper for scanning large quantities of paper documents into electronic format with relative ease. We’re talking quantity the size of a 3 dictionaries. Alternatively, if there is a low-cost service that will do it for cheaper than FedEx Office.

  2. Great post. I chose the Fujitsu Scansnap over the Canon, but would like to see a video demo of the Canon at some point. I also bought a bostich staple remover for $6 on Amazon. Funny, but it is much better than the standard pincher types.

    Can I also suggest Catalog Choice and Digital Postal Mail as tools to reduce the paper coming in.

    Finally, instead of shredding, i’m taking all my documents to UPS for offsite shredding. More $, but I can’t imagine trying to shred several boxes of stuff 10 sheets at a time.

    1. I’ve been toying with the idea for some months now of doing a video demo of my Canon scanner. Maybe in the not-too-distant future.

      My shredding volume is somewhat lower than yours sounds, Andy. But I do generally try to recycle the shreds when the bin fills up.

  3. I’ve been using a Fujitsu Scansnap and Evernote for the paperless life for awhile. I’d tried a couple of other programs before Evernote came on the scene but I agree with you — it is far and away the best.
    Just a couple of ideas that developed through trial and error:

    I collect documents into a default folder that I named ‘@inbox’ to keep it sorted to the top of the list of folders.

    I don’t use folders for organization since tags are quicker and considerably more versatile. Thus I created a folder named simply ‘@notes’ that sorts right up there under the inbox. Doing so makes it easy to process notes from the inbox and simply drag them into @notes.

    For the same reason, I created a group of my most-used tags, taxes, insurance, statements, etc. and put them all in a tag group named (you guessed it) ‘@scan-tags’.

    So, once a week or so, I scan all the papers in my inbox, one after another, into my inbox and then process them all in no time by simply dragging each one to the appropriate tag to apply it and then into the ‘@notes’ folder to put it away.

    One last little tip: each year I create tags for the tax categories I’ll need the following Spring: t11charitable, t11home-office, t11income, etc. When tax time comes, everything comes right up with a search on the appropriate tag, and by included the two-digit year, there is no confusion during Jan. – Mar. when last year’s docs are arriving at the same time as this years.

  4. It is amazing. No matter who I run into in any industry, if they have tried evernote they have found a way to make it work for them. Evernote is the best app I have and has been for a long time. I use it for more things every day.

  5. Jamie.

    I primarily use a Fujitsu ScanSnap hooked up to my Mac for scanning, thought I have a flat-bed HP multi-function scanner as well to take things that can’t be sheet fed and occasional use of the web cam and my phone to ‘scan’ in other items on the go.

    I actually don’t scan direct as I like to be able to tag from the off and on occasion not send to Evernote (only occasionally you understand). So I use a watched folder. On Windows this is a built in feature, but on the Mac I wrote an AppleScript to do this – http://www.thoughtasylum.com/blog/2010/1/16/scan-to-evernote-without-fujitsu-scansnap.html

    I also gave an answer to someone on Quora that includes some thoughts about the process from choosing where to save your scan right through to shredding it (or maybe not).

    Finally with regards to security in Evernote, I’d like to suggest having a read through a post I wrote back in 2010. I think the majority of the post should still hold true, but it might make a good basis for your post on Evernote security – http://www.thoughtasylum.com/blog/2010/8/10/securing-evernote.html

  6. Great series of articles and I have been inspired to buy a Canon P 150M. Great so far, BUT I have a problem setting up routines such as you describe. If I load say 12 documents, some double sided and scan I either get one multi-page document in my Evernote inbox, or many one page documents.
    Is there an easy method to load multiple documents, and ensure the output to Evernote is what I want? My search of the supplied manuals has not helped so far so I thought I would ask “the Guru”. Hope you can point me in the right direction.

    1. Simon, thanks for the kind words. About how the documents are scanned: let me clarify my process. If I have a stack of documents, I don’t put all of the documents into the scanner at once. I take out a complete document (say, a 3-page bank statement) and scan that (all three pages) into a single document. Then I move to the next x-page document, etc.

      I may be in the minority, but I’m not looking for a separate note for each page. One thing you can do is add some presets to the scanner software itself. For instance, the button on my scanner automatically scans duplex (if there is a second side), but sometimes, there are pages with two sides and I only want one, so I’ve created another pre-set for the scanner and I access this from the scanner menu in my Mac toolbar as opposed to pushing the button.

  7. Thanks for the reply – it seems that I wrongly assumed that it was possible to stack everything into the scanner and sort out the files and number of pages in each one afterwards.
    My current way of scanning is identical to yours – so thanks for clarifying it for me.
    Thankfully my paper pile is reducing and life is becoming slightly more manageable as a result.

  8. To scan multiple documents at once to create different notes, you would have to use some sort of bar-coded separator page that your scanner software would recognize as a divider.
    I don’t know if any of these small scanners do this, as I work in a Scanning bureau that scans millions of documents a year, and we use use doc separators with the larger volume scanners from Kodak (200 pages per minute)

    P.s. the bostix staple remover/lever is the best, those pinch types are just too fiddly

  9. Good and informative series of posts abut going paperless, Jamie — thanks…! Reading about your methods and experiences finally made me start getting into it myself, something that I have wanted to do for quite some time now…

    For everyone who a) cannot or doesn’t want to spend the money for something like a Fujitsu ScanSnap (which is a great document scanner) or the Canon device and b) doesn’t want something as large and bulky or just prefers a more portable solution here is my recommendation: the Doxie Go (http://www.getdoxie.com/).

    It is affordable, portable, fast, convenient, works without any complicated setup and communicates with all kinds of additional apps. The great thing is that it works autonomous without being attached to your computer so you can scan documents at your desk, on the couch table, outside or while traveling — it saves all the scans into its internal memory and when you’re done you just hook it up to your Mac or PC and the Doxie software imports all the scans for further editing. There’s also an option to use a WiFi card so that you don’t even have to connect it through a cable to import but use your WiFi connection instead. That way you can even use it with an iPad or iPhone on the road.

    I’ve had it for two days now and I’m extremely satisfied with the device iso if you’re looking for an easy way to start going paperless make sure to check it out! 🙂

  10. Again, props on the series Jamie.

    I was just wondering if you came across any viable printer/scanner combos in your research for the Canon P-150M?

    I understand this may contradict the ‘paperless office’ that we’re all striving for with EN, however we’re starting a small business and will require the printing function for invoicing purpose and i’ve been wanting to go paperless for a while, so why not integrate the functionality in 1 machine.

    If not, I was hoping for details of how you identified that the P-150M scans directly to EN. I imagine this is not directly advertised by Canon as ‘scan directly to Evernote’, but think that perhaps there is a general term the printer world uses for this functionality.


  11. “a good shredder”…… can folks recommend some? I’m tired of them overheating, low capacity bags, etc.

  12. Stumbled across this page whilst looking for something else. Yes totally agree with the author when it comes to the Canon ImageFormula P-150M scanner. Its one of the best light-weight and relatively cheap home-based scanners out there. There have been problems raised with the paper reload mechanism however these are yet to be confirmed by Canon.


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