Now that I’ve described the tools I use to go paperless, discussed my process for spending 10 minutes/day going digital, and talked about ways to secure and protect your digital file cabinet, I thought it would be useful for some practical tips that makes use of some or all of the above. And I think I’ve got a good one to start with.
One of the first things I did upon going paperless was to get rid of the stack of instruction manuals I’d accumulated over the years. There are some pretty cool benefits to digitizing your instruction manuals and it is very easy to do.
Tip #1: turn those paper manuals into digital documents
- For ordinary-sized paper manuals, scan them in.
- Better yet, go to the manufacturer website, search for the product manual you are looking for and download it in PDF format. I discovered this is often easier than scanning in awkwardly shaped or sized in instruction manuals, and saves a little time.
- I tag all of my digital instruction manuals with the tag “manuals”
- I created a “Saved Search” in Evernote that looks for anything with the tag “manuals” so that I can quickly access them when I need them.
Tip #2: add this to your daily process
When I get something new, whether it is an electronic gadget or a toy for my little boy, the first thing I do after following the instructions is to toss the instruction manual into my inbox on my desk that collects all of the paper that needs to be scanned that day. That way, when it comes time to do my daily scanning, it’s there and I can either (a) scan it in or (b) use it as a reminder to grab a PDF version from the manufacturer’s website. Once the instructions are digitized, the originals get shredded.
Tip #3: use the note in question for all of your customer service interactions
If I have a problem with a product and need to call customer service, I will generally record information about that interaction (and any subsequent interactions) on the same note in which I’ve attached the instructions. That way, all of the information is in one place and if I need to make repeated calls (and be able to refer to the instructions at the same time) I have it all readily searchable and easily at my fingertips.
Tip #4: use QR codes to make the instructions easy-to-find in context
This idea was originally suggested by Evernote forum user gtuckerkellogg and is so brilliant and has been so useful to me, that I had to include it here and show how I use it. While it requires a little technical finesse, it is not actually very difficult to set up.
For those not familiar with QR codes, they are images that are associated with objects (like a website link, for instance). You’ve probably seen them around. Here is the QR code for this website:
Here is how you can use QR codes to find your instruction manuals in context:
- Using a QR code creation app (like this one, for instance), create a QR image for a Note Link in Evernote. I’ve found it easiest to do this when I am logged into Evernote via the web instead of any of the various thick clients or apps. You simply log into Evernote on the web, find the note you are looking for, copy the URL and paste it into the QR code generating app.
- The app will produce a QR code image. I copy the image to the note it is associated with. If the QR image is associated with the instructions for my thermostat, then I copy the QR image to the same note that contains the instruction manual to my thermostat.
- Print out the QR code and tape it to the object in question. For example, I taped a QR code image to the side of my thermostat. I taped another one to the inside of the door of our refrigerator. You get the idea.
- Obtain an QR code-reader app for your mobile device. A QR code reader app allows you to use your mobile devices camera to scan a QR code and have it pull up the associated web page.
Once you’ve done all of the things, you can easily call up your instruction manuals in context. Here’s how I do it. Suppose I need to know how to change the time on my thermostat.
- I walk to my thermostat and pull out my iPhone.
- I open the QR code reader app and point it at the QR code on the side of my thermostat
- Within a couple of seconds, the QR code reader opens up the Evernote note to which I’ve associated the QR code and my instruction manual appears on the screen. (And if I’ve annotated my instruction manual or added other notes to it, I have those on my screen as well.)
Another example: I no longer have time to watch much TV and our cable system has hundreds of channels. I can never remember what channel is ESPN HD, for instance, and I don’t want to spend time flipping through all the channels trying to find it. So what I’ve done is created a QR code associated with an Evernote note that contains the channel guide for my cable system. That QR code is taped to the back of the remote control. Whenever I need to find a channel, I pull out my iPhone, fire up the QR scanner app, aim it at the QR code on the back of the remote and instantly the note containing my channel guide appears.
Using QR codes is a wonderful and inexpensive way to tag real word objects and give them a physical context to your digital data–like the instruction manuals and warranty documents. Of course, this only works well if you have all of your instruction manuals scanned into your digital filing system.
ETA (4/24/12 7:20pm EDT): I just did a test to confirm that this works using an Evernote Note Link instead of a URL. I pasted in the evernote:// link (you can get this link from the Note menu -> Copy Note Link) in the QR creator instead of a URL and got a QR code. I then scanned the QR code on my iPhone and the note opened up in the note in the Evernote App instead of the browser. No login needed. I didn’t know for certain if this would work, but it worked perfectly when I tried it.