Going Paperless: 3 Tips to Stop Producing Paper for Evernote’s 30-Day Paperless Challenge

Welcome to week #3 of Evernote’s 30-Day Paperless Challenge. By now you’ve probably gotten started and maybe you’ve even begun to organize your paperless life. Moving into week 3, you should have a pretty good process for getting rid of the paper that comes into your life. But what about producing paper? Every once-in-a-while, I find that I absolutely must print something out because it can’t be handled in digital form. Just this morning I had to print out my son’s school health entrance form because his school lost it the first time. They won’t take an electronic copy. Fortunately, I’d scanned it in and it took me 2 seconds to pull it up in a search. So today, I’ve got some tips for how to stop producing your own paper, once you’ve gone paperless.

Tip #1: Collect Instruction Manuals In Digital Format

One of the best time-saver’s I’ve had is getting all of the instruction manuals for various gadgets into digital format. Sometimes, I scan these in when I open the packaging, but more often I simply search for PDF versions of these instruction manuals online and then send them to Evernote. Here is typically what I do when something new comes in the house:

  1. Scan the instructions or pull the PDF into Evernote
  2. Tag the note with “manuals” so that I can easily pull them up in a saved-search.
  3. As I’m putting the thing together, I’ll add any other notes I might think useful to the Note containing the instruction manual so I have everything in one place.
  4. In some cases, create a QR-code for the Note Link in Evernote and paste that code on the device.

I’ve written about the last item in more detail in an earlier tip post, but it is great because it means I can get the instructions I need in context doing almost nothing. For example, if I can remember how to set the timer on my thermostat, I pull out my iPhone, scan the QR code I’ve pasted on the thermostat. That code is linked to the Note Link in Evernote, which pulls up the corresponding Note containing the instruction manual for my thermostat. I do this for other things too, and it is a big time-saver.

Having the manuals in digital format has been a godsend. So many kids toys these days require some assembly that I think I’d have a shelf full of paper if I didn’t digitize these manuals.

Tip #2: Make Visual Shopping Lists

I always forget what brand of an item I like. I really have to force myself to remember something. Of course, I no longer print out shopping lists when I go shopping. I used to have a single list in Evernote and used checkboxes to check my way through the list. I’ve recently made it a little more elaborate. Sometimes, my wife will tell me to buy a specific brand. What I do is take a picture of the item in question and make a note out of it. I then when I create my list, I will add note links to the item in question so that I can see what it looks like.

At the store, my list might look like this:


When I get to that “mulch” item in the store, I can click on the link and it takes me to the linked note:


So I can easily see what it is that I need to pick up. Also, I don’t have to print the list, I can just check boxes as I go along. And I’m not producing any new paper! Of course, this can be done with any type of list. You can collect pictures of books or movies or whatever and link them together into a single list note, or use a saved-search to collect multiple notes together in a single list.

Tip #3: Ask If You Can Send Digital

Sometimes, I need to provide a document to someone. These days, I always ask if I can send it to them electronically. We are in the process of refinancing our house and I asked our refinance person a couple of the usual questions and then I asked him the deal-breaker: “Can I send you all the documents electronically?” When he said, “Yes,” I was on board. And so far, I haven’t dealt with a single sheet of paper as part of the process.

There is a huge advantage to being able to send something electronically: you can do it instantly from virtually anywhere. There’s no paper produced in the process (at least, you aren’t producing any). And you can often impress people with how prepared you are. I was at a homeowner’s meeting once where the budget was going to be discussed, but the treasurer forgot to bring a copy of the current budget. I pulled out my iPad, and pulled up a copy of the budget from the last meeting and she was able to use that. The entire board seemed impressed.

I spent five days of this last week in Chicago for the 70th World Science Fiction Convention. Despite being a science fiction writer, I used no paper. I’d obtained all of the programming materials in digital format ahead of time. My boarding pass for my trip was on my iPhone. So was my hotel check-in. I just went up to a kiosk, scanned the bar code, and out popped my keys. In meetings with editors and agents and other professionals, I never needed paper. I had all of my contracts in digital form, accessible at my fingertips. I had samples of my work available. I even have electronic versions of my business cards, so that if I’m asked, I can say, “What’s your email address, I’ll send you a digital version.” If I received a receipt from a restaurant, I snapped a photo of it. And from the hotel, I asked them to email the receipt to me, which they did.

So these day, when I’m asked for (or asking for) something offered on paper, I almost always ask if it can be done in digital format. More often than not, it can.

Has anyone else discovered any tricks for producing less paper?

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


  1. I wanted to mention that I am excited about using IFTT (If This Than That) @ ifttt.com — to create “recipes” for “trigger” actions that automatically sends items to Evernote. Check out the Evernote Channel to find some inspiration for making the web work for you…https://ifttt.com/evernote

  2. Question. When you’re done with that shopping list, do you just delete & start from scratch each time?
    One more. When you notelink a pic for a product, do you store that pic as a note to be linked to again when needed? Would you tag it something like “product photos”?

    Thanks in advance.

  3. Great idea with the manuals. I’m the guy who has a shelf full of them, organized cleverly from oldest on the bottom to newest on the top. Heh. Useful.

    I have a few pdf manuals, but only for products with no originals to be found (probably somewhere in the middle of the stack). That will now change. Thanks, Jamie!

  4. Is there a way to download a manual or other PDF from the web DIRECTLY into Evernote? Right now I download it to my PC and drag it into Evernote. Also, how do you create links within Evernote to other notes in Evernote?

      1. Regarding the following question:
        “Is there a way to download a manual or other PDF from the web DIRECTLY into Evernote?”

        For that I use the evernote import folder. I save the document straight into that folder, it sends it automatically to evernote and I’ve set the settings of this folder in such a way that the file gets automatically deleted after it is imported into evernote (so it’s just in evernote, nowhere else). I hope this might help you.

  5. Jamie,
    Thanks for your interesting articles about going paperless. I I love what you have to say especially about your paperless trip to Chicago! Way to go. Love your mobile office too. suggestion: Have a look at the digital flylady timer. It vibrates if set to quiet mode so nobody “hears” it but you. Also has a neat stand to let it stand u or clip onto your pocket/belt! Flylady.net (look in store tab)

  6. I’m a late discoverer of you and your blog, Jamie – I’ve devoured your Evernote posts with great interest, because your system is the first of the many I’ve read about that actually seems workable to me – from the first post I read, it just made sense and fit at least in large part with the way my brain works, and with my goals. So thank you for sharing!

    I’m just in the getting started stages, but I find myself wondering into what notebook you put your lists. In another post you talked about static and dynamic lists, and here you discuss shopping lists, but how do you notebook (and also, if you do, tag) these in your system? Where I find myself stuck is with things like these lists, random things I want to remember for future use. I too have used Evernote for a while to help remember items and brands of things I use (like the mulch), as well as things I want, or things like the best stores or websites for buying certain items, or hints for a shortcut or directions to get somewhere, or similar sorts of lists/reminder-type things, and I get myself all tangled up trying to figure out how to deal with those.

    You don’t mention here what notebook you use for the mulch or the lists in your Home/Work/Writing/Timeline/Reference stack system, and I thought knowing your practice might be helpful here as it is in so many other areas, since you have thought these things through so thoroughly! (In fact, in general understanding how you use notebooks within your stacks would be something I would love to know more about, whether or not it ends up being directly applicable to me, just because it’s so helpful to see an example that works well for someone.)

    Thank you, sorry for the long rambling comment!

    Thank you!

    1. Jamie – I realize I am WAAAAYYYYYYYY behind on reading these, but I am enjoying having dozens of these articles to read and not having to wait a week in-between. 🙂

      Anyway, I have had several occasions where I was asked to print a PDF that’s been emailed to me, sign it, then scan and email it back. Obviously this creates paper that I can then discard, but seems like a clunky process. Have you found a better way to do this? These PDF’s are not the kind you can sign electronically.



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