Going Paperless: A Day In the Life of a Paperless Writer

We are almost at the end of Evernote’s 30-Day Paperless Challenge, and people are starting to post results. Most people seem pretty happy with how things have gone so far. In trying to think of a tips post that would be useful to people this week, I got to thinking that a lot of the posts I’ve done have been specific tips for a specific task, which is nice, but still might make it difficult to see how all of this fits together into a paperless lifestyle. So for this week’s tip post, I thought I’d illustrate a day in the life of a paperless writer–namely, me. I picked a day that is fairly typically, although a somewhat busy one. I wanted a day where I could illustrate a couple of practical points:

  1. How I deal with paper that I still get
  2. How being paperless helps me during the day
  3. How not everything always goes perfectly

Hopefully, a practical illustration like this will help give a picture of what life is like as you continue to go paperless. Oh, and by the way, part of the reason that I can recreate a day like this is because I really do use Evernote to help me remember everything.

Wake up, get out of bed, drag a comb across my head

The alarm went off at 6am as usual, but the morning was a little different. It’s a Friday and normally we’d leave the house at 7am to take the kids to school. This morning, only one is going to school because our 3-year-old, a.k.a. The Little Man has a doctor appointment early. I get the kids dressed while my wife gets ready. When she’s done, I grab my iPad and take a look at my calendar for the day to see what I have coming up today, as well as what is happening over the weekend. I also check out my to-do list to see what needs to get done today. My to-list system has a nice little feature by which things that are crossed off today are automatically added as a note in Evernote just before midnight so I have a list of everything I crossed off on a given day. I also grab my Fitbit pedometer. I don’t go anywhere without this. It is a rich source of data.

We drop the Little Miss off at school and then head to our doctor appointment. This appointment is at a hospital in downtown Washington, D.C. and I haven’t been there before. So when we park the car in the cavernous parking garage, I pull out my iPhone and create a quick note to record where I parked: P1W Row B2. One of the really cool features of Evernote is to be able to capture notes with location data and then search for them by location–or even see them on a map:


The “paperless” medical profession?

We check in with the doctor and are given a few forms to read over and sign. I read over the form, sign them, and before handing them back, snap a photo of each one into Evernote using the new Page Camera feature. I do this in realtime because I can and then I don’t have to worry about doing it later. After this, I check into the doctor’s office on Foursquare. I do this because I have an IFTTT recipe that creates a note in Evernote for each check-in I make in Foursquare. I will often use these notes to record information about where I am. This is convenient for something like a doctor appointment because when we meet with the doctor, I open Evernote on my iPad (easier for taking notes than my phone in this instance) and as she talks, I can jot down notes on the note that was created by the Foursquare check-in.

A few hours later, when everything is done, we get another form, a discharge form, and I snap an image of that as well before we leave the hospital. Heading toward the parking lot, I call up the note containing where we left the car.

Working from home

I end up working from home for the rest of the day because we decide to keep the Little Man home from school. There is no paper at all involved in the work for my day job on this day. I can do everything via my work laptop. I do have a meeting that I have to call into. This was already on my Google calendar and I included the term “@en” on the calendar entry so that a meeting minutes note would be created in Evernote 15 minutes before the meeting started. I have this setup through another recipe I’ve created (and shared) with IFTTT.

I spend about 5 minutes before the meeting making notes in the note template that was created for me in Evernote. Then I call into the meeting. I make more notes while I am on the phone and a few more wrap-up notes when the call is over. All of these notes are collected in the single note in Evernote that was automatically created for me.

At lunch I take a break and read a couple of articles in the current issue of Rolling Stone and one article in the September issue of Scientific American. I know exactly what articles I read because after finishing each one, I create a note in Evernote that goes into my Reading notebook where I maintain a list of everything I read.  I usually also add at least a one-sentence summary of what the article was about to help trigger my memory. On this particular day, I read a total of 7 items, 3 of which I read during lunch.

The evening routine

Normally, around 5pm, I’d walk to the Little Man’s school to pick him up, but he stayed home today. My wife goes to pick up the Little Miss and I head out to the mailbox to see what’s come in the mail today. I try to batch this into a single time in the evening centered around my checking the mail. This is when I get rid of any paper that I’ve received.

Turns out there is quite a bit of mail today. Some replacement cards for some bank cards that were about to expire, a letter from the financial advisor, a renewal for AAA, the balance of a medical bill not covered by insurance. and a letter from the bank updating us on the progress of our refinancing. All of this is scanned in. And while I am at it, I pay the medical bill and then submit that bill to our flexible spending account service online for reimbursement.

In addition to these items that arrived in the mail, there were a few outstanding items that I hadn’t scanned in yet, including a receipt, and the last batch of paper forms that our mortgage guy sent us. I managed to scan all of this stuff in, but it takes more like half an hour because I’m interrupted partway through because my little boy interrupts me insisted that I fix a toy car he has managed to disassemble. I stuck a QR code on the bottom inside of the car, so I scan it with my QR code reader on my iPhone and pull up the instructions in Evernote:


We use these instructions to figure out how to put it back together.

Later in the evening, the Little Man says something particularly funny, and I capture that in a note on Evernote and add it to my Timeline notebook. I have dozens of notes like these from both of my kids and I can look back at them and laugh at the funny things they say.

The night job

After the kids are settled into bed, I get to work on my avocation as a science fiction writer and blogger. The first thing I do is write some blog posts and check those items off my to-do list. There are some comments to reply to and I do that as well. Next is email. There is a form that we need to sign for an account we are opening. I pull it onto my iPad and sign it electronically using SoftSign, and then send it back to our financial advisor. No paper involved.

There is email from 2 editors that need responding. One of them refers to a story that I wrote a while ago. I actually still have a hardcopy of the story, despite having it in electronic form as well. I spend a few minutes reading through the story in hardcopy, but ultimately, I send the electronic version to my Kindle app and make notes and highlights there.

I have 2 stories that need work. One is in revisions and the other is barely started, but by now, it is almost midnight and I am beat.

I do a quick run-through of my to-do list, making sure I’ve checked off everything I completed. I add a few items for the weekend. I take a look at my FitBit pedometer to see if I hit my daily goal of 10,000 steps. Not today: only 8,027 steps, but then again, I didn’t walk to pick up my boy from school. I finally head upstairs, and sit in the rocker for a while, reading some more of George R. R. Martin’s A Dance With Dragons on the Kindle App on my iPad.

When the chapter is over, I head off to bed.

It turns out that there were about 55 notes created that day, more than half of which were created automatically for me. This is a fairly typical day for me.

(As always this post and all of my Going Paperless tips are also available on Pinterest.)


  1. Jamie, first I’d like to say thank you for all of your Evernote/Paperless posts and organizing the Paperless Challenge. Each week I look forward to Tuesdays in anticipation of learning more about living a paperless lifestyle and how to expand my use of EN.

    I especially love today’s post and aspire to live in a similar fashion.

    I’m curious, does your day job require you to use Outlook Calendar in any way? I’m not sure if you’re using MS Office for your day job but I imagine if you do then like in most corporate environments you receive meeting invites via Outlook. Can you describe the process you take to sync or copy those meetings to your Google Calendar to initiate the IFTTT meeting minutes recipe you’ve written about?

    Thank you again!

    1. Victor, thank you so much for the kind words. My day job does require me to use Outlook. I used to have a rule in Outlook that would forward any meeting invites I got to my personal email address and then I’d just accept those invites onto Google Calendar. That was made more complicated recently with additional layers of security, so instead, I just manually forward the invitations as I get them. I sometimes forget, but if I do it as soon as they come in, I remember.

      Also, remember that I only do this for meetings for which I think minutes or notes will be required. That is a good fraction, but certainly not all, of my day job meetings.

      I hope that helps!

  2. Jamie, this is a GREAT post! It is a wonderful example of “a day in the life of…” and has many opportunities to inspire others. I must say, however, that you wore me out just reading about one of your days! You are a very busy fella!

    Thanks for taking the time to put this down so we can see how you do it and adapt whatever works for us to our lives.

    My current weakness is remembering to check my todo/calendar but from this I can see that first-thing and last-thing works well for you and will try to find a way to remember that enough to make it a daily habit. It would be ironic to put a sticky-note on my bathroom mirror to remind me, wouldn’t it? 🙂

    You are doing a great job as an Evernote Ambassador as well so thanks for your blog posts, forum posts, and especially the 30 day Paperless Challenge.

    1. Jim, wow, thanks for the kind words. I did pick a particularly busy day because it happened to have a variety of “paperless” events in it. Not all my days are that busy, but they sometimes seem so.

      I had a hard time remembering to check my calendar in the morning. Eventually, with Google Calendar, I started having my agenda emailed to me each morning. I knew I’d see it because I always looked at my email first thing. With practice it just became a habit. Do whatever you need to to make it a habit.

    1. John, I remember reading that article back in 2007 and being fascinated by it.

      The notes automatically added to Evernote at present are:

      • Foursquare check-ins
      • Twitter posts
      • Instagram photos
      • Meeting minutes generated from my Google Calendar
      • Daily PlaceMe updates
      • Completed items from my to-do list
      • Starred articles in Google Reader
      • RSS feed of this blog

      I’m also working with the Evernote API (via Geeknote) to come up with a better way of capturing what I read each day. Right now that is a mostly manual process, but there has got to be ways, for instance, of getting the Kindle API to work with the Evernote API.

  3. I agree wholeheartedly with all of the other comments. This post was fascinating. The “Day in the life” is such a helpful way to see more tangible ways to integrate Evernote specifically, and paperless living in general, into my/our daily lives. Jamie, you keep providing so many excellent ways to utilize Evernote. Thanks so much!


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