Going Paperless: My Mobile Paperless Office

I spend a lot of time in these tips demonstrating tips and tricks for going paperless, and how it saves me time. One of the side-effects of being paperless, of course, is not having to carry around any paper. This lightens the load quite a bit–at least it did for me. Without paper, I recently discovered that I no longer have to carry around as much stuff as I used to. Indeed, I’ve now managed to convert from a rather large backpack, to a rather average (from the outside) messenger bag. And yet I am still able to carry around an entire paperless office wherever I go.

So, rather than spend this week’s post providing step-by-step tips, I thought I’d use it to illustrate the result of trying to live a paperless lifestyle as a freelance science fiction writer and blogger. I think when people see “writer” the natural inclination is to associate it with paper–be it in the form of bestselling books, or crumbled sheets of pain and misery in the waste bin. So here is what this paperless writer’s mobile office looks like:

Mobile Paperless Office.jpg

Starting in the center, and then working our way around clockwise (numbers below are keyed to the numbers in the picture):

1. iPad 2

I put this item in the middle and made it the first item in my list because it forms the center of my mobile paperless office. Of course, I make heavy use of the Evernote app for iOS. The notebooks I work with most frequently are setup to be offline notebooks so that I can work with the notes even if I don’t have a network connection.

I also read nearly everything on my iPad. Books and a lot of magazines get read on the Kindle App. Other magazines get read using the Zinio App. When I proofread one of my own stories or I’m reading a story for comment for a writer friend, those get sent to the Kindle App, instead of being printed out.

I take notes for meeting and research using Evernote, but when I write fiction or nonfiction in my iPad, I use iaWriter.

I know a lot of people, especially writers, who have one of the various sizes of Moleskine notebooks, which are handy for scribbling down ideas, sketches, and other items. Well, I think the Moleskine notebooks are pretty cool, but not cool enough to overcome my paperless tendencies. To simulate my paperless version of Moleskine notebook, I use Penultimate–primarily because it works well and integrates seamlessly with Evernote. I keep different virtual notebooks for different things, but one of my notebooks I call my “Commonplace Book1” is what I tend to use the way I think most of my writer friends use theirs. It is a hodge-podge of all kinds of stuff. For instance, the other day I was considering updating my business cards2. I have one scanned in and so I copied it to a new page in my Commonplace Book and then made some notes:

Photo Skitch Document.png

Bottom line: my iPad is the central hub of my paperless office and you can see pretty clearly why I listed it first and included in the center in the picture.

2. Adapters

I keep a few small adapters in my mobile paperless office. The one I used most frequently (pictured) is the SD-card adapter for the iPad, which I use to pull in photos from digital cameras, as well as scans from my Doxie One scanner.

3. Spare batteries

I always keep 5 spare batteries in my mobile office. 3 AA batteries are spares for the batteries that power my Bluetooth keyboard. When I have to replace the batteries in the keyboard, I refill the backups as soon as I can. The 2 AAA batteries are spares for my noise-cancelling headset.

4. Business cards

This is the only paper that I still carry around. I realize that there are all kinds of electronic substitutes for these, but I’ve learned two things: (a) just because I’m making use of those technologies doesn’t mean the people with whom I work are using them; and (b) there are some pretty old-fashioned editors, agents and publishers out there, and I’m doing myself a disservice by not being able to hand them a business card.

5. Microfiber cloth

Anyone who uses an iPad or an iPhone understand the value of these clothes. It’s convenient to have one sitting around. Sometimes, I feel compelled to clean my iPad screen before actually sitting down and writing something–say, a new Going Paperless post.

6. Bamboo stylus

As I mentioned, there are times when I use my iPad like a sketchbook or a “commonplace book” and for this, having the Bamboo stylus proves invaluable. It give you the feeling of writing, with the comfort of knowing that what I write will get stored in Evernote–and will be searchable. As I said, I generally use Penultimate, but if I’m feeling artistic, I might switch to Paper. My little boy is going through his dinosaur phase, and I drew this for him in Paper using my Bamboo stylus:


7. A generic pen

Because you never know when you are going to need to sign something–like an autograph. Or, more likely, a restaurant bill.

8. Ear buds

Mostly for when I am on the phone, but I will also use these ear buds when listening to music if the kids are around. In other words, when I need to be able to hear what is going on in the background.

9. Reading glasses

I’ve had perfect vision for most of my life, but it’s finally caught up with me and now I wear a fairly weak (so my wife tells me) prescription when I read or write.

10. Bluetooth keyboard

This is the keyboard I used with my old Macbook. When I got my new iMac, it came with its own Bluetooth keyboard, so the old one goes with my mobile office. I use it when I am writing on the iPad.

11. Kitchen timer

Yes, a kitchen timer. When I am pressed for deadlines and need to focus, I make use of the Pomodoro method and that requires a kitchen timer. The truth is, there are plenty of apps that help you implement the Pomodoro method, but none of them, in my experience are as good, or easy to use as a good old-fashioned kitchen timer.

12. Noise-cancelling headset

I keep my Bose QuietComfort 15 headset with my mobile office. I find them invaluable for tuning out the world around me. Which is why I can’t use them when the kids are around. They are also great for working on airplanes.

13. Snack

I generally keep a snack in my mobile office. You never know when you are going to get unexpectedly hungry and sometimes, it breaks my flow to have to stop and find something to eat. In these instances, having something readily available is a godsend.

14. Energy drink

There are those rare occasions when I can barely keep my eyes open, even though I’m pushing a deadline. So I’ve learned to keep a spare energy drink in my mobile office for just such emergencies, but I try not to abuse it too often.

15. Advil

When you work a full job, come home and spend the evening with kids who are bundles of energy, and then finally get them to bed and have to shift gears for writing and blogging, an occasional headache is an occupational hazard.

16. Various cords

I keep the bare minimum. Enough to charge my iPad and iPhone, and the necessary cables for my mobile scanner.

17. Doxie One scanner

The Doxie One scanner  is the latest edition to my mobile paperless office and I’m giving it a trial run while I am on vacation later this month. Now, wherever I am, I can scan in documents to Evernote. I don’t have to wait until I’m back in my home office. This items really completes my mobile office.

One item not show in the picture is my iPhone (mainly because I was taking the picture with said phone). But of course this is a vital part of the communication framework for my mobile office. Also, I’m considering replacing that generic pen with the Livescribe wifi smart pen, which the folks at Evernote were kind enough to give me.

This is a mobile office and as I said at the start, because I’ve gone paperless, I’ve been able to do away with the large backpack and switch to an ordinary-sized messenger bag. The bag might be ordinary-sized but the messenger bag is anything but ordinary. I use ThinkGeek’s Bag of Holding and it really does almost seem bigger on the inside than the outside. Everything in the picture above fits neatly in my bag with tons of room to spare.


I posted about this bag recently and you can check out that post for more images on how all of this stuff fits. Still, with all of this stuff fitting neatly in one bag, and with the bag still much lighter than my backpack, I can do just about all of my freelance writing and blogging work–the craftwork and the business end of things–pretty much anywhere I go.

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

  1. After what Thomas Jefferson called a similar notebook of his own.
  2. Yes, they are paper. We’ll get to that.


  1. Jamie, very informative post. Love the, almost obsessive, organisation of it all. I am also a great proponent of the paperless cause. My only problem is I have never found as good a way of taking meeting notes as paper and pen. However, I recently discovered Livescribe and have never looked back. I take all my notes on this (even mind maps for my NaNoWriMo entry) and seamlessly send them to Evernote where it’s fantastic search capabilities mean it is always accessible. If you haven’t already looked, you should take a peek.

    1. Gordon, most of my meeting notes are based on templates and I try to only collect the information I need to have, so I can still take notes in Evernote just fine. Occasionally, I’ll need to sketch something out, which is where Penultimate comes in. Writing on the iPad with my Bamboo stylus and Penultimate feels exactly like writing in a notebook to me.

      Thanks for the DocScanner recommendation!

  2. Whoops, jut read to the end about the pen. I nightly recommend it 🙂

    A good app also is DocScanner for quickly snapping, orientations, and PDFing stuff with your phone and sending it to evernote. Not as good as your scanners but much quicker on the hoof I think.

  3. I never even thought of the scanner SD card thing. I was wondering why a portable scanner would be a good thing to carry. Being able to take a file and have it on your tablet in seconds is amazing! Does the Doxie take batteries or is it cord-only?

    1. Gordon,

      Doxie delivers high-resolution crisp, clean scans every time. Essentially, all you’re doing with a “scanner” app is taking a picture. If you’ve ever taken a picture before then you know that getting the best shot is sometimes a challenge, especially with text. While taking a picture of a document may work in dire situations, it’s not ideal for someone that is truly serious about going paperless or running a business.

      If you’d like more information about Doxie or about going paperless feel free to e-mail us at hello@getdoxie.com. We’re always happy to help!

      Doxie Customer Care

      1. Don’t get me wrong, I have a scanner in the office.. But for things like receipts, or quick things I need, a good scanner app with the iPhone 5 camera is great. It automatically resizes and adjusts for perspective. Also, for things like flipcharts or white boards it is the only real option.

    1. Elizabeth, it doesn’t feel like a lot. It’s just a standard-sized messenger bag. It might be an illusion because I don’t carry around a laptop, which would add significantly more weight. I should probably weigh the whole thing and see what it come in at. But I think the bag itself is cleverly designed to make it very TARDIS-like. 😉

    1. That’s a good point. I really like the way you tie “Paperless” and “Mobility”. The two go so well together!

    1. Soo-Wee, I don’t need a laptop! I can write just fine on the iPad with the Bluetooth keyboard. The only downside is screen size. So I’m considering checking out a Google Chromebook next year, but I’m not set on it yet.

      1. this is very interesting. I tossed and turned over macbook air/ipad and I ended up with the 13″ air. I must say at times, the portability of the ipad is nice and I thought that I won’t be able to DO as much on the ipad.
        and funnily now, I use evernote alot to jot down notes and ideas, etc etc! bad decision? 🙁

  4. We would love to be able to directly buy the products in your photos, especially since you are putting so much time into explaining the items and your audience trusts your opinions. To do so, check out mystorey.com.

      1. I agree. I just got a messenger bag recently (although not as big as your Bag of Holding). It seems ludicrous but the best thing to me is the fact that I can put the strap over my head, diagonally across my body and know that it’s not going to fall off my shoulder, but still give me two free hands, and access to the bag if I want it.

  5. Great comments, everyone. The popularity of this post caught me a little by surprise and so I’ve fallen a little behind on keeping up with comment here and over on Facebook. I’m off to put the kids to bed and focus on my freelance writing, but I’ll be looking at the comments here again in the morning, so keep them coming! And thanks for reading!

  6. Great article. I hope one day to be a writer, and have a good portion of your portable writing kit started.



    1. Lon, iaWriter is just plain text. I sync my “plain text” files via Dropbox to Scrivener and let Scrivener put my documents into standard manuscript format when I compile the document. That’s the great thing about Scrivener: you don’t have to worry about formatting. You just write and when you are ready you click “Compile” and out it comes in standard format, header, first page information, etc.

  7. Oh! I did not realize Scrivener had started working on iPads. Excellent. This stupid header issue has been my main headache in efforts to downgrade from a laptop to a more mobile setup like yours. (Which is awesome, btw. Thanks for sharing.)

    1. Lon, Scrivener has not yet released an iPad version–although they are working on it. What I do is this:

      1. When home, write stories in Scrivener on my iMac
      2. If I’m going to be away, use the Sync feature in Scrivener to sync the project to Dropbox.
      3. On my iPad, open the synced Dropbox project in iaWriter.
      4. Work on my story.
      5. When I’m back home, open my project in Scrivener and it pulls in the changes I made from the files in Dropbox.

      This obviously becomes easier when Scrivener finally does release their iPad app. 🙂

  8. May I suggest the Logitech K760 solar &bluetooth keyboard?
    you won’t need batteries anymore. It is designed for mac users, and it can remember three paired devices so you can switch from you iMac to your iPad and you iPhone by just pressing one key.
    When exposed to ambient light (artificial or sunlight) internal batteries get charged, so it works in the dark as well.
    Check it out!

    1. François-Xavier, thanks for the recommendation. A solar charging keyboard sounds just so cool and environmentally friendly. The truth is, the reason I use the keyboard that I do is because it is identical to the keyboard I use with my iMac in my home office, and so typing “feels” the same no matter where I am. That feel is important to me, given how much I type, and I really like the comfort of that Apple keyboard. Which is important when I find myself typing for many hours each day.

  9. Nice post, I see we share the same sort of obsession with our gadgets. Do you have a post on how you process these paperless documents that you scan in, etc. into your “paperless system”

    I am using Hazel to process my documents that land in an “Actions” folder on Dropbox so that they can be processed even when I am away from the office on my desktop computer.

    All documents are sent to Evernote and filed accordingly (utilizing the awesome PDF OCR interface).


  10. Hi Jamie,

    What’s the Bamboo Stylus like for handwriting on the iPad, as opposed to drawing? Is is practical to take notes with, via Penultimate? Does it remotely feel like writing with a pen on paper? It seems pretty inexpensive, which is good.

    Also, if you take handwritten notes in Penultimate with it, and export to EN, does EN recognise the words easily enough?

    Thanks! David

  11. I started testing Bamboo Paper and enjoy the facilities with Evernote. Why would you go to Paper after Penultimate and not to Bamboo Paper?

  12. And what about the new (second version) Moleskine app?
    You can write and type on the same page.
    And upload to Evernote.

  13. Hey Jamie, I have also been looking at getting a stylus to use with Penultimate. Do you use a screen protector on your ipad? I’m terrified of having the stylus scratch the screen.

  14. Hi Jamie,

    looking at scanners that integrate well with Evernote. You used to use the Canon imageFORMULA, but are now using the Doxie One. Just wondering why you decided to change and which one you’ve found to be better and why

    Thanks, Andrew

    1. Andrew, I started with the Canon, and then later switched to the Fujitsu s1300i. Both scanners are similar, both are great, but I had a few problems with the page seperator on the Canon and have had no such problems with the Fujitsu. It’s the little things. The Fujitsu sits on my desk in my home office.

      Recently, I was given a Doxie One, which goes with me in my messenger bag. It’s convenient because it is small, allows me to scan anywhere, and can scan directly to Evernote. I use this one when I am away from my office.


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