Going Paperless: Confessions of a Paperless Writer

School has started up, and with the Little Man now in kindergarten, the volume of paper we received has increased, out of all proportion, to what I’d grown used to. His school is very good about making a lot of stuff available online. But there is a good more stuff that comes to us in paper, which means that I am back to scanning every day, in order to keep the backlog down to a reasonable level.

But, confession time: the backlog is well beyond a reasonable level.

Being known as the paperless guy means that any time I am seen within the proximity of a piece of paper, I am looked on with suspicion, and even comic derision: “Oh look,” my coworkers say, “it’s the paperless guy, coming back from the printer. Hey, what’s that you’ve got in your hand, paperless guy?” There’s no way to hide the paper so I hang my head in mock shame.

In truth, I am far from perfect when it comes to being paperless, and I thought I’d share a few of the ways that I struggle in order to demonstrate that, like anything else, this is a habit and it has its ebbs and flows. Or put another way: don’t stress about the paper you do use.

Confession #1: My paperless Inbox is overflowing.

Earlier in the week, I wrote a post on how I manage to stay at Inbox Zero with my email. The same is not true when it comes to my Evernote Inbox notebook.

I use my Inbox notebook much the same way you’d use an inbox on your desk. Everything not automatically filed goes into the inbox by default. This includes stuff that I scan, emails that I send to Evernote, notes I jot down on the fly. These notes may not add up to much on any given day, but over time, if the inbox is ignored, they build up quickly. Case in point: as of this morning, there are more than 1,000 unfiled notes in my inbox:

Paperless Inbox

Several times a week, I look guiltily at my inbox and think, I really need to do something about that. I do this much the same way I might look at the junk in the attic. But the junk stays in the attic, and the inbox stays unchanged.

Of course, the difference between my attic and my inbox is that, despite the volume of notes in the inbox, they are still easy to search using Evernote. Imagine if it was as easy to search your attic?

Confession #2: I sometime forget what I’ve scanned and overscan.

Although I have a process in place for scanning paper each day, I must confess that I don’t always follow it. Life intervenes, time is short, the kids need me for something, and I get distracted. While I usually get the paper scanned it, I don’t always shred the paper immediately afterward. Sometimes it sits on my desk for days, and later, when I tackle the pile, I can’t remember what I’ve scanned and what I haven’t.

This is laziness on my part. It would be easy to do a quick search in Evernote to find out if I’ve already scanned the thing sitting the pile… but I don’t. For the purpose of speeding things along, I assume that I haven’t scanned it, and scan everything in again. This leads to extra stuff in the inbox, but it also leads to embarrassing searches, where I find, on occasion, that I’ve scanned the same document three times.

When I find these extra scans, I’ll delete them, but it’s not like I’m out there hunting for them on a regular basis. I have enough trouble just keeping my inbox below 1,000 notes.

Confession #3: Although I share stuff in Evernote with the family, I tend to be the one to go find things when they are needed

I’ve made sure that my wife has full access to all of our notebooks in Evernote. She has a premium account, and I’ve showed her how to access the notebooks. I’ve created saved searches for her for common things, and showed her how to use them. The idea, of course, is to make the data available to her whenever she needs it.

The reality, as it turns out, is that the need is never so critical that she can’t wait for me to find the document or note for her. Typically, the conversation goes something like this:

“Hey, did you scan the t-ball schedule?”

“Of course,” I say, “it’s available in Evernote.”

“Can you print it out for me?”

At which point, a little part of me shudders.

“Um, can I email to you?”


So I go into Evernote, find the note in question, and use Evernote’s share functions to send the note to Kelly via email.

Ten minutes later, this happens:

“Hey, Jamie?”


“Is my laptop set up to print?”

“Yeah, you just have to pick the HP printer from the list.”

“Okay, thanks.”

A few moments later, I hear the printer spit something out.

“What was it you needed to print?” I ask.

“The t-ball schedule you emailed me,” Kelly says. After that, I can’t really say what happens. Usually, everything goes gray and I wake some time later on the office floor.

Well, those are my confessions. Most of them, anyway. I’ll save the really embarrassing ones for when I am desperate for a topic to write.

If you have a suggestion for a future Going Paperless post, let me know. Send it to me at feedback [at] jamietoddrubin.com. As always, this post and all of my Going Paperless posts is also available on Pinterest.

Last week’s post: 6 Steps for Life Continuity Planning in Evernote.

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  1. Jamie – Next I suppose you want us to believe that when you cut yourself…you actually bleed!

    Kidding! I actually appreciate the dose of reality as I also cop to just about everything you mention above.

    I’ve come to view my efforts as striving for a ” paper : less ” lifestyle. Not a paper-free life as many others will try to assume when I talk about my use of Evernote & scanners, etc. Call it semantics (or simply, wrongful punctuation) but that colon helps me keep it real. So my goal is to regularly and steadily reduce the paper in my life. The law of diminishing returns will likely kick in at some point, but solving the tougher situations is the fun part.

    Thanks for your continued support and information.

    PS – Got my 78 yr old Mom up on Evernote the other day to help with her Kitchen remodel project & her stock club notes! And also talked to my wife about creating a “Important Life Documents” folder that I’ll share with her to contain all those important insurance, banking, healthcare docs that we would need in an emergency. She loved the idea. More Paper : Less people being born everyday!

  2. As a ‘paperless’ aspirant as well as ‘that guy’ in my household, I chuckled out loud at your description / confessional #3 . I feel your pain…smiling. As I know you already know, the benefits outweigh the small hassles in supporting those we love. Thanks for all that you do to advance both the paperless concept and the Evernote product.

  3. Thank you for this! I feel so guilty as I look at my I scanned pile and the unfixed ‘Inbox’….now I know that even the expert isn’t perfect.

  4. When I scan something, I tear it in half. That is my notation that I don’t need that piece of paper. I also do that for pieces I don’t scan, such as junk mail so I don’t have to re-read it. For me, that simple tearing says shred it.

    The only time I print a piece of paper is:
    1) when I am dealing with those who don’t use a computer
    2) when snail mail is the only acceptable format to submit something
    3) a photo to be framed
    4) once a month, just to keep the cartridges from drying out

    I am trying to encourage those organizations that I use, to provide everything digitally. After all, the fitness center uses Word to create the monthly group fitness schedule so it is already electronic. But some, just won’t. Since this schedule is useless after the month ends, I never scan it because I will never “need it”.

    The “Going Paperless” articles and Evernote have really helped me “pulp down’ my life! It is great to see Evernote as a tool rather than just a technology.

  5. Hilarious article Jamie:

    My daughter Batya is almost at the point where I feel comfortable letting her find important things in Evernote. Forget about the rest of the family. My ‘inbox’ in Evernote is typically 40 to 50 items .. mainly photos of credit cards that I’ve been too lazy to file. I try to scan once a week and no more.

    Thanks for the article Paperless Guy 🙂

  6. Hi Jamie,

    This is a really nice post. I recognize these confessions, but there is a quick and easy solution for #2. When you’ve scanned a document, you should mark it somehow. I always put a small ‘d’ (for digital) in the top left corner of the paper and this really helps.

    Keep up the good work!

  7. Oh, we who are “that guy” all know the horror of #3, and commiserate with you. Just last night – again: “Here’s the recipe that just came out of the printer, but why are you printing this?”

    fortunately she did let me show her how to use Evernote WebClipper.

  8. I am totally with you on numbers 1 and 2!

    My inbox is growing and according to the workflow it should be empty. I felt bad about the 53 documents in there, but now I have seen your number I feel much better.

    Just yesterday I was searching for a document and found 3 instances of the same document scanned in my Evernote. It happens more often. But then better find 3 scanned document than knowing that you have an article on paper somewhere and can’t find the physical paper anymore 🙂

  9. A couple of observations:

    1) “paper-free” to me means freedom from paper, not that you are never seen with it. It’s about managing the process so that you’re not subservient to a mass of dead trees.

    2) When I scan it goes into either the recycling pile or the shredder. A few few critical docs will be held from the shredder until both the Evernote sync and BlackBlaze backup have completed, meaning the document is stored in 4 places: my computer’s hard drive, Evernote’s data centre (twice) and on a BackBlaze storage pod.

    3) I’m still struggling to get my wife on board with Evernote. I’ve just about got her to use Dropbox to share stuff.

    1. Andy, regarding #1, that’s why I say I’m going paperless, which, I think, implies that it is an ongoing process, one that never really ends. Even if I did away with paper entirely, the world around me still uses it, something I think it is important to acknowledge and be prepared for.


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