Going Paperless 2.0: 4 Tips for Getting Started in 2016

Welcome to Going Paperless 2.0

I wanted to preface this post with a brief note on the newly rebooted Going Paperless series. I started writing the original series in April 2012, and continued the series through more than 120 posts, concluding it in December 2014. I ended it because I had other time commitments, and I felt I’d covered everything I had to say about going paperless to that point. A year later, I’ve found new use cases to write about, and so I’ve rebooted the series.

For those new to the series, I take a “use case” approach to what I write. That is, I write about things that I do with Evernote and other tools to help me go paperless. While the use cases I write about work well for me, they don’t necessarily work well for everyone. This is to be expected as people work in different ways. One of the best parts of the original series was the discussions that took place around each new post. I hope that continues here.

I plan to broaden the scope somewhat in the 2.0 series. While Evernote forms the center of my paperless framework, there are other tools that I use in conjunction with Evernote. You’ll see more discussion of these tools over the next few months.

As always, if there are certain topics you’d like me to cover, shoot me an email at feedback at jamietoddrubin dot com. I can’t promise to cover every suggestion, but I will do my best to touch on some of them.

Welcome to the new series, and thanks for reading!

— Jamie Todd Rubin

New Year’s is just a few days away, and with the new year comes resolutions. With that in mind, I thought I would kick of the rebooted Going Paperless series with a post on Going Paperless in 2016. If anyone has been thinking about going paperless, here are 4 tips for getting started.

1. Remember, you are going paperless

I call the process going paperless because, for me, it is an ongoing process. I have never been entirely paperless, nor is it really a goal of mine to be entirely paperless. Two things stand in the way:

  1. While I might go paperless, the rest of the world still uses paper. Paper comes into my life through the mail, at work, from stores, and other services. I need ways of dealing that paper.
  2. I have found that some things are just easier with paper. I use a Field Notes notebook to jot down reminders to myself because I remember them better if I write them than if I type them.

Going paperless means eliminating all unnecessary paper from my life to streamline things. It is an ongoing process for which I am always look for ways to improve.

2. The basic toolkit

It doesn’t take much to get started. If I were starting today, I’d want 3 tools in my toolkit:

1. Evernote. Evernote acts as my digital filing cabinet. Any significant paper I get finds its way into Evernote. It also serves as the hub for much of the automation that I’ve built up around going paperless. While I have an Evernote Business account, Evernote provides a free version that you can use to get a feel for how it works. It’s flexibility is among its best features. It is also available across multiple desktop and mobile platforms. And its cloud storage means that I can access my stuff from anywhere.

2. A scanner. A scanner is what you’ll use to convert physical paper into digital documents. I’ve been using the same desktop scanner for over three years now: a Fujitsu Scansnap s1300i. For those in the market for a scanner and looking for some guidance, I recommend looking for a scanner that meets the following 3 requirements:

  1. The ability to scan both sides of a page in a single pass. This will save a lot of time.
  2. A sheet feeder that will allow you to scan multiple pages.
  3. The ability to scan directly into your digital filing system. In my case, this would be Evernote.
Paper Stack
Paper I eventually scanned from the filing cabinet.

While a physical scanner makes things easier, it is not required to get started. The Evernote mobile app has the ability to take photos of documents. Evernote’s Scannable app does this as well, and can save a few steps along the way.

3. A staple remover. I can’t tell you how much stapled paper I’ve gotten over the years. A staple remover has saved me a lot of time when I go to scan documents.

3. Start with new paper

When I started going paperless, I made the deliberate decision to begin with new paper only. It was years before I decided to go to my filing cabinet and begin scanning old paper. I had 2 reasons for this:

1. By focusing on new paper, I kept the scope of the effort manageable. I’ve found that I can tend to bite off more than I can chew, and going paperless can be a very big effort if you allow it to be. I was curious to figure my on process, and I used new paper coming into my life as way to experiment. It allowed to see if going paperless would work for me.

2. I did not want to spend time scanning paper I never look at. As it happened, I almost never go back to look at something I’d filed in the filing cabinet.  If I am not going use it, then why scan it in? This worked to my advantage because I discovered that about 95% of what I had in my filing cabinet, I never needed to look at. Eventually, I did go back and scan some old stuff in when I moved my home office, but even then, it turned out to be a fraction of what I’d had. The rest of it I was able to get rid of.

4. Don’t worry about structure; it will evolve over time.

A lot of discussion around systems like Evernote focus on the best way to organize your notes. How do you tag them? How do you structure your notebooks? Let me suggest that when you are starting out, you don’t need to worry about this on day one. Evernote’s search capability is so good that I can generally find anything I am looking for in a few seconds even without using tags or knowing what notebook I filed the note in. Tags and notebooks structures are important, but for me, it was better to spend time figuring out how I would use Evernote in practice before I began figuring out the structure of how I’d organize things.

Remember that is an ongoing process, keep it simple to begin with, and get a feel for how it works for you. And if you have any questions about getting started, drop them into the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.

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.

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  1. I decided to go paperless about five years ago and I also use Evernote and I love it. I upgraded my scanner which was a I1300 and I upgraded to the ix500. The 500 handles your paper hugely better. Scans are straightened via the software and you are able to scan far faster than the smaller model of scanner.

    1. Rob, I’ve considered upgrading to the ix500, but resisted for 2 reasons:

      1. The volume of paper I have to scan has dramatically decreased over the years, as a result of going paperless.
      2. My Scansnap s1300i has never failed me, not once, in all of the time that I’ve had it. I feel obliged to stick with it, until it (or I) fall apart.

  2. Great post Jamie! I love your paperless series and am glad you rebooted it. So, I’m curious… Is there anything you won’t store in Evernote? In other words, do you keep personal financial info, such as banking & investments statements, in Evernote? That’s the one thing I’m a bit paranoid about, and I tend to still keep that sort of “paper” outside of Evernote in my own folder structure inside an encrypted VHD file.

  3. Thanks Jamie. I guess I’m just paranoid about un-encrypted personal data sitting in the cloud. I also recognize my paranoia prevents me from totally committing to Evernote. In my paperless process, I find myself having to constantly decide if I want to scan to Evernote or to my local folder structure. Sometimes, that causes me to procrastinate on my scanning, and I end up with a 2-3 month old stack of paper to sift through. 🙂

    1. Dave, you can store that stuff in Evernote using local notebook. Local notebooks never sync with the server, and only ever stay on your computer. The main disadvantage is that you can only access them from the computer on which they are stored.

  4. It’s so gorgeous to see this wonderful series back!!! Your tips are so valuable and I won’t miss a single one of your posts about it 🙂 Have a wonderful, creative – and paperless 😉 – new year, Jamie!

  5. Great post. Sometime when you are new to the trade, you are overwhelmed by so many tips by experienced user. I was worrying how to sort out what you put in evernote. when you tried to send an item to a note book you are not sure whether you save it to the right location. Now I will not worry where it did land and carry on with the task. Thanks. Will love any instruction to get on with paperless.

  6. I purchased a Fujitsu fi-7160 scanner and wanted to know if it can be used the same as the Fujitsu Scansnap scanners with Evernote?

  7. Just a tip from my side: for everything I judge too sensitive (e.g. passport scans, ..) to be in Evernote or elsewhere, I put it in secure notes in 1Password. Those become also synced and available anywhere.


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