Going Paperless: Five Years Later

Quite a few people asked for an update on how I use Evernote for going paperless as part of Reader Request Week. I wrote this piece in response.

April 3rd will mark five years since my first Going Paperless post. That seems as good a time as any to reflect on my efforts to go paperless. I decided to try going paperless because I’d been hearing for years about the “paperless office”, but I’d never actually seen it in action. Paper seemed to creep in at various stages, and I wondered how easy or hard it might be to go paperless. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned along the way.

1. I still find paper useful

I tried for a long time to avoid using paper whenever possible. Instead, I recorded just about everything in Evernote. I tried some other tools as well, but Evernote worked best for the way I work. Still, for quick notes–jotting down a phone number, or a short list of to-do items–scribbling the notes on paper was faster than capturing it in Evernote. It is still faster today. I am rarely without a Field Notes notebook and a couple of pens in my pocket. These notebooks serve as a supplement to my short-term memory. They work better for me than Evernote because I can get my thoughts into them more quickly than I can on my phone.

2. I no longer use Evernote for “short-term” memory

When I started going paperless, I took Evernote’s motto, “Remember Everything,” literally. I wanted to see how easy it was to capture as much as I could in Evernote, and I think I did a pretty good job. Over time, however, I found that much of the stuff I captured was ephemeral. It didn’t add long-term value. Capturing a phone number, or the room number of a conference room just cluttered my notebooks. I used to capture all of my Tweets in Evernote as well, but that, too, added clutter. I don’t do that anymore.

Today, Evernote serves as my long-term memory. It is my digital filing cabinet for the things I want to keep. Today, these things include digital version of the kinds of things you’d find in a physical cabinet, as well as other things, like useful instructions and how-tos. I still have a Timeline notebook where I capture events that I want to remember, like various milestones in our kids’ lives.

3. I don’t interact directly with Evernote as much as I used to

There are two reasons for this. First, much of what gets into Evernote these days gets there through some form of automation. I use FileThis to capture various statements in Evernote automatically. My Automatic Link sends road trips into Evernote automatically. My daily writing summaries are automatically added to my Evernote Timeline notebook. All of that means that the information I want to capture gets into Evernote without me needing to do anything. This is a good thing.

The other reason I don’t interact with Evernote as much is because, as mentioned above, I no longer capture ephemeral stuff in Evernote.

4. I still have my daily routine of scanning paper into Evernote

One thing that still works well for me is my routine for scanning in paper that I receive. A lot more of the paper that I used to get in the mail is now routed into Evernote automatically, but as I type this, I have a small stack of paper that has accumulated since yesterday, and before I finish up this evening, I’ll scan and shred.

5. I make a lot more use of saved searches

I’ve been using Evernote since 2010, and I have a good sense of the kinds of things I tend to search for. I collect good saved searches, and those searches that I do most frequently are right there on my shortcut list for easy access. It speeds things up for me, and makes it faster to find what I am looking for.

Evernote as a company has changed a lot since I started using Evernote. They’ve gone through their growing pains like any company does. I suspect people wonder whether or not, given all of the changes over the years, I still plan on sticking with Evernote. It is a fair question, and an easy one for me to answer. I don’t plan on changing how I manage my paperless life. Evernote is the tool that works best for me and I plan on sticking with it.


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