Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Tech Column: Go Paperless in 2013 (Part 1)

by Bill Adler

Are you going paperless in 2013? You can, you know. It's now easier than ever.

The benefits of going paperless are endless, but mostly (for me) being paperless has two major benefits: Less clutter and being able to find everything that I have with just a few clicks. 

Going paperless isn't a question of technology anymore. The tools are here, and they're easy and inexpensive. Going paperless is a mental --not physical-- problem. Look around your home or office and think about whether having less paper to file, sift through, move from flat surface to flat surface, and possibly lose, is something you want. If paper is a problem, then get rid of it.

I'm not going to get all poetic about the virtues of going paperless, except to say that once you're no longer filing, hunting, refiling, wondering where something is, you'll feel better. Going paperless is about saving time and creating new spaces in your office or home. 

Going paperless doesn't mean that you're entirely free of paper. Well, it can, but I don't think it's worth the trouble to rid yourself of every Post-it and restaurant receipt. Going paperless can mean cutting out 50 percent, 75 percent, 90 percent of the paper. And believe me, if you do that you'll feel good.

You can get rid of all kinds of papers. Instruction manuals, for example. Every manual for everything you already own is available as a downloadable PDF.  Are you printing articles from the Internet. Seriously? Use Instapaper, www.instapaper.com, or Evernote Clearly, www.evernote.com/clearly, instead of using expensive printer ink. Receipts be gone, too!

How do you do this? How do you go paperless? First, take a look at the kind of paper you have. Different kinds of paper lend themselves to different solutions. If you have a lot of documents, a Fuji Snapscan, http://amzn.to/WZeniH, that has a 50 page document feeder might be just what the doctor ordered. If your current paper situation isn't overwhelming, or you're not in a rush, the wireless Doxie scanner, www.getdoxie.com, might be perfect. You can also turn your smartphone into a scanner: Just search for "iPhone scanner app" or "Android scanner app," depending on your flavor of phone.

Feeling too overwhelmed to even know where to start scanning? Then use Shoeboxed, www.shoeboxed.com: Ship your paper to them and the'll return digitalized copies of everything. Officedrop, www.officedrop.com, is a similar they-scan-it-for-you service.

I use Evernote, www.evernote, as my main storage place for just about every piece of paper that used to slow me down. Evernote indexes and makes searchable everything you put into it. One of Evernote's strengths is that you you don't have to file the way you used to: You can just dump documents into Evernote and you'll be able to find them later. In fact, that's part of the fun of going paperless: There's less work all around because you don't have to figure out where something is ahead of time.

I also use Google Drive (formerly Google Docs) to store a lot of information: www.drive.google.com. Microsoft's OneNote, www.bit.ly/13AHzmr, and Springpad, www.springpad.com, two note-taking and organizing services can be part of your solution, too.

There are innumerable ways to tweak the technology to suit the way you like to organize your life. You don't have to bend in a direction that makes you feel uncomfortable in order to lead a paperless life. For example, if you frequently transcribe notes, you can use a voice-to-text program or service such as Dragon Dictation (free on Android and iPhone) or Voice2Note, www.voice2note.dial2do.com. Is your computer monitor adorned with Post-it notes? Then use a Post-it note style program in place of paper notes (that only end up sticking to the bottom of your shoes anyway.)

This column could be the start of a 200 page book on going paperless. (I have the time to write that now because I'm no longer overwhelmed by paper.) But rather than write endlessly, let me point you toward some good resources.

Paperless2013, www.paperless2013.org, has some great ideas about how to get rid of paper associated with financial stuff, which is to say, a lot of paper. Jamie Rubin's blog on the paperless life has a lot of terrific ideas: www.jamierubin.net/going-paperless. This article in Lifehacker about going paperless in two days is inspiring (well, as inspiring as a topic like could get): http://bit.ly/TXY88N.

Going paperless is an intellectual effort, not a technical or physical one. There are no technology barriers to getting rid of receipts, bank statements, school reports, medical records, and about ten feet of stuff that you keep because "I might need it one day." By going paperless you can keep everything, but just not in paper form.


Bill Adler is the co-publisher of the Cleveland Park Listserv, www.cleveland-park.com. He is the author of "Boys and Their Toys: Understanding Men by Understanding Their Relationship with Gadgets," http://amzn.to/rspOft. He tweets at @billadler.

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