This is going to be a nuts-and-bolts about how I've gone paperless in my house. That's right, except for a couple of items that I'm required to keep for three years on paper for taxes per my employer (but not per the IRS as best as I understand the regulations; check with your tax specialist because the government is doing a lot to help everyone go paperless) I have not created a single file folder in my house since I went paperless. I have two file cabinets, one that I am working on scanning back and emptying and the other that is full of genealogy originals that will be kept on paper forever and ever amen.
Going paperless has required three main tools. The first is Evernote. The paid version is what you need and it is only $5.00/month. Evernote does something different from what a file back-up and sharing system like Box does or what a note organizing system like Microsoft OneNote does, although both programs are essential to managing my digital life, as is a photo organizing cloud system (I use Flickr). At this point I'm almost entirely in the "cloud." My laptop is a box; if it got run over by a truck I could grab another laptop and be ready to go.
Evernote has a "we're not responsible" tone (frequently those exact words) to their error/operating messages and I have experienced the same in my two interactions with their customer service (the email thread reads like a farce, I might have to post it someday), but they appear to have done a good job handling a server failure that occurred in the late summer of 2010 so I wouldn't write off their corporate culture just yet. But don't trust that they will help you when you need help either. Also they are still a baby-venture and there's nothing to guarantee their success. However, their desktop program allows you to completely copy your data onto a local drive (while still having it available across other computers, a web login, your smart phone and your ipad) so there is no chance your data can go down with Evernote. You'll be able to use it locally on Evernote forever or move it to another system at your leisure.
The second tool is the Canon P-150 "scan-tini" scanner (also available for Mac). I did a lot of comparison shopping and I am very happy with my choice. This scanner is powered entirely through your USB connection, with a second USB-to-power connecter or AC adabtor if you need extra power. The extra power really speeds things up for 600 dpi double-sided, but since you shouldn't be scanning at that high of a resolution for routine document storage the one USB connector does what you need 99% of the time. This is the ultra-portable answer; the only thing that would make it better would be if I could scan directly into an ipad. If you have to save your paper to go back to a central location then you are not paperless; a portable solution is required!
The third essential a second screen. Being paperless means more screens. For example, you may go through your paper bills in a stack next to your computer screen with the financial management program of your choice up. You can stack and arrange windows to make this work, or you can just have Evernote up on that second screen while you're in your financial management program on your first screen. Ditto for writing a research paper (in that case, for me, it is OneNote up on that second screen too) or any other activity that used to involve a stack of paper next to the computer. Depending on what programs you are using, the iPad may be effective as that second screen, either on it's own or using one of the applications which make it act as a screen extension on your computer.
Now you are ready to go paperless! You'll be able to set up a scanning folder on your computer to be automatically emptied into Evernote. You want to set up as few folders as needed and as few tags as needed. Don't set up folders or tags for things you can search for! You need to set up "an "Inbox" folder where all your scans land. My folder is called "aaa" so it will always be at the top. Aside from that I just have a folder "library" for publically available items that I feel comfortable sharing with close members of my family and folder "history" for everything else. Eventually when my hard drive fills up "history" could be split, backed up, and removed from my harddrive (it would still be searchable on the web tool). I will probably have to put my local copy onto an external hard disk as it gets larger. The web tool is almost to the point where one doesn't necessarily need to the local copy, except that the data is so important I don't think I would do without. However, one could operate on the web tool primarily and just drag out the hard drive to update the back up periodically.
Let's sort your mail. Your mail probably has:
-Fliers and newsletters. Mark down any action items and scan and shred. If you really want to keep your newsletter around to read, mark it "scanned" so you know you can throw it away after you scan it.
-Bills. Scan and shred and tag "pay". If relevant, also tag "taxes" (you don't have to tag the year because it saved the year you scanned it... at the turn of the year you can just adjust that to make it land in the right year). Now you have a file you can go through when you do your electronic bill pay (you do electronic bill pay, right?). Sometimes a few stubs and envelopes have to be saved for paper checks. Since I have so little paper, I just mark them "scanned" and put them in a desk drawer. When I pay the bills I change their tag to "paid."
-Catalogs. They probably have a website? Scan the page with your customer number and the website info and put in the recycling.
-Magazines and newspapers. As I read them I either rip out the articles I want to scan or log-in to download the articles to Evernote (much smaller files). For magazines that have a lot I might want to find again I just rip out the table-of-contents and scan that. I can always find the article again in a library if I truly want it.
Remember that you do not need to tag this stuff! If you want to find the article about the Grand Canyon again, you're just going to search for "Grand Canyon".
What about your own notes? I used to take a lot of notes on paper while I'm reading and I'm a huge journal-keeper (though now more likely on the iPad than on paper). I keep these notes for as long as they are immediately relevant, then scan and shred. Slowly I'm going back through my history and catching up. That 50 pound box of childhood journals I've been lugging around since I was 18? Someday it will scanned and shredded. Your printing will be searchable; your handwriting might be searchable. I print keywords in the margins.
Their are a few other inputs into Evernote:
-You can type directly into Evernote on your computer, the website, or smartphone.
-You can drag and drop anything from your computer (although only supported items will be searchable, and almost everything is supported).
-You will get an email address that allows you to email into Evernote. I used to read my email on my blackberry and then sort it _again_ on my desktop. Now I read on my
blackberry iPad and forward anything that requires more attention or needs to be saved to my history to my Evernote inbox. You can also use email to save journal thoughts, action items, whatever you need.
-You can save from Microsoft Outlook directly into Evernote.
-You can forward or write tweets to Evernote.
-On a computer with the desktop client, you can left-click on any website and forward it to Evernote. (Go to the "print" version of the page if possible.)
-You can send pictures from your smartphone or iPad. For example, you can take a picture of a flier and it will be searchable in Evernote. I sometimes photograph small newspaper articles or at the bookstore I'll photograph books that interest me.
-You can send a voice-to-text message to Evernote. I think it's 5 per month that are free; then you need a paid account. This is one of the many vendor add-ins available in the Evernote "Trunk."
The Evernote upload limit has been enlarged can be a little restricting. You can save literally thousands of websites and other text items, but I hit the scanning limit early in the month. 300pdi lets you save 10s or 100s more items than 600pdi will allow. If one did happen to hit the limit, Evernote allows you to save your overage (or stuff you just don't want to put on the web) in a local-only folder, but it's not backed up. I have scanned as much as possible working on backlog and have not been able to exceed the new limit.
Originally posted 19 September 2010.
Updated 21 May 2011.