Going Paperless- The Definitive Guide

An on-going project that I have been working on this year has been to go paperless. It was one of my big projects for this year in order to to reduce clutter and make it easier to find information in much less time than it would take to sort through many paper documents. I started slowly and then expanded as it became feasible. I plan to not carry any paper documents with me next semester in school and to apply this also to other projects.

1. Manuals

I had a huge folder of user manuals, setup guides and other documentation in my filling cabinet that was difficult to transport between home and my dorm and also not necessary since I rarely use them.  The best way I found to digitize manuals  was to Google the device I needed the manual to and then “PDF”. Many manufacturers had PDFs available on their websites, while some of them where available as a webpage as PDFS which I just downloaded. For those that we just webpages or some other format, I converted them to PDF first.  On Windows this can be done by using Cute PDF Writer and on the Mac you can do it by clicking File—>Print or holding the Command+P keys on your keyboard and then choose PDF from the bottom left side of the print screen. I was able to find the majority of manuals online for my devices, if you can’t find them from Google or the manufacturer’s website where manuals can usually be found in the support page try Retrevo has many manuals posted in PDF format that are free and  easy to download.

2. Documents
To digitize my documents, I got a Doxie Document Scanner. Although any scanner can be used to scan documents (as long as it can save to PDF or other document format) I picked the Doxie  because it’s flat and fits under my computer stand and only requires a USB cable to operate. In addition to all that, it’s easy to transport and scans documents really well. My friend Michael Plasmeier uses an auto-feeding document scanner which allows him to scan many documents at once however, these are much more expensive and bulky which I didn’t want to have  t transport back and forth to school.  Doxie makes it easy to scan documents (photos too) and save them in a variety of file formats. I scan documents to PDF files although Doxie can also save to: Evernote, Google Docs and other cloud sites in addition to many file formats. One thing to note however, is that the Doxie, as of the writing of this article, does not support OCR (Optical Character Recognition) which lets you scan files and make them into editable text files on your computer. Personally most of the files that I scan are just for reading and do not need to be edited but be aware of this if that is something you need.

3. Receipts:
Receipts I do two different things with, for minor purchases, I just take a picture with my iPhone camera and save it as a note in Evernote which synchronizes across all my devices and  the cloud. Evernote allows me to conveniently access those receipts no matter where I am and can easily find them with a quick search.  For more major purchases, I scan them to a PDF using my Doxie scanner and then save them as a file on my computer in a reciepts folder which is organized for easy access. I do this to have a higher-quality scan of important receipts, although phone cameras are getting better, the scan is much better resolution. You don’t want to have a bad copy of a receipt which has important information that  you might need down the road. Another quick sidenote, the IRS has begun to accept digitized reciepts for taxes as well so scanning receipts can make it easier to get organized come tax season.

4. Business Cards
Being a college student, I don’t have many business cards that I need to hold onto but, I just use the camera on my iPhone to take a picture and then file them in Evernote for easy access like I do with receipts.  I also highly recommend copying the information into your address book so it can be easily access if you need it. There are also specialized apps on iOS and most mobile platforms to scan just Receipts and Business cards but, the cloud synchronization of Evernote and the fact that one app does many things, all in one app makes me choose to just use Evernote to simplify my life.

So, after I digitize these files, I organize the PDF files and put them in my Dropbox  which makes sure that they are accessible anywhere and a backed up so the files won’t be lost. Evernote takes care of everything stored there and syncs them across all my devices automatically.

My iPad was also a great help in going paperless, I use Good Reader to sync my Dropbox to my iPad for offline reading and  Evernote for accessing Evernote notes on my iPad. Both apps are also available on the iPhone as well for full portability.

The last question you probably have is: What do I do with the old papers? Anything with personal information should be shredded for security and then anything else, should be recycled. This way, you get rid of all the extra paper clutter from your home or office but get rid of it in an eco-friendly, green way. You may want to keep important paper files just to be safe but by digitizing them, you now have more options of what to do with them and more portability.

By following these steps, you should be able to eliminate much of the paper-clutter in your life and then as more arises, just continue to follow these steps to make sure no new paper clutter begins to accumulate. For example, when you have a receipt that you want to save from any e-commerce transaction, just save it as a PDF using the steps I mentioned above.  Also, remember that since you are relying on your computer even more for important information,  backup is critical. You should always backup to the cloud at least so that in case of a fire or anything else that would damage your work area, your files are safe. I highly recommend Backblaze which offers unlimited backup on internal and external hard drives for just $5/month.  Once you reduce the amount of paper you use in your life, you will find it easier to find information and less cumbersome.  If you also utilize the iPad, it will also be more portable because you can take what would be many heavy books full of papers in one lightweight, portable device.

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