We’re almost at the end of Get Your Tech Together Week, and I’m hoping you’ve embarked on at least one project— I know getting things organized in your digital life can feel overwhelming, but I swear when I get these things under control I feel like I lost 10 pounds and got a facelift…. it’s just that good. We’ve tackled online safety, calendars, and backing up your computer, and today it’s all about how to go paperless.
I wrote an article about how to go paperless recently, and you guys had lots of questions, mostly of the “What Now?” variety: Once I have it all set up, what do I scan first? I’ve got the stuff, but how do I get to the magical paperless life? So today, we’ll build on that first article to include some other tricks, then talk about what your first scans should be.
Barricade the Mailbox
It seems like for every piece of paper mail that I need or want— birthday cards, or those royalty checks from my last hip hop album— you receive an additional 50 pieces of junk mail that I don’t want. Paperless life starts with doing what you can to keep the paper from entering your home in the first place.
Using an app like PaperKarma (iOS, Android) lets you staunch the flow, not only saving you time, but also reducing your carbon footprint. Simply snap a photo of unwanted mail when it arrives, press send, and the app will send a notice to unsubscribe you from the mailing list. The app also keeps track of where you’ve submitted your requests, so you don’t duplicate. Also visit the Direct Marketing Association’s National Do Not Mail list, where you can either opt out of all junk mail, or pick and choose what you’ll receive. Check off boxes for the type of mail you do want, such as “yes, I want charitable requests for disaster relief,” for example, and blacklist the stuff you would like to skip. Buh-bye, refi! And with big elections coming up, this is welcome news: You can opt out of political flyers (just don’t opt out of voting).
Archive the Artwork
Who could throw out that adorable picture your toddler drew of the family dog, the one where the dog’s eyes are are sideways (she’s definitely influenced by Picasso). Are you a heartless monster for wanting to toss it? No, you’re just a parent, like so many of us, buried under an avalanche of kids art that, I swear, multiplies while we sleep.
Artkive (iOS, Android) lets you take images of pictures, paintings, and schoolwork so you don’t have to save the paper versions. It’s also a great way to capture an image of something bulky— I’m looking at you, papier-mâché family tree project— that you can’t keep around forever, but don’t want to erase from existence. The app makes it easy to archive art by child and age, and ordering a tidy photo book of all the art projects couldn’t be easier. Paint chips, glitter, or broken pieces of macaroni not included.
Artkive also has a concierge service, where you can send them all the art and they’ll photograph it all for you. Plum Print offers a similar service— just plop everything in a pre-paid shipping kit and mail the box back. They’ll turn it all into a coffee-table book for you.
Attack The Stacks
Okay you’ve corralled the kids artwork and the junk mail has slowed to a trickle. You’re now ready to tackle the paper piles: I know you have a countertop, office desk, and a dining room table under all those piles somewhere. I promise you will soon be reunited.
Let’s talk about those piles for a second before we eradicate them: We have piles because (a) there is important information in those documents that we don’t want to forget, and (b) we don’t trust our organizational systems (or don’t have any) to keep them organized and at the ready. And really, it makes sense that we don’t: Filing systems aren’t exactly good at reminding us of what’s inside them. We have to look in a folder to remember what’s there— none of it is at the ready, and it can’t jump out on the date we need it and say, “remember me!”
Hence, the piles. What we need is a system where important, time-sensitive information is pulled and organized separately, and the piles can then be filed so that we can access them, but not so we have to look at them all the time.
So, here’s the plan to go paperless:
1. Extract tasks and dates from the document;
2. Scan the document into your digital filing system;
3. Shred or recycle the document;
This is a big moment— you’re going to give yourself over to a new system, and it will seem weird and foreign. If you want to keep all your documents in an “archived” box in your house for a few weeks while you get used to trusting your digital system, I won’t be mad. But put them in a box and store them somewhere remote— because you won’t need them. Their digital substitutes are going to be much easier to access should you need to read them.
1. Extract tasks and dates from the document
Duh, Carley. Of course. Except this is a different kind of reading than you’ve done in the past. You’re scanning for two important things: Tasks and dates. Read the document critically and figure out if there are any to-dos associated with it. Those go on your task manager. Also scan for important dates— those go into your calendar.
Example: Best Friend’s Birthday Party Invite
Tasks: RSVP to party, send husband an email with the date, buy a gift, find a sitter for the night.
Calendar: Add party date to the calendar, (and, possibly) schedule time to go to the mall to buy the gift.
As I mentioned in the calendars article earlier this week, it doesn’t matter if it’s a paper or a digital calendar. Same with your task manager: It can be a notebook or an app (my favorites are Todoist, or Any.Do).
What we’re trying to accomplish here is getting rid of the need to ever look at this paper again.
Bears repeating: You should only have to look at the paper once. After the information extraction, you should be able to file it away.
Putting your tasks in a dedicated place that you look at when you’re ready to do stuff makes it much easier to get things done. And using a piece of paper in a pile— strewn in with utility bills and theatre schedules— to remember an important event is not as effective as putting in in a calendar in the context of everything else you have to do that day/week/month.
In this example, you might want to glance at the party invite again on the day of the party to re-read directions, but you don’t need to see it before then. Having it buried in a pile on your kitchen counter until then isn’t going to help you at all— it’s just going to clutter your life, and mental energy. Which brings us to Step 2…
2. Scan the document into your digital filing system
Once you’ve extracted the important information from the document, you don’t need it out on the counter, but you don’t want to get rid of it entirely. It likely still has important information on it that you’ll need sooner or later. Whether it’s for tax purposes, or just for posterity, the whole point of a digital filing cabinet is that you don’t have to choose what’s important to store away— you can store it all, since hard drive space or cloud storage is so inexpensive.
Whether it’s a utility bill, a bank statement, a student directory, a schedule or a coupon, it’s time to scan it. An app like Scannable (iOS) is an easy way to scan documents if you’re not ready to invest in a scanner— you just take their picture. The app automatically digitally enhances the scans, so it’s just like having the original document, and can handle multiple pages, in case you’re dealing with a long-winded school policy. It can also remove things like fold marks from an image. Once you have scanned the document, just upload it to Evernote, your iCloud Drive, Google Drive, Dropbox, Gmail—anywhere that can accept a PDF or JPEG—so you can file it.
If your stacks are large and you’re on a scanning bender, you may want to upgrade to a document scanner. You might already have an “all-in-one” printer than can scan things for you, but a new crop of sleep personal scanners makes it’s so much easier— no clunky software, no arduous steps. I love ScanSnap’s suite of scanners, as well as Doxie’s and Neat’s scanners— all have software that makes things easy, which is half the battle.
Apps, including Google Drive, Box, and Dropbox allow you to sync your files to all your devices, so you can access them everywhere. Evernote allows you to see your files more visually, and let you search for words in the document… it will even read handwriting. What this means is that it’s easier than ever to find files you scan— you don’t even have to work too hard to organize them into folders, because searching for them is so easy. All of these cloud apps have bank-level security, but use a secure password to make sure your files are safe. Storing all your files locally on an external hard drive is a great option too— you just might want to name things with care so it’s easier to find them.
3. Shred or Recycle the document
I’m sure I don’t have to go into detail on this step, except to say that identity theft is rampant in this country, and if you’re throwing out stuff with sensitive information on it, it might be prudent to shred it before you do. Who knows when these bad people’s get their paws on your information— it might be out of your garbage bins. The point here is that the paper is leaving your house and that’s a good, good thing. Getting your identity stolen would mar that slightly.
Hope this has inspired you to get out from underneath the paperwork avalanche and start to clear the decks. If you make this a habit, you’ll soon see vast wilderness of countertop where once there was a papery mess. Remember to read my article on paperless basics, and please— PLEASE!— ask me any questions you have. I love to talk about this stuff.
Get Your Tech Together Week is almost at it’s end! Tomorrow: It’s all about email. Hope to see you back here.