My Year of Living Paperlessly

I made a New Year’s resolution to, as much as possible, eliminate paper from my life. I can’t control all of what comes it, but I can control some of it. And I have complete control over what I keep, within the guidelines of U.S. tax law, of course.

Here is the list of steps I took in January to get My Year of Living Paperlessly off to the right start.

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Install Scanners

My first move was to make sure I had input devices that could convert and copy my paper. I have four different scanning options, and they all have their uses. None of these is a buy, one get everything device.

Neat

Neat sent a NeatConnect ($499.95), the company’s cloud-connected scanner. This has been my go-to scanner for most of my material. It includes slots for receipts, business cards, and regular documents. Unlike many scanners, NeatConnect can be used as a completely standalone device. You just insert a document, configure for the type of document (color/greyscale, single or double-sided, and individual files or a combined file), and then hit scan. The built-in LED display shows the process, and it faciliates some basic editing, like flipping the image or deleting an unwanted page. Then you hit Send and the NeatConnect sends the scan into its cloud service. NeatConnect comes with three months of the premium cloud service. You can also scan directly to Dropbox, OneDrive, Evernote, or another connected cloud service supported by Neat.

If you want to use Neat’s cloud, which includes scan-specific processing options, the company offers plans that covers both personal and business uses. The personal plan is $5.99 but limits a single user to 45 captures per month. At $14.99, the premium model includes unlimited captures for up to two users, and 30 verify credits for adding extra scrutiny to identifying information on poor originals. At $24.99, verification goes up to 60 documents and up to five people can use the scanner with their own accounts.

Although NeatConnect is designed for the cloud, cost-conscious users might want to consider the optional USB and free desktop software. There is no cloud subscription and no cloud synchronization with the desktop client, but you can use the device for local scanning. Cloud services can be integrated at any time.

There is also an free iOS app that allows access to cloud files, and input from an iPad or iPhone via the camera.

Doxie

Doxie provided me with a Doxie Go Wi-Fi ($229) for this journey. This device works via Wi-Fi or USB. If it can’t find the network you’ve connected it to, it will create its own network. It's great for travel. It also stores up to 1,800 documents in built-in memory (which can be expanded via SD cards). Scans can be either 300 or 600 dpi. Apps for Mac, PC, and iOS can control the scanner. And because it is small and portable, it can be connected to a Mac one minute, and placed in the overnight bag for a trip the next. The internal battery will run about 300 scans at 300 dpi. The device comes complete with an international-ready power supply and all the popular electric receptacle adapters.

iPhone

The iPhone 6 has a great camera. That camera also makes a pretty fantastic scanner. Hold it steady and level, and it does a great job. Abbyy FineScanner for iOS and other iOS scanning software also includes the ability to adjust for not so perfect shots with anti-skewing features. Although the NetConnect and the Doxie also process business cards, I've committed to Evernote Premium and I scan all of the business cards from my iPhone directly into Evernote. That way I can start recycling at lunch during a tradeshow, or during a conference session break. No need to even take cards back to my room.

 

HP Officejet Pro 8620 e-All-in-One Printer ($299.99)

If you have old notebooks or spiral bound documents, you can do 50 pages at a time through the Neat and then reconnect them, or you can turn an all-in-one printer/scanner into a mass scanning device. It includes a sheet feeder and duplex scanning capabilities. If you prepare the documents well, it can run through an entire stack without stopping. I drive it with Abbyy FineReader, which handles things like optical character recognition. Yes, one of the reasons to convert to a scan from paper is so you can search the content more thoroughly. I store these documents on Microsoft's OneDrive, and can easily access them on the iPad or iPhone via Microsoft's free OneDrive app.

 

Overview of Devices and How Best to Use them When Going Paperless

Device Price Primary Use
NeatConnect   $499.95 Go-to scanner for stacks of documents, receipts, and checks.
Doxie Go Wi-Fi   $229   Conference handouts, marketing literature, and research while on the road.
iPhone   Varies    Receipts and business cards on the road
HP Officejet Pro 8620 e-All-in-One Printer   $299.99   Big stacks of documents like notebooks and collections in spiral-bound books. Flatbed for anything you don't want potentially eaten, like older, fragile documents or one-of-a-kind images.

 

Purge and Prioritization

I have file cabinets and drawers in my office and in my garage. The purge is the first step. I’m starting in my office by eliminating every piece of paper I don’t actually need.

Prioritization follows. What can be scanned quickly so you can make progress and free space fast? My first choice was big notebooks and spiral bound conference proceedings and other large collections that didn’t have a lot wear or folds in the paper. I then worked through less pristine collections, and finally ended with individual sheets of paper, articles, and other detritus. This will be an on-going process.

With the scanners all set up I don’t need to touch the paper and then re-file it for later scanning. I touch it, decide the best way to make it digital and then go. Next stop, recycling bin.

 

Preparation, Scanning, and Seeking

Preparation

I had some large spiral bound documents that I wanted to capture and recycle. I cleared my desk, went to the garage for wire cutters and starting disassembling these old docs. (Note, be careful with the loose spiral wire, as it can shoot across the room. I ended up with one lodged in a shoe and thought I had a foot problem until I discovered the quarter inch or wire pushed through the sole of my shoe.)

I then used a paper trimmer to remove the edge where the spiral held the paper. I tried scanning without doing this and ended up with more paper jams than the time savings was worth.

Some large format magazines don’t fit well in any scanner, so they also have to be trimmed. Newspaper presents particular problems with size. I’ve switched to the iPhone camera and capture the entire page. I’ll go back and edit it later with software, or not.

Scanning

Pick the best device for the task at hand (use the handy table about as a guide) and scan, scan, scan. It feels good after a day to see space in a drawer and all of the paper ready for recycling. There is a bit of a sense of personal weight loss, or at least mental weight loss, because all that time spent looking in overfilled drawers at stuff you know you should really deal with, just ads a mental burden modern people don't need. And the weight is real. You'll know that the next time you go to move.

Seeking

Seeking is an option for those who have conducted research in the past (or present for that matter), and may not have done so digitally with tools like Instapaper, Pocket, the Apple reading list, or downloading PDFs.

For instance, I have a number of magazine article I’ve torn from magazine bindings and filed by topic. Many of these are now digital. I also have academic articles I’ve collected. The seeking phase of living paperlessly involves not scanning, but going to the Internet to find the original PDF or article and capturing it digitally. This may take longer than scanning single page articles, but for people in research, the link is a good piece of metadata, so it is probably worth it over the long term.

If you are trying to get through stuff, then scan and do your seeking later.

Curation and Use

The last phases include curation and use. We not only need to get our stuff into digital form to live paperlessly, but we also need to be able to find it, and use it in the same way we used paper, and that means taking notes and highlighting. More on those topics in future posts.

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Daniel Rasmus's picture

Daniel W. Rasmus is the Founder and Principal Analyst at Serious Insights. He is the author of Listening to the Future, Management by Design and Sketches of Spain and Other Poems. Rasmus teaches at Bellevue College where he teaches Social Media and Personal Branding.