The Ultimate Guide to Going Paperless in 2023
Learn how going paperless and creating a digital filing cabinet can eliminate paper clutter and give you secure access to your most important documents anytime, anywhere, with just a few clicks!
Near the beginning of 2014, I was looking for content for my then year-old blog when I randomly said, “Hey Donnie, why don’t you write a post about that whole paperless thing you do?”
He had been honing his paperless system for a few years at that point. And I had seen what a positive impact it had on our own family, so I figured that it might be helpful for some other people too.
After some more nagging from me, Donnie agreed to write the post. It took off almost immediately. So many people wanted to learn about going paperless!
Going paperless means storing and organizing all important documents and files digitally, rather than in a physical filing cabinet. This not only eliminates a ton of paper clutter, but it also allows people to securely access all of their information right from their smart phone.
A lot has changed since Donnie wrote his first post back in 2014. Technology has improved. Smartphones are everywhere. And he has continued to work on his paperless process and streamline it even more. There has never been a better time to go paperless.
With all of these changes, I asked him if he would do a complete overhaul on his paperless post to update it with the latest information, and he gladly agreed.
Going Paperless and Creating a Digital Filing Cabinet
This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.
Why We Decided to Go Paperless in the First Place
Before I realized my need for a paperless lifestyle, I had to reach an organizational breaking point. You know, that point where everything feels like utter chaos and you don’t know if you’ll ever be able to get it under control.
Early in our marriage, Abby and I started accumulating quite a bit of paper. They were all “important” documents that I knew we needed to keep as adults with our own household. I tried to take ownership of the filing and paper organizing duties, but I failed miserably.
We lived in a small townhouse at the time. One of the upstairs bedrooms was designated as my office. Over time, the paper clutter in that office became so bad that I couldn’t even stand the thought of going into that room.
We had two small filing cabinets in the corner. But gradually paper began to stack up first on top of the filing cabinets. Then next to the filing cabinets. And eventually spilling over onto the desk.
If I needed to retrieve a document, it would very easily take me 15 minutes or more to find what I needed. My system was not working. I had failed miserably at organizing our paper.
My “Aha” Moment
Around this same time I had somewhat of an “aha” moment at work. I was an oil & gas landman. Part of my duties involved researching legal documents at the courthouse. I would find the documents I needed, feed coins into the copy machine, and make piles of copies that I could then take back to the office.
Eventually I started to notice one particular landman that had a very intriguing process for dealing with the mountains of paper. He arrived at the courthouse with his laptop as well as a small black bag. It looked like one of those bags that soccer players use to carry their cleats. But inside the bag was a small portable scanner.
Instead of photocopying piles of paperwork and documents, he would scan everything and leave the courthouse with only digital copies. It was obvious to me that his process was much more efficient and organized than my process.
I couldn’t wait to tell Abby about this landman and his scanner. I knew that little scanner could transform not only my work, but also how I dealt with all our paper clutter and filing cabinets at home.
How Going Paperless Has Changed Over the Last Decade
It’s now been more than a decade since I started my paperless lifestyle and transformed my creaky old filing cabinets into a digital filing cabinet. Over that time, my process has improved and evolved.
One key difference over the past decade is how mobile phone scanning apps have evolved. The mobile phone processor speeds and camera quality has made using a quality mobile phone scanning app the faster and better (better image quality) option than the expensive dedicated scanner that I used when I first started my paperless journey. I still have my trusty old Fujitsu scanner, but I haven’t taken it out of its case in over five years.
The improved technology has made creating a digital filing cabinet and going paperless more accessible to most people. There is no longer a large upfront cost associated with a standalone scanner.
This paperless process has been so beneficial to our family that I find a lot of joy in sharing it with others. We’ve taught this process to thousands of people over the years and have also seen firsthand how it’s transformed the productivity of some of our close friends and family.
What We’ll Cover in This Post
There are, of course, people that are skeptical about starting a digital filing cabinet. There are lots of considerations in terms of privacy, security, and longevity. We’ll address some of those concerns in this guide, but we’ve also written an entire article that addresses some of those questions and objections.
My goal with this post is to give you an overview of my paperless process that will reduce your paper clutter, save you time, increase your privacy, allow for easy collaboration with your spouse or partner, and future-proof your documents.
Click on each of the links below to be taken to that specific part of they post:
Meet Your Digital Filing Cabinet: Evernote
Evernote is the heart of my paperless process. It serves as our digital filing cabinet.
Over the years we’ve tested just about every possible alternative. These include Microsoft OneNote, Notion, Bear, Google Drive, Dropbox, nested folders on a hard drive, and many more options. Nothing checks all the boxes like Evernote.
Evernote is the ideal combination of a multi-platform piece of software with an easy-to-use visual layout. It also has organization functions like note titles, notebooks, stacks, and tags, as well as advanced search filters and OCR searching. There really is nothing else that compares.
Evernote continues to improve and add features. And very importantly, your documents are never locked into their system. It’s easy to backup your entire digital filing cabinet or move to a new system entirely if you wish.
Evernote has stood the test of time. It is truly the optimal tool to use to eliminate our paper clutter and go paperless.
(Wondering what all tools you need to go paperless? Get our tech guide by clicking on the button below!)
The Paperless Tech Stack: Essential Tools You’ll Need to Create Your Digital Filing Cabinet in 2023
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Let’s take a look at the five steps we’ll use to create our digital filing cabinet with Evernote.
1. Capture: Bring All Incoming Paperwork into Evernote
The start of your paperless journey is the capture process. It’s important to have a system and the right habits for capturing both physical documents (mail, forms, insurance paperwork, medical documents, etc.) as well as all the incoming digital info (email attachments, electronic bills, articles, PDF files, etc.) into one central location.
With our system, all incoming paper and digital documents are captured and sent to our Evernote “Inbox” notebook where they wait for further processing.
Turning Physical Paperwork into Digital Documents and Getting Them to Evernote
When I first went paperless, I would gather all incoming paper into one central location throughout the week. Then I would sit down for a single scanning session.
But now, mobile phone scanning apps are so fast and easy to use that I scan incoming documents right as I receive them.
If I bring in the mail, I immediately take a minute and scan the important documents. If I’m at the UPS Store returning a package, I scan the tracking slip the moment I receive it, right in the store.
I no longer wait for the paper to accumulate throughout the week. I scan right when I receive the paper.
It’s important to choose the right scanning app with the right features. Fortunately, there are a lot of great apps to choose from with good options for both iOS and Android devices.
Features to Look for in a Scanning App
When choosing a scanning app, there are a few features and requirements that are needed:
- Direct integration with Evernote
- Ability to set a standard naming convention. This will save you time during your weekly processing session when you are going through all the documents in your Evernote Inbox.
- Fast scanning with built-in features that whiten any document shadows and flatten out any folds or creases on the final image of your document.
- Can save in PDF format.
- The ability to apply OCR (optical character recognition) to your scanned documents. OCR transforms your documents into searchable text that is important for finding exactly what you need in your digital filing cabinet years down the road.
There are a number of mobile phone scanning apps that fit this criteria. It’s important to test out several to make sure the integration with Evernote is solid and that the app works quickly and can get your document into Evernote with a minimal number of screen taps.
I have to admit that I find it refreshing and almost liberating to scan all of my incoming paper in my life almost immediately, and then shred or discard the physical paper. Once you’ve found a fast scanning app that you really like, the capture process is a lot of fun.
(You can get the full rundown of all of the apps and technology we use to go paperless in this post.)
Moving Digital Documents to Evernote
In addition to capturing physical documents and adding them to a digital filing cabinet, it’s important to have a system for capturing documents that are already digital and adding them to your Evernote account.
I typically add digital documents to my Evernote account in one of four ways:
- Drag them into an Evernote note directly from my laptop
- Save digital documents I’m viewing on my phone directly to Evernote
- Use the Evernote web clipper to save articles, online receipts, and other information in a web browser to my Evernote account
- Forward emails that have attached documents to my Evernote account
That last method is particularly powerful. Each Evernote account comes with a unique email address that is tied to that particular account. When you send an email to that particular email address, the content of that email is saved to your Evernote account.
An example of this would be utility bills or credit card statements that are emailed to you. You can forward those emails to your unique Evernote email address, and then the attached PDF bill or statement will be added to your Evernote default notebook. In our case, that would be our “Inbox” notebook.
This process can also be made faster with custom email filters. In my email service provider settings (Gmail for instance), I can set rules to forward all emails from my electric company to my unique Evernote email address. This is an automated way of adding digital documents to your Evernote account.
2. Process: Organize the Digital Documents Within Evernote
“Capture” is all about how to get both physical and digital documents into Evernote. “Process” is all about what to do with those documents once they’ve been added to Evernote.
Unlike “Capture” which happens on a daily basis, I like to process all of the new documents in my Evernote Inbox on a weekly basis. It’s important to pick one day each week and set aside time to complete the processing session.
For me, Sunday evening is when I like to complete my processing session. We typically don’t have anything planned on Sunday evening, and it’s a good feeling to get organized before the start of the week.
What My Weekly Processing Session Looks Like
During the processing session I go through each note in my Evernote inbox one-by-one. I make sure each note has a proper title and I also apply all the relevant tags according to my tagging best practices that I teach in the course.
Once everything is named and tagged properly, I determine next steps. Some items that require no next action can be immediately moved to my “File Cabinet” notebook for future reference.
Other items may require a next action. An example would be a utility bill. During the processing session is when I pay all these bills. Yes, you can pay bills weekly! Once the bill has been paid, that note (that includes the utility bill) is then moved to my File Cabinet notebook for future reference.
Other items may require different next actions. For example, I may have a schedule for one of my kids’ sports teams in my Evernote inbox. The next action would be to add that schedule to our family’s shared Google Calendar. Once the schedule has been added to the calendar, the note that contains the schedule is moved from my Inbox notebook to my File Cabinet notebook for future reference.
What to Do with More Time Consuming Action Items
Other items in my Evernote Inbox may require actions that take longer than 2 minutes. For these items, I create a corresponding task in my task management program to complete the item.
For example, let’s say my auto insurance rates have gone up and I’d like to call my insurance agent to understand why. This will certainly take more than 2 minutes, so I create a task in my task manager and link to that particular note. Once that task is created, I move the note to my File Cabinet notebook and will reference the note (with the new rates) during that phone call.
The processing sessions can feel overwhelming, but it’s really easier than you think. It typically takes me about 20 minutes each week to process my Evernote inbox down to zero.
3. Access: Retrieve Your Documents Anytime, Anywhere
This is when having a digital filing cabinet really starts to pay off. It’s so nice always having every important document at your fingertips, whether it’s on your computer or mobile phone.
There are so many times that Abby and I are out and away from home and we’re able to pull up important documents in a few seconds.
Maybe we’re at the mechanic and need a copy of our vehicle registration. Maybe we’re at the doctor’s office and need a copy of our immunization records. The convenience of our digital filing cabinet never ceases to amaze me.
But to take full advantage of a digital filing cabinet, it’s important to have a firm grasp of all the different access and search features Evernote offers.
Here are just a few of the ones I use most often:
When to Utilize Offline Notebooks
I have a number of Evernote notebooks that I have set up for offline access. This means that the contents of that notebook are available even without internet access on my mobile phone.
I have an entire notebook of fishing maps in Evernote that I can access when I’m on the river or in a remote location without internet access.
Before we leave for vacation each year, I set up an offline notebook with all of the important directions, phone numbers, addresses, and reservations. It’s important to be able to access these documents while on the road when cell service may be spotty.
Collaborating with Evernote Users and Non-Evernote Users
Another important aspect of accessing documents in a digital filing cabinet is the collaboration options. Evernote has powerful collaboration and sharing features that make it easy to share notes and documents with both Evernote users and non-Evernote users.
For example, if I need to forward a copy of a prescription to our children’s school, I can find the scanned document in our Evernote account within seconds. Then I can email that document to the school administrator without ever leaving the Evernote application, even if the person receiving the email doesn’t have an Evernote account. I don’t have to spend time downloading PDF documents and then attaching them to emails.
Advanced Search Filters for Quick Retrieval of Documents
One of the major improvements in Evernote over the past few years is their advanced search filters. I currently have over 7,000 documents in my Evernote account, so it’s helpful to be able to really drill down and get specific when searching for a document!
The search filters allow me to filter down my 7,000+ notes by tag or multiple tags, what notebook the document is located in, the contents of the note (like a PDF file, for example), as well as created date or updated date.
Every year at tax time I set up a very basic search filter for all of my documents tagged with “taxes” and “2021 taxes,” or whatever tax year I’m currently working with. When I apply that search filter, I see a list of all of my documents that meet that criteria.
I then save that search as a shortcut in Evernote so that during tax season, I can pull up all of my relevant tax documents with a single click. This makes preparing for tax season easy, and I can easily transfer my digital documents to my CPA as well.
Using the Power of OCR (Optical Character Recognition)
When we scan documents using our mobile phone scanning app, the app transforms all of the text into searchable text. This is called “optical character recognition,” or OCR. Then when those documents are added to Evernote, Evernote has an index of all of the text.
This becomes incredibly powerful when it comes time to search for a document. I can type “Abby” into the Evernote search bar, and Evernote will find every single note that contains the word “Abby” in the note title or “Abby” as one of the tags.
But what is really amazing is that Evernote will also find the word “Abby” inside the body of any scanned PDF file. It will pull up any and all of my notes that contain the word “Abby,” even if it was a scanned handwritten note from years ago.
This is powerful. There are many times when I search for some obscure word and Evernote will nearly instantly find the relevant note.
Having a thorough understanding of all the Evernote access and search features is important for fully utilizing Evernote as a digital filing cabinet.
4. Secure: Make Sure Your Information Is Always Safe and Backed Up
Evernote has some great built-in security features like two-factor authentication and a passcode on the mobile app. Using these features are an absolute must.
And then on the server side of things, Evernote has some pretty great security features like encrypting all data while in transit (when uploading or downloading information).
I would argue that your documents are *more* secure in Evernote than if they were sitting in a file cabinet in your home.
Everyone’s Documents Are Already in the Cloud
I know many people have concerns about uploading documents to the “cloud.” But in reality, all important documents are already in the “cloud” whether you want them to be or not.
Any important documents you receive in the mail or via email are already in the cloud on company servers. Your tax documents are in the cloud on various servers whether you scan the document into your Evernote account or not. It can’t be avoided.
The question isn’t whether or not you should add your documents to cloud servers. The question is, “What best practices should be used to secure those documents?” I have been impressed with Evernote security over the years.
Creating Secure Backups of the Information Stored in Evernote
But having a secure account is more than just making sure there is no unauthorized access to your account or data. It’s also important to make sure you have proper backups of all your important documents to protect you in case something should happen to your account or even to Evernote as a company.
I perform monthly backups of my Evernote account by exporting my entire digital filing cabinet into a .enex file. This file contains all of the notes, attachments, tags, and meta data associated with every document in my Evernote account. And this file type also allows me to upload the backup file to a new service should I ever decide to leave Evernote.
In addition to creating a .enex backup, I also export all my notes as HTML files once per month. The HTML file contains all the note information as well as a folder with all the note attachments (scanned PDF files).
I store these backups on an external hard drive that I keep in my firebox along with other important documents that require a physical copy like marriage certificates, birth certificates, documents with raised seals, etc. A safety deposit box would be another good place to keep this backup.
Advanced Backup Options
For more advanced users, it’s possible to automate parts of your backup process with a tool like Zapier.
Zapier can connect Evernote and Google Drive to automatically back up your most essential documents.
5. The Great Paper Purge: Get Rid of Existing Paper Clutter
The Great Paper Purge is the part of the process that usually comes to mind when people think of going paperless. It’s where we tackle our old and accumulated piles of paper clutter and even entire filing cabinets.
We went through this process years ago with our old filing cabinets (we no longer own a filing cabinet!), so I understand how it can be overwhelming.
The first thing to keep in mind is that it’s important to have solid paperless habits and systems in place before tackling your previous paper clutter. My recommendation is to always pick a date and decide to implement the new paperless strategies moving forward without worrying about old paperwork at first.
Everyone wants to jump to the Great Paper Purge right away, but it’s better to leave it to the end once you are confident in your capture, process, access, and secure steps.
Three Actions to Take with Existing Paper Clutter
With your old paperwork, you really have only three options…
1- Throw away
2- Scan and throw away
3- Scan and keep
The biggest category will be your throw away (shred, recycle, etc.) pile. Do you really need your electric bill from 17 years ago? No. Get rid of it. When Abby and I went through this process, we ended up with bags and bags of old paperwork that was no longer needed.
The “scan and throw away” pile will be smaller. These are items you may want to reference in the future. This pile will be scanned into your Evernote Inbox and then discarded.
The “scan and keep” pile will be very small with only a dozen or so items. These are documents that may have an original signature or a raised seal. Maybe a property deed, a will, a car title, or certain mortgage related documents. I store these documents in our firebox.
The Great Paper Purge process may be somewhat time consuming, but it is also very straightforward. And once you complete it, you will be able to say “goodbye” to your paper clutter forever, and that is an incredible feeling!
Going Paperless is simpler than you think!
I hope this post was able to give you a clear bird’s eye view of our paperless process! The thought of doing all of the work to go paperless all at once may seem overwhelming, but when you break it down step by step, it really is simple and straightforward.
AND you get to completely eliminate paper clutter while gaining secure access to all of your most important documents anytime, from any location, with just a few clicks. That’s a pretty amazing payoff!
Learn More with Paperless Made Simple
Evernote has been a total game changer for our family because it has allowed us to completely ditch our physical filing cabinet, eliminate paper clutter, and gain easy access to all of our most important documents with just a few clicks on our smart phones.
Our course, Paperless Made Simple, has helped thousands of students ditch their paper clutter and create their digital filing cabinet with Evernote, walking them through the entire process step by step.
We only open up enrollment a few times per year, so if you’d like to be notified the next time Paperless Made Simple becomes available, be sure to join the waitlist by clicking on the button below.
If you’d like to save this post to revisit later, be sure to pin the image below so you can find it easily:
And if you’d like even more info about going paperless, these posts can help:
Have you gone paperless in your home? We’d love to hear your best tips and tricks in the comments below!
Thanks so much for following along! Have a great day!
[Psssttt… Get 100 brilliant ideas for organizing every room of the house here!]
This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.
Wow, that is an incredibly organised system and such a great way to reduce clutter. An epic job to begin with. I pinned it in case I have the urge to be this organised (I do… One day hehe).
Thanks for reading! While my post may seem overwhelming, it’s really not too difficult to get started with this. Let me know if you give it a shot!
Going paperless seems the idea way to go but i still have to wander about the things that say you must have your “original” receipt. Also a lot of your documents i would think would need to be the original. I would like to know exactly what is safe just to have a scanned copy of because i know it would be awesome not to have all those papers.
Having the same concerns here… What do I need in original…
Also wonder about using my smartphone vs a scanner… I gave up before… felt it was to cumbersome to wait for scanning…. I snap a picture in 2 sec. (note 5) is there a bug benefit of scanning vs photo taking?
I am wondering about both of these things as well.
This is a personal decision but I keep most documents with an original signature and all documents with something like a raised seal.
Planning on implementing your strategies. However, one thing that’s frustrating about Evernote is that you can’t create a true hierarchy. You can organize notes into notebooks, sure… But it’s frustrating that you can’t go more than two layers in. For instance, if I want to see all of my Citibank statements, I don’t want to have to use tags – I want a simple ability to click on a folder and see them all in one place, and then I can organize them as I want. Any thoughts on why Evernote doesn’t allow for this, based on your experience?
It’s just a different mindset. You seem to like the idea of nested folders where you have to drill down to find various things. That’s very inefficient for the way my mind works. I much prefer tags (as many as I want) and one notebook. If you prefer nested folders you may want to set up something in Dropbox or Google Drive. I can’t imagine having to deal with tags AND multiple layers of folders.
Understood. But I think there are many people whose minds work with a hierarchy – e.g., folders. And Evernote could implement folders while still allowing for tags if they so chose, and let users gravitate toward the method that works best for them. There already is a de facto folder implementation, just with different nomenclature and it only goes a couple of levels deep, versus infinite. The problem with Dropbox or Google Drive is that they don’t provide some of the interface and functionality that Evernote does. Regardless, thanks for the in-depth explainer and the response.
Thank you for this article. I started going paperless over a year ago and your article last year gave me some more tips to use. I was glad to see the updated article to read about changes you found or new things that worked for you.
Do you use a website or app for keeping track of lists? For example, grocery shopping, to buy at store, things we need, etc? Thanks.
Thanks for reading Amy!
Depending on the list I either use Evernote or ToDoist. I keep a reading list in Evernote but I keep my shopping list in ToDoist. Generally speaking, I think it makes sense to keep shorter “action oriented” lists in ToDoist and longer “someday maybe” lists in Evernote.
Hope that helps!
Re google calendar – I have many scheduled that are RSS feed alas I can only get them to show on desktop – they don’t feed over the mobile devices 🙁 any thoughts?
Tiffany I’m not 100% sure I understand your question but I do know that using Zapier.com you can turn RSS feeds into calendar events.
Hi, I have a flatbed scanner already, why do you feel that it is not suitable to go paperless?
I already have Evernote, but haven’t used it the way I should. I’m definitely buying the book you recommended. This post has been so helpful. I started to go paperless, but was a little overwhelmed, this has motivated me to get started again!
Thank you so much!!
Michelle, the reason the flatbed scanner is not suitable is speed — placing a single piece of paper down and then only scanning one side before you have to open it up and replace or flip the paper. I’ve known some people who have tried it, I know no one who’s been able to stick with it using a flatbed scanner. Yes a tray fed scanner is expensive but I think it’s necessary for people serious about going paperless.
Thanks for your response! My flatbed does have the capability for paper feed so you can scan more than a single sheet at a time. I may try it and see how it goes. If it doesn’t work I will purchase a tray feed scanner.
Thanks again for this great post!
Hi Donnie, thanks for this great post! I have a few questions that currently deter me from going completely paperless. I wonder if you have any views on these:
1. What if Evernote shuts down its service? You mentioned local back ups – are the local back ups also named and sortable without Evernote?
2. What if Evernote/my machines get hacked? Are there any measures against this? (Apart from the usual anti virus software)
Grateful for any inputs you might have.
Great Questions Cheryl!
Sure there is always the chance that Evernote could go out of service but one of the reasons I use them is that they are the leader in this space. They are a profitable company who have been doing this awhile. It’s good to pick the winner when it comes to this stuff. Also, Evernote does allow you to export it’s database files (which I do) so you can be sure that if something did happen to Evernote there would numerous other companies competing for your business that would be able to read all the meta data attached to the .enex database files. And if all that fails and you don’t feel like re-organizing the documents from your backups, just merge the PDF files and print them out! That seems crazy and I can’t imagine that ever happening but you do always have that possibility.
You can read about Evernote security here: https://evernote.com/security/
If I still had a filing cabinet I would worry about someone breaking in and accessing that just as much as someone accessing my Evernote account.
Good questions! You have to be comfortable with this and be smart but at the same time you don’t want to live in fear! Trust me, I had the same concerns you have.
Thanks Donnie! Really appreciate your reply!:) it is re-assuring!
Donnie, the difference with the filing cabinet though is that you’d know that it had happened. There would be broken glass, a damaged lock etc. The police would treat it as a case for you, too.
Your data can be copied without your knowledge. For me, it’d also be in a different country with different legal protections (bless your NSA!).
I’ve just got myself a ScanScap 1300i with a view to going paperless (it does work much more smoothly than the Doxie Go I got last time I thought about this), but the lack of encryption as a default for resting data is making me think hard about Evernote.
Are you more worried about someone gaining access to your account by logging in or hacking into the Evernote servers?
Why do I need to choose? My point was that I do have some control over access via logging in (2-factor authentication, strong passwords), but I don’t really over what happens to the data sitting on disks (in the “filing cabinet”). Evernote have a policy of promising not to peek, except in a list of circumstances including the legal say-so of another (to me) country’s law enforcement, and to third-party organisations involved in supplying service. A far stronger statement would be “we *can’t* peek”.
I don’t know if I’m brave enough to go paperless yet, but I do hate clutter and love throwing things away. I think I would love it! I will definitely be reading this post again and sharing with my husband to see if we should give this a try. Thanks so much for the information. It’s great to find it all in one place!
If you love throwing stuff away and de-cluttering, you will certainly love this!
Hi Donnie! What a great post! Although I’m not 100% sure about going completely paperless, between Brett’s book and your post (which I printed up in PDF form-thank you!) I have some excellent resources on how to get rid of some more paper!
Hi, Donnie! Thanks so much for this update. We started going paperless last year after you wrote your first post, and I have referenced it many times in the year’s time since. This update is really helpful.
I’ve been slow in my process, and one of the big things slowing me down is how much we have in our purge process files. It will be an enormous task to go through it all! But I’m committed to making it happen this year.
Two questions for you related to this:
1. You mentioned the default naming system that applies the date to everything you scan. When doing the purge process, does this mean setting the date to the date on the pieces of paper or just having it be the date you scanned the stuff?
2. On a similar note, could you say more about what you do for the naming part of the process for clearing out your inbox? Do you have any shortcuts or mental rules for deciding what to name things? I seem to recall that last year’s tutorial focused more on tags than names, so I haven’t been paying much attention to the naming part of the workflow process, and the prospect of individually naming every item I scan — especially from my purge file — overwhelms me, which is another part of what’s holding me back from moving forward on this project.
1. For my great purge I left the date as the date of scanning for most things. I decided it would’ve taken too much time to date everything properly moving backwards. Fortunately tags and searching has allowed me to find everything I need.
2. Besides the the automatic date thing, I don’t spend too much time thinking about naming. Just think about how you would describe the document to someone in a few words. Don’t stress over the naming!
Thank you, Donnie! That’s helpful and gives me permission to JUST START. 🙂
Thanks for such a thorough, step-by-step outline of your process! I’m going to download the free PDF version of this post and share it with my husband. We definitely need to consider going paperless…our home office became the nursery once our baby boy was born, so we don’t really have a space for the filing cabinets anymore. We’re drowning in paper.
Sharing this link on social media!
Thank you for such a detailed and thoughtful post. I have Evernote and just set up my scansnaps1300i. I can’t find anyway to scan to evernote. It is just not an option available in in the profile settings. I’ve gone through all the troubleshooting and just can’t get anywhere. Any ideas?
That’s so strange Gail. Do you have Mac or Windows? Does your manager look like the one in my screenshots?
Yes, my manager looks just like your screenshot. Just no Evernote option. I have a MacBook. Appreciate any ideas.
Gail I’m just not sure. I wish I could see exactly what you’re looking at. Try a google search and see if others have the same problem. Maybe you’re using an updated version of the Scansnap manager and the Evernote integration is in a different spot.
Hi Donnie. I am having the same issue as Gail. Here are the options that are available in ScanSnap:
– None (Scan to File)
– Adobe Reader
– Scan to Folder
– Scan to Email
– Scan to Print
– Scan to Mobile
– Scan to Google Drive
– Scan to Salesforce Chatter
– Scan to Picture Folder
Any ideas on how to resolve?
Not sure if this is still relevant but I had a similar problem because I bought an older version of the scanner. But I’d like to share that I contacted their tech support and had a great experience. They were so helpful and assisted me in setting up other profiles and how to save a local copy. Here’s how to get ahold of them: https://www.fujitsu.com/us/products/computing/peripheral/scanners/contact/
What about coupons? They created a lot of paper clutter around our house.
Todd, with coupons you may have to check the fine print. I would guess that digital versions of print coupons wouldn’t be accepted most places. I could be wrong about that!
Thanks for the post! After making donations, I have been saving the giving receipts by saving the web page as a mhtml file. I guess instead I should have been forwarding it from my email to Evernote. But for the ones I don’t have a pdf file of, can I convert the mhtml into a pdf somehow?
Great question Joe! I’m not sure if you’re using a Mac or not? If you are, just view the html in a web browser and then just click file –> print –> save as PDF to Evernote. Hope that helps!
Very interesting blog.
How do you handle multi-page documents? If the scanner put each page into a single pdf, how do you associate multiple pdf files together and keep the correct order?
Good question Richard. I should’ve explained that better in the post. I just scan one document (no matter how many pages) at a time.
You do have the option of scanning stacks of paper all in one scan and then separating out the PDFs into multiple files using Preview for Mac. It’s a simple process on a Mac.
Thank you so much for the step-by-step details you included in this post. As an older person who gets totally confused by all the technology out there (that seems to be so intuitive to you younger folks), you include just the kind of details that I need to attempt to go paperless.
Thank you, also, for listing the best equipment and software to get to go forward with this process. It’s so much easier to go with tried and true equipment and software rather than spend days researching and reading reviews trying to find the appropriate items to undertake the task of going paperless.
By the way, your article is wonderfully written and is easy to understand. Thank you for taking the time to share your inspirational process with others.
Your post last year helped revolutionize my thinking about going paperless. A couple of other resources that talked about Evernote helped as well. I even did a blog post series about it.
I bought and use the Doxie Go scanner which works well for me. I still use and love Wunderlist. I have tried ToDoist in the past, and it just didn’t work as well for me.
I really appreciate you taking the time to write last year’s article as well as this one. Although I haven’t made great progress over the past year, it has helped me a lot. I’m hoping to get more accomplished this year.
That looks like an awesome series Ava!
I’ve heard so much about the Doxie Go that I just ordered one myself to try out and see how it compares to the Fujitsu.
So how did it compare?
I had this issue and realized I had to download Evernote program NOT just the app. Go to Evernote’s website via your desktop browser and it will have an option to download from there.
Great, simple, easy to follow post! Any suggestions on how to organize one’s work inbox? I currently feel overwhelmed with the amount of useful information that I’m holding onto in my inbox. I’ve tried keeping everything in the main inbox but I loose track of open items. I’ve tried creating folders but then when I’m trying to find an email at a later date I loose track of where I filed it. I’m using outlook. Any suggestion you have would be a huge help!
Thanks for reading Shannon!
Work inboxes can be frustrating. I have Outlook at work as well and I created 5 or 6 very basic folders and move everything into those after reading. I never keep anything in the inbox. Fortunately outlook has a really good search bar at the top so you don’t have to remember where you kept everything. Hope that helps!
This is a fantastic resource! I am going to be pinning and sharing on my blog, and of course implementing too. I do some of this but I have a lot of room for improvement. Thank you so much for such fantastic information, I’m excited to go even more paperless!!!
Thank you so much, Morgan! You are the sweetest! Hope you have a wonderful week!
Thanks so much for this post. I’m working at being paperless (much easier for me than my paper-hungry husband). How did your husband convince you this was a good way to go? I don’t want to nag the Mister but I also want him to see the value in not keeping scraps of paper (or other things). Thanks!
Abby can chime in here if she wants. I never tried to convince her beforehand. I just started doing it. Eventually she saw how effective and time saving it was and she slowly adopted these strategies over time. Abby still loves writing and using physical paper but for all the important household I’ve taken ownership and do all the paperless stuff for her.
Thanks for reading!
The fact that he took it on as “his project” pretty much meant that I was fine with anything! 🙂 The paperwork is out of my hair, I don’t have to mess with it, and any time I need something, he can email it to me in a matter of seconds, which is amazing. I don’t think I “got” why he wanted to do it at first, but I’m so thankful now that he did!
Spectacular post. I tried going paperless last year but (gasp) failed. The rat race had me spinning. This post has encouraged me to give it another go.
Quick questions, I too have a kindergartener. How exactly do you file and/or tag his/her art work?
Do you have any opinion on the neat receipt app software for mac? Could you use this and Evernote?
No shame in trying and failing. I made a poor attempt back in 2010 that did not go well. You learn more from mistakes than successes so I’m sure now you know where you went wrong and how to change it for your next attempt.
As far as kids art work — I have a notebook in Evernote called “Connor’s Scrapbook” and I scan and date all his drawings and put them in that notebook. They are also tagged with “connor”, “art work”, and “memories”. You can do it however you want though! No wrong answer!
I am planning on reviewing the Neat series of scanners and software. I’ve heard some good things. In my opinion using that software as well as Evernote is redundant. I would pick one system or “eco system” to use. I’m guessing you can still use NeatDesk scanners with Evernote.
I think that the NeatDesk scanner and software can go straight to QuickBooks on-line for receipts and invoices, which is super helpful for my small business needs. Thank you for the great post and am looking forward to reading your book about Evernote!
Thanks so much for these tips!! I’m totally the keep-all-papers0in-a-filing-cabinet type of person, but just the other day my hubby told me he was thinking of putting everything online. While I love being able to just go in and grab whatever paper I need, I know it’d take up WAAAY less space in our house and it’d be a lot easier in the long run! I’ll be forwarding all this info along to him in case he was really serious about it. 🙂
Lol! It can be a little intimidating to do the initial setup, but we are loving it now and it’s a lot easier than manually filing everything! (and takes up less space too!) Hope you’re having a wonderful week, Amanda!
Oh my! I have to admit this kinda scares me a little. Ha! I guess I’m just old fashion. Thanks for all the info. I need to look into all this, especially the scanners! =)
I have been challenged by your paperless suggestions. I am extremely paranoid however …after accidently deleting something. I can’t find it, what about backing up? In simple steps can you walk me through it? I scanned my work for 2015, don’t want to loose it. Thanks!
Like I mentioned in the post, I backup all my scans to a folder on my hard drive in addition to Evernote. I also backup up everything with Crashplan.
Hope that helps! Let me know if you have a specific question about my backup process.
I found your website a couple days ago and love it. Abby I love your writing style and the way you use examples to explain your process – it helps to relate it back to my life. Well done. Lots of blogs and articles don’t do this.
Donnie – you have convinced me. I plan to start with current stuff and work backwards onto my purged items as time permits.
One question – can we pre-purchase your new book?
Thanks for reading Michele! Your strategy is perfect. Dealing with the old stuff can wait, just take care of new incoming paper.
Donnie, just read last years article and this one without budging until I was done!! I love GTD but have been struggling with keeping all the paper lists. YOU have answered my prayers in these articles!! I’m wondering if you could do a follow up on the Doxie Go and Neat scanners vs the Fujitsu. If I can get a scanner a bit cheaper than the Fujitsu that you feel still fits the bill, I can start sooner rather than later. But I’d also rather spend the extra money than waste $300 on, say, a Neat if it’s just subpar. Thank you and Abby so much!!
I’m glad you liked the article Catherine!
Click over to my blog to read some more scanner reviews. In short, I would definitely avoid the “Neat” family of scanners.
The Doxie scanners are really nice and really well designed. They have the best scanner software on the market. That being said in my opinion they don’t fill much of a need. They don’t have an ADF (automatic document feeder) and only scan one side of the paper at once. For quick scans like that I use the “scannable” app on my iPhone.
If you want to avoid the expensive scanner cost you could always start with a scanning app. That will work ok for new incoming paper and then you can later get a full scanner with an ADF to deal with your backlog.
Hopefully that helps!
Did you use the Evernote software that comes with the scanner or did you download Software from Evernote.
I enjoyed reading your post here about going digital. I saw your comment about the Neat scanners. I had bought one quite some time ago and have never used it. 🙁 Since I already have the neat scanner would it work anything like what you are talking about or would I be better off in the long run to save and get the scanner you recommend in this post?
Thanks for the question, Pam!
Since you already have a Neat scanner you should try and use it. Despite my negative comments, some people love their Neat scanners! It for sure will integrate with Evernote and you will get most of the functionality I mention here. I certainly would use the scanner with Evernote instead of the pre-packaged NeatCloud document storage software.
Thank you for your reply. I was wondering if I bought your book, would it help me no matter what scanner that I use?
Absolutely! More than half of the video focuses on how to properly setup and use Evernote. There’s tons of other paperless related stuff that will be helpful. There are a few chapters that focus specifically on the Fujitsu software but the same techniques can be applied to your Neat scanner.
Have a great day!
Great! Thank you!
Hiya, if you ever stop using Evernote for whatever reason, how easy would it be to find documents on an external or local harddrive if they have not been labelled or made into PDF searchable at the time of scanning?
That’s a good question. If I was ever forced into that situation I would run all my non OCRed PDFs through some type of OCR software. Then I would be able to search and find what I need. That’s the worst case scenario — if I lost access to Evernote.
This post made me so excited and just inspired. I’ve been in such an organizing mood lately (even more than normal which is just crazy). I love clean and organized things. I am just 15, so of course I can’t implement this on my own but I am sure my dad would love to do this. We are about 50% paperless so this info may help us close that gap. Thank you so much for this amazing post. I am so glad I found this blog! I love everything about it. Y’all rock and seem to have yall’s lives very well put together. Thanks again!
Do it Courtney! Your future self will thank you!
(I’m not so sure about our leaves being all together.)
I love the idea of going paperless, and I am really excited to give it a try (I’m saving up for a scanner now!).
I do have one question though, Donnie. You said that you only physically keep about 30 documents, but what about warranties on appliances or electronics? Do you scan those in, then throw away the documents, or are those included in the papers that you keep?
Anything with a raised seal or original signature I usually keep. Warranty information usually isn’t anything special. It’s not the paper that’s important but rather the information like serial numbers, proof of purchase, and all that. I just scan and toss.
I’m getting hung up on what to do about receipts. My Fujitsu scanner comes with a nifty receipt program that looks through the receipt, logs the taxes, etc, but that’s not in Evernote so if I need to search for it, it’s only on the one computer that I’ve scanned that receipt into.
What do you do with Receipts? Scan to Fujitsu then also share it to Evernote? Seems like a lot more work that way. Export it in batches? This is — so far — my only hiccough. Still reading the books recommended, haven’t found this solution (yet).
Great question Randy! I don’t use the proprietary Fujitsu document storage software. I just scan receipts into Evernote like all my other documents. I’ve found that software that attempts to parse data from receipts is generally unreliable. I like to keep it simple and store receipts in Evernote.
Thank you for your reply.
I guess it boils down to — what am I going to do with that information? If this was a business and I was going to import it into Quickbooks or some other accounting software, or if I was going to attempt to report/deduct the taxes, then I guess it would make sense to use their software since it parses it out.
But simply storing them for retrieval or reference later makes your answer the one I was looking for.
Thank you for this blog and all of this information. It has really helped me, and now I’m able to help others. Because of that, If I may, please permit me to share a couple solutions that I got hung up on until they were solved in one way or another.
First, above in these comments, was the receipts issue. I took your advice and never looked back: if you must scan a receipt, just put it into a normal Evernote document scan and don’t worry about the taxes and breakdown – unless you’re a financial firm, accountant, etc, and/or plan to import it into Quickbooks or other accounting software. In that case, use the scanners receipt program for your receipts.
Second – scanning and backup. I have used Google Drive since it first came out, and I pay for a ton of storage for business and personal items on email, computer, and more. When I first tried scanning into Evernote with Google drive, though, I would have cascading issues where the file would go to Evernote and then into Google drive in a folder I had set as an import folder, but then Google Drive would sync with my other Google Drive-enabled computers putting a copy on my alternate computer where that version of Evernote also had the Google Drive folder set as an import folder, and I would end up with two or three copies of the same item in Evernote, and sometimes the INI files would be there as well. What a mess!
To fix this, I set up my ScanSnap software so, yes, scans go straight to Evernote, but the Save button has them go to a the Google Drive “Inbox” which is NOT an import folder; it’s a folder that I can move items FROM — just like you do in Evernote, but into Google Drive folders (or the computer, thumb drive, or trash) instead for a more traditional form or organization.
This means that I’m now backed up on both Evernote and Google Drive automatically with each scan, and I can reach either version of the document from any device. Plus, if I accidentally delete it from one application, I still have it retrievable in the other since they are not directly linked in that way, which is the way I wanted it.
I also have the “rename the file” button checked in ScanSnap Manager (hey, if you don’t see that, hit the Details link to open up a whole new world of options, but uncheck the Use Quick Menu to make your options work properly), and I give it a name that starts with YYYYMMDD (as in, 20150806), then what the scan is on a high level, and then a few details. For example: “20150806 Menards Receipt drill bits plywood masonry cement”. It sorts well, it’s searchable, and it’s quickly identifiable.
I also renamed the “Scan to Evernote (note)” to “Scan to Evernote (handwritten note)” to remind me that scanning a handwritten note as an image makes it searchable, eventually.
Because my “ScanSnap Folder” on my computer doesn’t always allow me to drag and drop a document, I created a folder off of my C: drive called “Move To Evernote”. In Evernote, I set that folder as an Import Folder, changed the source to Delete, and set the destination Evernote notebook to Inbox. Dropping a file or a copy of a file into “Move To Evernote” now whisks it away, which helps when I have a file already on my system, or one that comes as an email / Skype / Asana / whatever attachment, that I want to save separately away from that app.
Since I use both a laptop AND a desktop, I make sure both are set up the same way.
I’m sure there are plenty of people who are concerned that Google has my/their information and Evernote has my/their information and OMG my life is now an open book! Well, I figure that, on one hand, yes, that is true, but they probably have most of that information anyway, and on the other hand, while they may use it to direct market to me (hey, it’s all digital, I can set up filters and trash it automatically), I’m one drop in the ocean of humanity.
And I don’t store copies of my bank cards this way. That’s a photo-copy and piece-of-paper issue where I can live with keeping this on actual paper in a fireproof safe….but I can also keep an Evernote list (or blocked scan) of the first and last four digits, the type of card, and the phone number of whom to call if my card(s) get lost or stolen.
Hope this helps someone!
One last tidbit: I know they sell “Scanned” stamps you can use. My solution is much more simple. if I’ve scanned something but I need to keep it around for a little while, I’ll write an “S” in the upper-right corner and circle it. That tells me I’ve scanned it in.
Donnie you have rescued me from trying to think of a way to clear paperwork. Big thank you. I have always had to do the paperwork at home. For some years I began to chuck it into boxes (as I grew older) instead of putting those papers into neat files as I had always done. Hobbies, work & projects,, you name it; we have Boxes of papers and they need to be cleared. My husband is 68 & I’m 62, we are on the verge of moving, so before it comes to that. The other thing is I have a friend who asked me to store a lease doc for her, that I helped her draw up. My son keeps asking me how to organize his paperwork. (actually both my son’s do). I’m going to invest in your Fujitsu Scanner. Thank you again many times.
This is amazing information and helpful tips. I am in college right now and I am working on a proposal for class about why companies would benefit from making the change to paperless. I think that everyone should read this because it would help both companies and people who just need some help organizing at home.
Since Evernote has a limit of 100MB/month for the paid, when you did the initial “purge” , did you run into an upload limit?
Did you take all of your electronic files on your computer and put them on Evernote, so that everything is there?
Is there a maximum total in Evernote? What about your backup drives?
Do you store all of your photos/videos there too?
Evernote has changed their plans around in late spring and I believe their $2.99/month plus account offers 1GB upload allowance per month. I would never come close to that even during the purge.
This is great, Donnie!
Do you scan all of your children’s papers? Between daycare and school I have a solid 30 sheets of paper, per week! I have a hard time throwing them away, but 30 per week quickly creates a huge paper pile! If you scan it all, do you then throw them away? If you keep a hard copy of something, how do you decide to keep it? And if you only scan some things that they make, how do you decide??
Thank you very much!
Great question, Jennifer! We do scan a few things. I wrote about our whole system for kids’ papers in this post: https://justagirlandherblog.com/how-to-organize-kids-school-papers/ . I hope it helps!
This is a fantastic post, I’m inspired to give this a try. I dread going into my home office, and it’s actually a very pretty space when there’s not piles of paper all over the desk. I had given up on Evernote because the free version stopped allowing me to email notes, but $5 a month would be a small price to pay to see my desk every day. What I love about emailing notes is you can add the Notebook’s name and tags in the subject line and the Note is stored for you. I can’t wait to read your ebook and get started.
Hello! I really enjoyed your post. I’m a teacher and would love to go paperless–I’ve accumulated 20 years of files. What is the advantage of Evernote over Google Drive? Also, would you recommend two evernote accounts: 1 for personal and 1 for teaching or is there enough space/organization to do everything in one spot?
Thanks so much for the advice!
Hi Jan! Evernote just has better search and organizational features than Google Drive. It would drive me crazy if I had two Evernote accounts so I would lean towards one. You can always separate things with Notebooks within Evernote.
Thank you Donnie and Abby,
Currently i’m researching about what is the best way to implement paperless at work.
Your post is very resourceful for me.
Thank you so much,
Great article! A few things…
1) One thing I’m a little concerned about with Evernote is that, as companies often do, they may get purchased or make a policy change I disagree with.. Can I download/export all of my data (including the OCR they may have performed and the tags) to my computer in case I want to change vendors? I’ve read that if they do the OCR, it cannot be exported. Might be a case for local OCR using ABBY…
2) Do you upload paperless bills to Evernote or just leave them on the company site? I’ve started using Filethis.com recently and it automates the process of sending these to Evernote or downloading them.
3) Does Evernote have any automation capabilities that allow you to auto-tag or auto-name? I currently use Hazel for this.
You can export a .enex file. If something happens to Evernote I’m certain there will be companies jumping all over the opportunity to import .enex files and get a whole lot of new customers. Evernote OCR is for use in Evernote. If I wanted, I could take all my backup PDF scans from my Scansnap which are stored in a separate folder and batch OCR them if the need ever arises. It’s not an issue.
Zapier has some Evernote triggers/actions like adding tags and creating notes. I much prefer a web service than a standalone Mac app like Hazel — a more modern solution. Hazel is a powerful app but complicated for most users.
Your ideas are great if someone wants to nerd out on all of this (maybe 1% of those interested in going paperless) but I favor simple over complex. My process takes less than 15 minutes a week.
Oh, I NEED to do this! I feel like I’m constantly surrounded by stacks of papers.
Thanks Donnie! I often say, “Don’t tell me what to do, teach me how to do it.” Thanks for teaching me how and in such great detail. This is just what I needed to take the last step to going paperless. One question. Is there a way to scan Abby’s printables and fill them out digitally on Evernote or do you recommend another app?
Just wondering, what did you ever think of that Doxie scanner? You mentioned that you bought it, and I’m trying to decide between that and the new Fujitsu xi100. Thanks for all this info! It’s great!
I personally don’t think there is much use for single sheet scanners. Scannable app for iOS and ScanBot for Android do a better/faster job in my opinion.
Once you’ve gotten all your paperwork on Evernote, is it easy to print something if you need a hard copy? Also, if you find that you no longer need an item stored on Evernote, can it be deleted?
2 questions: how do you print something if you need a hard copy some day? Is it possible to delete something from Evernote if you no longer need it?
You can print directly from Evernote if you wish. It is possible to delete Notes but it’s typically not worth the time. If the Note is tagged and titled properly it doesn’t take up any room. I just leave them alone.
Is the cost difference of the Evernote edition scanner directly from Fujitsu worth getting over the iX500 from Amazon?
I am looking into going paperless. I loved your post and had a question…. do you know anything about the difference between Evernote vs. NEAT? Neat also has a set of plans, but they seem MUCH higher I was trying to figure out why this is and thought maybe you might know.
and, one more thing, Recipes? I was thinking of putting everything into ChefTap (which automatically imports recipes from webpages), but maybe these should go into Evernote too?
I am soooo ready to purchase a scanner and go all in! My husband is always concerned about our ‘stuff’ being ‘out there in the clouds’. What about security?
We also have a lot of cards that we love to keep but whew the piles! Do you scan them in as well?
last question – do you scan receipts? If so, have you ever had a problem with returns?
Love your system, blog and all things =)
Great article/post. Thank you for taking the time to write it up so that it’s actually understandable. Coincindentally, I started my file purging about a month ago–I outgrew two large file cabinets and lost count of the number of cardboard file boxes; so I’ve been working one box at a time everynight going thru as many file as I can in an hour or two. Right now I’ve only been sorting into shred now & save. After reading your post I have changed my save box to scan-then shred. Thanks.
I’m not yet comfortable saving such sensitive information on any cloud/site/internet– 🙁 and hubby won’t use electronics so he wouldn’t need access to anythng without me.
Accessing them via all my electronic equipment also means a hacker could access them giving them every single thing they need to steal my life. How do you get past that ‘real’ fear? Just when I think I want to try it, I have a customer come in all upset because they store all their photos ‘online’ and they’re gone, and of course they have no backups because they trusted the company they stored with. Or the company converted all their photos to 1″ thumbnails. As it is I use a desktop to access the internet–my laptop houses my personal information and never goes online, except to update my quicken/QB–business & personal accounting programs. I don’t even allow sites to save my payment information or login information–I prefer to key it in at every visit.
Thanks again for taking the time to post your information–very, very, very helpful.
It wasn’t hard for me to get past the fear because of all the redundant backup systems I have. Thanks for reading!
I found your website quite by accident looking for tips on going paperless and this is great stuff! I’ve been heading toward going paperless for the past year but this helps make the task seem less overwhelming. Some of the tips have helped refine ideas I had started on but wasn’t completely confident in. I especially love how specific emails can be forwarded to Evernote. After some researching, I was able to make it an automatic rule so I don’t have to worry about missing one. Thanks!
Wow, I love how organized this is. I started a similar system a while back minus Evernote. I am excited to go more paperless and integrate Evernote into my system. Love it! Thanks for sharing.
thanks for the post! it really got me thinking, I am still digesting it all and wonder should I go for it (main cons are the huge commitment and my fear of being dependent on Evernote). One question – currently I don’t really use google calendar because most of “what’s happening” is happening at work, and work uses Outlook and my organizational email address, not gmail or google calendar. How do you reconcile them? clearly, not every work meeting should go on my private google calendar. But the major things (a day I need to stay late, a business trip, a day off) – should, otherwise there’s no point sharing calendar. Also personal things such as a doctor appointment require blocking the time on the work calendar. Any advice on this?
A few ideas that might help –
1.) CompanionLink is decent solution for syncing Outlook and Google Calendars. It comes w/ a free trial and after that there are a few different paid options.
2.) For “work” appointments or time-blocks that need to take place outside of what you define your normal work hours to be (or vice versa: personal appointments during “work” time), simply send a calendar invite to the email address associated with your google calendar. This is probably best if you are using a device that is owned by your company as there is no downloading and installing necessary.
Thank you so much for this really great blog post about going paperless Donnie. I have been wanting to go paperless but wasn’t sure how to go about doing it efficiently and in a way where my electronic files were safe and secure (and backed up). I got my Fujitsu scanner today and started scanning. It is super fast and is a really great product. I took a Getting Things Done (GTD) training two years ago (based on a book by David Allen) and it was apparent to me after that class that I really needed to get more organized with my todos, filing and storage of documentation. Going paperless is the perfect answer. I have Evernote set up just like you explained and the system is working well so far on day 1. I’m looking forward to getting organized at home. Thanks again for the tutorial!
I don’t know why you couldn’t just have a bunch of digital files without Evernote. If everything is a pdf you can just search all your documents at once. I do use and love the free version of Evernote though. I use a Doxie Go along with two portable hard drives that take turns going in the safe so everything is on Evernote and on two different hard drives. I love that you took the time to write this stuff because you are the one who inspired me to go paperless in the first place so thank you.
A (mostly) paperless home is my 2016 resolution. This is the most comprehensive “how to” post that I have seen. My biggest hold up has been a fear that I will get deep into the scanning/pruging process, realize that I set my system up incorrectly and have to go back through everything again. After reading your post I realize that I know how to do it and I just need to go for it!!
Funny enough I came online to google file cabinets. I was trying to figure out how to store all the paper I have from my home business, life, kids, etc. How many drawers would I need. It was all so overwhelming trying to figure out how to sort/categorize everything and then in the back of my mind I was worrying about a fire… did I really need all these papers??? That’s when I googled going paperless and found this blog. AWESOME is all I have to say and I’m so excited about making the decision to go this way. I have felt for some time that I’m DROWNING in all all the paper.
I do have just three questions though.
I had planned on storing (digital) photos on Google Drive (my initial thoughts before finding your blog). I already use your naming convention for my photos. I scanned and got rid of all of our photo albums a few years back so THAT major hurdle has already been done. Do you upload your digital photos to Evernote?
And a second question… I have a problem with magazines. I hate throwing them away because there was an article or two in there I MAY need to reference some day. Do you pitch magazines? Do you tear out and scan articles that may come in handy some day?
And a final question. When you find something online that you like (say an article)… now I bookmark it but my bookmarks are an absolute mess. Is there a way to send that link to Evernote? I just love the idea of putting it in a notebook/tagging it for ease of reference.
THANK YOU so much for saving me from buying umpteen filing cabinets. I’m trying to simplify my life and this DEFINITELY is going to be a key component in that effort!
Hi Elizabeth! Great questions.
1. I store all my photos in Google Drive/ Google Photos. Evernote is not really built for storing and organizing normal photos that would go in an album.
2. I scan (with my phone) pages I wish to keep and then throw the rest away. It would be a pain to scan each and every page.
3. I use something called Speed Dial 2 (it’s a Chrome extension) to manage my bookmarks.
Wow, that’s one big tutorial. Took notes, will get back to you on how “going paperless”, goes for me. 🙂
Awesome post, just found it as I start on my journey of going paperless. Throwing myself in the deep end and wanting to start with scanning my old photos/prints and ditching the albums. Just wondering if you may have done the same and if so which scanner and/or software did you choose for that? So far I’ve read about the Doxie scanner and Epson Perfection V600 for good photo scanning. Feeling more clueless the more I read. Thanks so much
A long time ago I scanned our photos. If I was doing that again now, I would send them off to a professional service. Expensive flat bed scanners are really the only good solution for photos and I’m just not interested in buying one and spending the hours involved in the slow scan.
I just used the ScanSnap s1300i to do that exact same thing – – – I spent about two hours every day for about four weeks. I scanned everything from all my old photo books and threw the albums away! About 5,300 photos. It even scans the back where we had written stuff on it. Yes, the scanner gets dirt on the inside glass sometimes and I watch every picture that comes through to make sure it scanned properly, but it is so worth it. Sending out to a service would have cost tons of money. And I tried using a flatbed for the first 200 pictures and it took 8 times longer (yes, I calculated the time, and it takes longer since you have to flip over and scan the backs). The quality is amazing – – even the same as my old flatbed scanner (600dpi). I would definitely recommend it to anybody else wanting to do the same.
Great article on implementing a GTD system with today’s tools. I loved the Todoist interface but it lacked the near real-time updates with Google Calendar. The sweet spot for me was to use GQueues (task manager), Sunrise Calendar, Evernote, and GMail. Any updates within GQueues quickly appear on Sunrise Calendar and any reminders I have set in Evernote also appear on Sunrise Calendar. If you move something in Sunrise, it pushes those updates right back into GQueues and Evernote. Unfortunately, with Sunrise Calendar being bought out by Microsoft and now being terminated I’m not sure how much longer it will remain useful.
How do you handle bills to be paid, particularly medical bills? We have a high deductible and generally do a payment plan for most large bills ($500 and up) from doctors. Would you scan into a “to be paid” file?
Great question! All of my unpaid bills are scanned into the “Inbox”. I don’t move them out of the Inbox folder until they are paid. Having a separate folder or tag would also work but I like to keep things as simple as possible.
Hi! This is the best beginning tutorial to Evernote that I have read. I am FINALLY trying to get into Evernote. One thing I have googled and search, etc. is, can I easily and quickly get my hundreds of Word docs into Evernote (I am on a PC). or, do I have to go into the Word Doc and copy and paste into a note? Thanks!
Glad you’re going to give it a shot! You’ll have to check on a PC but I know on a Mac I can just highlight dozens of files, drag them to the Evernote icon, and a separate note will be created automatically for each file.
Great article! I used it as a template for my own paperless workflow. I would like to add that you mention that keeping all your documents online is more secure and private that that is only the case if you take some steps to ensure they’re secured correctly online. If you have an easy to crack password or an unsafe computer that has keyloggers, or malware on it, your documents’ safety would be analogous to that of a keeping them in a box in your closet. A thief that breaks in could easily find them and steal them. Some quick tips on how to change this circumstance to more like a safety deposit box in bank (Evernote servers) would be to ensure 2-factor authentication, and to have a tough to crack password. The same goes for your email account used to sign into Evernote, and the computers you use to access it.
Absolutely! Two-factor authentication with Google Drive and Evernote is a must. I also use Dashlane to use, store, and change passwords on a regular basis.
Very amazing, going paperless is very efficient and affordable. the best thing about paper less is portable we can use our data anytime anywhere which not just makes life easy and affordable but also make accessible anytime.
Yes, so true! It has been so great for our family! Thanks, Karan! Have a great week!
I want to go paperless and will step up and buy either the Scansnap S1300i or the Scansnap 1X500 with Nuance Power PDF, also your book and videos. I have Mac everything and it seems that a lot of scanner programs don’t like Mac. I am retired and just want to clean up all my Misc paper files with memories, pictures and articles of interest. (Also bills and statements) Im thinking the Scansnap may be more than I need for home but will the S1300i work good enough for home stuff on a Mac. Do I need the nuance power pdf?
Your info on paperless is very helpful and I look forward to getting started with your help.
Have you tried using Trello as a task managing system?
I’ve used Trello in the past for specific projects but not as an ongoing task management system.
Hi Donnie, thanks for sharing your system. I’m curious how you share your evernote account with Abby so you both have access to all scanned documents? Do you share a single account? Or use an app like 1Password to share one another’s log-in? Or do you simply share your archive notebook and make sure that all documents you might want to share are stored in that notebook? Thanks!
We have shared notebooks with separate Evernote accounts. Great question!
May be a silly question, but if no home computer is in my possession, can I purchase a scanner and scan all paper from my filing cabinet to a memory stick? Can I use a similar program as Evernote on the memory stick?
Hi! Thanks for all the great info! I am currently looking into the ix500. However, they make a regular version and an “Evernote” edition. Do you know the difference between the two and/or have any recommendations?
Stick with the regular version. The Evernote Edition could be limiting moving forward.
Wow, Too good tutorial. Looks like its convenient and environment friendly, will defiantly try this, Thanks a lot.
So glad it was helpful for you, Daryl!
Love this idea! We are in the process of going as paperless as we possibly can in our home and in my learning center as well. I have tons of paper for all of the kids I follow and my office will be much better organized once more documents are scanned! Thank you for sharing your family system!
So glad it was helpful, Alix! It’s a good amount of work initially but so worth it! 🙂
I have two questions. 1) Do you also store your yearly tax returns on Evernote and then shred them. 2) I have two different real estate investing businesses. Would you suggest keeping the two different businesses and our personal stuff all in the same Evernote. I would like to go paperless with all closing docs and yearly tax returns for my LLC’s. Thanks for the advice.
thanks for the nice sharing
Wow, This is amazing and unique idea. Thanks for the share Abby.Will definitely share this with my friends as well 🙂
So glad it was helpful, John!
What if something happened to you and your wife? Do you have a plan for anyone else to have acces to your digital filing cabinet for important estate related documents?
We do! Access codes and instructions in a firebox as well as conversations I’ve had with family and beneficiaries. Important question. Thanks for asking.
I’m very keen to do this. I feel like I drowning paper. I use gmail and it sorts thins into social, promotional and primary. I then move primary emails I want to keep into folders in gmail that I have setup. For e.g.: school newsletters. Are you saying that all your email gets diverted to evernote? Or do you cull or save emails in gmail? Would you then just save these emails as notes that can be searched later if required?
Great question Jo!
I used to be meticulous about tagging emails in Gmail. I don’t do that anymore. Instead, I forward important emails to Evernote with my unique Evernote email code. For all other email I just archive everything (never delete) so it’s all searchable within Gmail. If I switch email addresses I can export and then important all that historical email.
I’m using Evernote, but until now I know it has this feature, thank you very much.
The S-Note application on the Samsung Note series is also a great note-taking application. I’m using S-Note and it’s very great, using with Evernote is a perfect couple.
It is good idea to go paperless. It saves lots of trees and also it is good to stop wastage to papers.
I really appreciate your effort and I try myself to go paperless always.
Thanks so much for the wonderful post.
So glad it’s been helpful for you! Have a great week!
Thanks so much for this blog! It’s been so helpful. My husband and I are recently first-time homeowners and just getting settled in. Thankfully, we didn’t have many papers to begin with so I was able to have a little scanning/shredding party yesterday and it was freeing. We’re so excited to now be paperless. I do have one question regarding tax returns. I gathered from this blog that you store them in Evernote. Is this correct? I am curious about the security Evernote offers. From what I could tell, they now offer some encryption, but I am not too knowledgable when it comes to security speak. Is Evernote safe to store these kinds of documents? Thanks again for the great post. ~ Maddie
I’m comfortable storing all sorts of documents with personal information in Evernote. Other people have different comfort levels. I also make sure to have two-factor authentication setup on my account.
This has been an interesting read. I have One Note and what I’ve read above about Evernote, I think I would find it a bit too technical. I have 20 family albums I want to scan from. My kids art work and reports are never ending. We do have a scanner but I think it’s a Brother and we mostly use it for printing from.
1. Can I use One Note?
2. Which scanner for photos?
3. Can I use that scanner for art works as well?
Hi Abi! I don’t have much experience with OneNote but from my limited testing it’s not suitable for a proper digital filing cabinet. It’s better as a pure note-taking app.
I used to have a flat bed scanner for photos and that’s about the only way you’ll get a fantastic image quality. The problem is that they are incredibly slow and not suitable for scanning documents. You may get a better image quality from some of the photo scanning iOs and Android apps like Google Photo Scan.
Thanks for this post! It was so simply written and practical! I purchased the e-book, and read it also. From there, I purchased Evernote, downloaded Scannable, and ToDoist. And I have started the GREAT PURGE!!
1 – Would you recommend moving everything on my hard drive into Evernote?
2 – Also, I currently use DropBox to backup certain folders. Would you recommend doing away with DropBox and moving those items into Evernote as well?
3 -How about photos – I have many on my laptop.
Great questions Alicia!
1. I don’t think everything on your hard drive should be in Evernote. Think of Evernote as a filing cabinet, not file storage.
2. I wouldn’t do away with Dropbox. They serve different purposes.
3. I use Google Photos to store and organize all my digital photos. Evernote is not a good solution for this.
Hi, I purchased your Ebook (something I never do) and really enjoyed it and implementing it. I was wondering if you all had a recommendation for accounting software that fit this lifestyle approach to on the go, seamless, paperless etc! Would love to hear about it.
Thank you so much for your sweet words, Meghan! Donnie does our accounting and really likes WaveApps for tracking everything. He talked about some of his favorite accounting tools in this post: https://justagirlandherblog.com/blogging-business-essentials/ . I hope you’re having a great week!
First of all great article. I’ve been thinking of going paperless for a while and just recently came to the conclusion Evernote was the best tool to do this.
I know this is long after the post, but I’m curious if you both have individual Evernote accounts or if you use one shared Evernote account. If you use individual Evernote accounts how easy is it for both of you to add content to the same “notebook” or “inbox”?
Great article! I would have bought the book, but I’ve never heard of the payment processor (newkajabe?) and I hate creating a new username and password to download a book. Maybe consider paypal, stripe, or gumroad?
Nonetheless, a lot of great info. Ive never found Evernote appealing before, but as a scan repository, it sounds pretty boss!
Hi, Tim! Kajabi is just the course platform where you download the eBook and view the videos. Payments are processed through Stripe; Kajabi doesn’t house any credit card information. You would just need a Kajabi account to view the course files. I hope this helps! Have a great week!
I am currently looking into the ix500. However, they make a regular version and an “Evernote” edition. Do you know the difference between the two and/or have any recommendations?
The Evernote edition has a slightly different interface, that’s it. I wouldn’t spend a cent more on the “Evernote” edition.
I hope you’re still checking the comments on this post since it’s pretty old. I don’t really understand the value of evernote over a well organized folder system on my hard drive. With the option to have my entire documents folder on the cloud I can access all the files within it from my mobile devices just like evernote does. I can make folders instead of notebooks to organize in a similar manner. I can add tags to any file on a mac which seemed to be one of the key points in your post. So with this in mind what is the major advantage to using evernote over a well organized documents folder that is shared on the cloud?
Search is a big difference. And also changing organization structure as needs change is another benefit of Evernote… it’s easy to make a massive strategy change. Not so easy with a bunch of nested folders. That being said, there are quite a few people that don’t want to pay a few dollars a mont for Evernote and are perfectly happy managing folders on their hard drive.
Thanks for this article, Donnie!
For anyone currently looking for a scanner, I found a good comparison of 2017 models here: https://tidyflat.co/duplex-scanner-review
I went with the Fujitsu, but there are more economical options that got good reviews as well. Hope this helps!
Hey, I just purchased your eBook, looking forward to read it this weekend. Many of my friends recommended me about that, so decided lets read it 🙂
Oh, great! Hope you enjoy it!
Grrrrrr…it’s so annoying to be ocd at times. You have stated several times that you like to save scanned documents in the “yyyy_mm_dd relevant note title” format. Do you use the preset formula “yyyy_mm_dd_hh_mm_ss” format and then delete the “hh_mm_ss” portion when adding your “relevant note title?” What I want is the following to be fully aitomated “yyyy_mm_hh serial number” . I cannot find a way to get the “custom file name” to automate with with “yyyy_mm_dd” only. I’ve wondered if I could code with java or applescript and have tried but nothing seems to take. VERY new in the coding world. Do you know how to do and if you do not, do you at least know what cod language scansnap uses? I’ve spent WAAAYYY too much time trying to set up this functionality but dang it…I wanna WIN!!!!! Thanks 🙂
I just delete the hh_mm_ss part in the note title in Evernote.
What an incredible and helpful system. My only question is – if one’s files are stored on Evernote’s server, what happens when Evernote goes out of business? Do they have a contingency plan for how to hand your files over to you? So many tech apps like this just disappear along with your files.
Sorry if someone has already asked this.
I export all my files as a .xml file once per month. That file has all my data.
What about receipts for store / online purchases? Do you scan those, too? And if so, have you ever had problems making a return?
Evernote is what i am using it till date, i loved the app. Though, there are some new apps which you listed, i should try those as well to make life easy. Thank you for the article.
So glad it was helpful for you. Have a great week!
Hi Donnie and Abby –
I found this article and loved it. I already have the Scansnap and this has motivated me to get going with Evernote and work to get rid of the paper files in my personal life. One comment I have is that I am an estate planning and probate attorney. With people going paperless and using cloud storage, I have seen several cases in which family members cannot find the assets and insurance after a family member passes – especially if it is someone who is digitally savvy. A great follow up blog would be to emphasize the importance of having well-organized estate plan with detailed instructions to family on where to find your estate plan, financial accounts and insurance, and a list of account numbers and advisors should something happen. Many people omit this step and they are the only ones that know where things are and how to access them.
Thanks again for the great article. I am inspired to start scanning.
This is great advice! Thank you!
I was always organized, never missed paying a bill, knew right where to find something if I needed it, everything had a place in my life. Then seven years ago my life went through some major significant changes and for some reason, it continues to do so and I can’t seem to catch a break, The paper is the biggest issue. It was on the kitchen table, forcing me to do it, but that didn’t work so I moved it into my bedroom which has only produced many, many more boxes. I would have never read a blog this long that kept my interest as well as all the comments. Thank you so much for taking the time to do it. I’m going to try this instead of the huge metal filing cabinet I have (I hate filing) and now use a large box next to my desk to put the paper that needs to be filed into it with the intention of filing it “tomorrow” I actually need another box, this one is so full it broke! I would rather use my computer and “watch a movie” while I file then open and close a metal file cabinet!! Now we need to find a use for all those metal cabinets!!! lol I know, the metal chop shop! (need to print this out!) Thank you again, I’m so glad I saw it.
Yay! I’m so glad it was helpful for you, Barbara! We love to hear that! <3
I realize this post is over 2 years old. I wonder if you have upgraded or rethought any of the technology. I have been an Evernote Premium user and a Mac user for a long time. I have an ix500 scanner. I love Evernote ands tore eveything there…well almost. I have always kept a an offline system or area for those private documents. Evernote is wonderful for catching everything, finding everything and sharing it, but has two major flaws from a security standpoint.
1) It hosts your files in the cloud, great for sharing, bad for unintentional sharing should they be hacked. 2) it has no inherent encryption, I realize that encryption is self defeating if OCRing in the background is the goal. Consequently I cannot file my tax returns in Evernote for sure (and many more sensitive documents). Also, Evernote unfortunately seems to be moving away from “local’ notebooks. Alternately DevonThink looks very powerful but very long in the tooth and I worry about long term support with any software. So what do people do with sensitive documents?
Not so easy with a bunch of nested folders. That being said, there are quite a few people that don’t want to pay a few dollars a mont for Evernote and are perfectly happy managing folders on their hard drive.
Thanks so much for this blog! It’s been so helpful. My husband and I are recently first-time homeowners and just getting settled in. Thankfully, we didn’t have many papers, to begin with, so I was able to have a little scanning/shredding party yesterday and it was freeing.
Yay! So glad it was helpful for you! Congrats on owning your first home… what a fun and exciting time! Enjoy! <3
We use Google Calendar, which isn’t integrated with Evernote. Is this an issue? Is Google docs improved enough to use instead of Evernote? I paid for Premium last night, wondering if I made a mistake. See some others love Trello?
When will the updated Paperless Home be available (estimate)?
Hi, Trish! We’re hoping by March-ish! 🙂 Hope you’re having a great week!
When you say you and your wife are both looking at the same document does that mean you’re logged in as the same user?
Hi! I was wondering how the Fujitsu scanner is with photos? I’d like to go thru old family albums and scan the photos for everyone. And the Fujitsu, does it work with tiny receipts?
I was just wondering if you all have posted any updates on the paperless home blog or ebook. I followed the ebook’s instructions, and my life has been completely changed! I am just curious to see how you all are continuing your paperless journey and if you have changed any of the tools you use. ScanSnap recently changed their software, and I’m having trouble integrating with Everenote. Curious if you all have had the same problem. 🙂
I haven’t read all the comments so maybe you already answered this, but what about security? I’ve read a lot of things about security issues with the cloud, and I’m hesitant to put important and/or sensitive information in the cloud. (even though I realize probably every hacker in the world could probably get my info from somewhere!). Also, my husband is very uncomfortable with digital anything related to finances, etc. I need to be able to show him how it will all be secure. We have so many papers and I get frustrated when I can’t put my hands on things when I need them so I’d love to be able to go to this type of system. I’d love to know how you address security. Thanks!
Definitely a common concern!
But you have to remember that any financial document you have in your filing cabinet is already in the “cloud” somewhere. It was generated at a financial institution somewhere. Just because you don’t have digital access to it, doesn’t mean a hacker doesn’t.
We have a Scan Snap in that same model at our shop, just waiting on my husband to link it to my desk computer!
It is such a space saver, which is probably worthy of KonMari article mentions.
Currently pestering him right now to hook it up, I want rid of so much paid bill stubs for the businesses who provide service to our business. And I want curved wall mount corner shelves at my corner to put my decoration things on and out of the way, to make room for more sorting stuff. I have this file sorter office thing that has 3 horizontal baskets to pull out and 5 vertical divided slots (walmart has it!). So many binder clipped and organized things to scan… Ugh.
For the person mentioning the naming thing about their scans:
On PC you can rename the files! Just do this:
1. Go to the folder your scanning machine saves to.
2. Mouse to the file in question, click to get the rename box up or click once then press F2 (Rename button in Windows for most things).
3. Rename how you want. Hit enter to make it stick.
I want to sort by company/project, then year then month.
It’s how I sort digitally for his mileage sheets for service calls for computer repair stuff he does for elderly/disabled/business customers at their homes or businesses.
This is so true! Thanks for this reminder! Going paperless is definitely on my to do list for this year! 🙂
Yay! So glad it was helpful for you, Rosanne!
Is this the most updated version of Donnie’s instructions on how to go paperless?
Hi, Diane! It is. He is due to update it soon– I will be sure to put it on his list. 🙂 Hope you have a great week!
I’m concerned about my enex-files. Why it’s not possible for example to have Windows Onenote and import the enex-files?
Evernote is a very good tool, but I’m really concerned.
It is definitely possible to import enex files into OneNote. If you Google, there are a bunch of articles out there that can walk you through it step by step!
I love the idea of going paperless. I currently use the free version of Evernote. Is that enough for me to be able to do all you talk about here, or do I need to pay the $9/month or $80/year (as of 4/28/23) for the Personal version of Evernote?
If you’re going to use Evernote to go paperless, we recommend the personal version. But feel free to stick with the free version until you start running into limitations with it! 🙂