For several years I have been meaning to write a blog posting about how great it was to go from a messy stack of papers on my desk to a having paperless office. But, I have now moved on to even loftier goals. This is the year I began leading a paperless life. All my business and personal documents exist only in the cloud, everything is online. I actually feel a huge sense of freedom, I feel more modern, and I feel more organized. I would liken it to the nirvana of the elusive inbox zero (getting down to 0 unanswered emails in your inbox), or for the less tech overloaded, the feeling of having a clean room/house.
Here are the top 10 ways I accomplished my paperless life:
1. Office Clutter – I started several years ago by converting to a paperless office using a Fujitsu ScanSnap scanner (you can buy one for around $500 on Amazon.com). It converts everything you scan to keyword searchable PDF files. Each pile of papers I had is now a file on my computer. For example, credit card statements from 2013 are 2013CreditCards.pdf. Some files are more general, like 2008-2013BusinessPapers.pdf. Every few months I scan in whatever documents I have accumulated, and then at the end of the year I combine them into 1 big file (like 2013CreditCards1.pdf and 2013CreditCards2.pdf and 2013CreditCards3.pdf all merge into 2013CreditCards.pdf).
2. Magazines – I used to subscribe to a bunch of magazines such as Wired, Fortune, Inc., Entrepreneur, Business Week, and Fast Company, and they would pile up waiting to be read. Now instead I can read those and 150 other magazines (Rolling Stone, People, US, Time, etc.) using a new service named NextIssue.com, which costs $10-$15/month. For that fixed monthly price, you can read as many of those 150 magazines each month as you want on your mobile phone, tablet, or PC. I read them on my iPhone.
3. Old Boxes – I scanned my boxes of childhood memories. Old schoolwork, old businesses I had started (I began my entrepreneurial career when I was 10), old poems I had written. I even scanned my shoebox full of notes from girls that I had kept all these years. Also, I found some tapes of songs I wrote and recorded as kid, and used a special cord I bought on Amazon.com to transfer the cassettes to MP3 files on my computer.
4. Music – No more CDs. I used to have a collection of over 200 CDs (rock/pop/country), which I manually copied to MP3 files a few years ago. I eventually threw out the CDs and was happy with just the MP3 files. A few years ago I signed up for rdio.com (unlimited online music for $4.99/month) and have not bought a CD since. They have 99% of all the CDs I had, and 99% of all the new ones I would buy. This week I took it a step further, and deleted all my MP3 files (they were taking up space) since with services like Rdio.com, Spotify.com, Rhapsody, all the music I like is forever available in the cloud.
5. Books – No more books, just e-books. In fact, I have had people give me an book I thought looked great, but bought the e-book instead of reading the real book I already had, just because it is much more convenient for me to read things on my iPhone.
6. Photos – I had boxes of old photos, home videos (the old VHS kind), and photo albums from when I was a kid. I shipped them all off to ScanDigital.com, at 70% off via a Groupon offer, where they were converted to digital files. Now I can much more easily share these photos with my family, and they will be better preserved for future generations.
7. Taxes – I e-file my income tax returns using TurboTax.com, and all my old tax records are scanned into a folder named /taxes.
8. Contracts – No more printed contracts. As described in my previous post about Electronic Signatures, I sign contracts online using an e-signature.
9. Checks – No more check writing. I make every available effort to use services that offer automated monthly billing or Paypal.
10. Cloud Storage – I store all my computer files on a cloud service like Box.com (most people can use their free plan). That way I can access my files from anywhere on any device. I used to use Gotomypc.com to connect to my office PC, and that worked, but was slow and not very efficient.
There are also other advantages to being as virtual and paperless as possible. Several times my basement flooded and things got ruined. Luckily not anything important, but I could have easily lost all of it in a fire or a more severe flood. I have also moved a bunch of times, and for every move I had to deal with all my old boxes. And, with everything packed away, I did not have easy access to it. I never knew exactly where certain items were, and a lot of things I just forgot about. Now I have full access to all my stuff, anywhere, anytime, so I highly recommend going paperless to everyone reading this.
I get all my ebooks, books, CDs, movies etc etc and free wifi from my public library.
Thanks for your ideas, Eric.
I’m moving in the same direction. My email inbox is mostly empty or has only few emails I need to pay attention to immediately. I’m still concerned about the privacy thing when using cloud storage. What’s your thought on it, Eric. Instead, I back up important PC files to password-protected zip file stored away on my smart phone.
I have not yet moved to ebooks. I’d like to write notes and be able search on keywords later on. How can it be handled now?
As far as I know, using a reputable cloud service like box.com or Google or Microsoft is just as secure as backing up to phone. If you lose your phone, I think a hacker can easily crack your password protected zip files.
Yes, you can take notes on ebooks and search the notes, but it is a hassle. On a Kindle (or Kindle app on the iPhone/iPad), you can export your notes to a service like Evernote.com and then search them. Their may be an easier way to do this though, I am not sure. I don’t ever take notes. Also, other ereaders might offer this feature. I only know about Kindle related devices.
Sorry, when I said “notes”, I actually meant adding annotations to page of ebook I’m reading. I like to write down my thoughts or ideas when reading, in the page margins. Do you do that?
You can write your annotations on the page you are reading, but they are stored remotely in your Amazon.com kindle account. I don’t think you can see them while you are reading. There may be a way around that though, I don’t ever do any notes/annotations, so I am not an expert on it.
And you’re not afraid of data loss and hackers? I’d have at least a few external HDDs to backup that data. Web services can also fail, though I guess you can sue them for the data loss or something. Remember what happened to Megaupload? Every now and then, we get news for hackers breaching into some big website and leaking everything. With the recently discovered Heartbleed OpenSSL bug, this could be going on for years. It’s hard for me to trust someone else once the data leaves my computer. Especially if it’s sensitive. If there is decent protection and backups it’s all right, though.
The way Dropbox.com works for example, it keeps a copy of your documents on your local PC in addition to keeping them in the cloud. If you use Google Drive (cloud storage) and other Google products (like Gmail), you can back them up for $3/month using a service such as Backupify.com. I used to use Carbonite to backup all the files on my PC, but I cancelled that recently since I have all the files in the cloud now. For my web servers, I do keep a backup at a different web host in case my main web host ever goes out of business or loses all their data, even thought they make their own backups.
Yes, security and backups worry me, but having everything only on my PC used to worry me also, and having a backup to an external HDD worried me also, because that could fail or get damaged. So, the best solution for me has been to try not too think about it all too much. Bad stuff can happen no matter what I do.