Going paperless is about the little wins, and one area where I’ve been really successful is with with our family grocery list. Not only have I eliminated the paper, but (for us), the paperless grocery list works much better.
Here are some ways that you can accomplish this.
A Shared Low(ish) Tech Solution
My friend Michael Schechter has posted about his family’s solution: an app called Listary.
This is an iOS app that has the usual list-making and checking-off functionality, but what makes Listary work for them is the ability for his wife to send him items for the list without her messing around with the app. From his post on the subject:
Best of all, when my wife sends me a list of thirty completely disordered items from the supermarket, I can copy the text, paste it in one box and as long as she hit enter on her phone between ever item it parses every line as a unique entry. Within seconds of receiving her text, I can add and completely reorder the list based on where things are in the store (something she has deemed irrelevant).
They like an app called OurGroceries because it works on iOS, Android, and Blackberry.
I don’t have experience with OurGroceries, but they seem to like it.
What I Do
I use the stock Reminders app that comes with iOS. I like it because it seamlessly syncs via iCloud, and therefore whether I have my Mac, my iPad, or my iPhone within reach (which is 100% of the time), I can quickly add items.
When I get to the store, I like checking off the items on my iPhone as I throw them in the cart. It makes it easy to see what I have left to find.
Even better, with Siri I can quickly add items to my list by just holding down the Home button. If I say “Add kale to Grocery list”, it will add it to the correct Reminders list. My kids like walking around saying “Add chocolate chip cookies to grocery list”, but fortunately they haven’t figured out the Home button part yet.
This video shows how this works, and it also shows the ability to have shared lists with a family member. I don’t personally use that feature as my wife does not have an iPhone.
I’m sure many of you have your own paperless grocery list workflow. I’d love to hear about it in the comments. It’s been great for my family.
When going paperless, there is the eternal balancing act: how do you have access to the document that you need when you need it, but also have it safe and secure?
Many people would like the ability to have their documents accessible in the cloud, but (understandably) don’t feel comfortable having them on someone else’s server.
I’ve been testing out a cool new device called the Transporter by Connected Data. It is a hardware device that you plug in to your router, and it gives you secure online file accessibility without having your data on third party servers. Everything lives in your home or office.
When I first saw the Transporter at Macworld, I knew this was something I needed to check out for going paperless. The Connected Data folks hooked me up with a driveless review unit so that I could try it out.
If you buy the version with a drive pre-installed you don’t need to worry about this, but I wanted to try the whole experience. The device is well made and installation was extremely easy.
I just snapped in a 1TB drive, screwed the top back on, and I was good to go.
To hook up the Transporter, you just plug an ethernet cable into the back and plug in the power.
If needed, it will format the drive, and when it is ready you will see the glowing blue light of justice. Right now I have it on my desk. Here’s an idea size-wise.
Speaking of the light, it has a large and bright light that serves as a status indicator, which is handy but some may find annoying. Fortunately you can adjust the settings so that the light is dim or even off altogether if that is your preference.
There are Mac and Windows client applications that you use to interact with the Transporter. You don’t need to use them to access your files as the device supports SMB, but the company recommends that you do.
Once you have the software is installed, you can create top-level folders on the drive that will hold your stuff.
In this example I’ve created one called Document Archive. You can see in the web-based management interface that I have one top-level folder on called Document Archive that lives on one Transporter (more on this in a bit), and at the time of this screenshot it held 12 megabytes.
A Connected Data drive appears on your computer, and you can see that I have the aforementioned top-level Document Archive folder as well as a few folders I dragged in on my Mac.
As soon as I dragged those folders and files into that Document Archive folder, they were copied to the Transporter sitting on my desk. If I wanted to, I could have deleted the originals from my Mac.
I fired up my Windows machine, installed the Transporter software, and voilà: there is my Transporter represented by a Z drive, my Document Archive folder, and the files and folders underneath.
Local Storage and Remote Access
Everything that I’ve described so far was done at home in The Dungeon on my local network. What if I want to access my files when I am oot and aboot?
For starters, you can have the Transporter save some or all of your files locally to your hard drive. By default it will cache local copies of your stuff for any folders smaller than 10 Gigs. You can adjust this up or down in the settings for each computer.
What if you are accessing your files and don’t have the local copies? This is one area where the Transporter is really impressive. Using the Transporter software, it will find its way over the Internet back to your device, letting you get at your stuff without having to store your files on their servers.
I am writing this article at Starbucks, and I dragged a file into my Document Archive folder.
It connected to my Transporter back at home and uploaded the file to the device.
Then I fired up the Transporter iPhone app over 3G (I believe an Android app is coming), and here’s the file:
I have not tried this yet, but the Transporters can work together. You can have multiple devices in multiple locations, and they can automatically back up to each other.
You could have one Transporter at home and one at work, or a device in each branch office, and even if something happens to one device, all your stuff will still be on the other one.
You can share files and folders with other users whether they have Transporters or not.
The only catch is that they need to sign up for Connected Data accounts, so these are not public links the way you might be used to with Dropbox etc. Hopefully this is a feature that the company will add soon.
Not an insignificant amount, but this is just a one time fee. There are no ongoing subscription fees like with online synchronization services.
So far I am really liking the Transporter and I am looking forward to digging into more of the features. If you have any questions or experience with the product, please feel free to share in the comments and I will get them answered.
It’s early days still, but I could see myself shifting a lot of my cloud storage use to this thing.
That’s an affiliate link. You can just go to filetransporter.com too, not a problem. ↩
This is a guest post from Craig Hollingum from Micro Com Systems, a Vancouver-based document imaging company. I was interested in hearing from him because I find the whole scanning outsourcing business fascinating.
If you’re like most people, then you probably don’t enjoy such bureaucratic processes as filing and archiving financial documents. The problem is that such dislike for paperwork often causes you to simply shelf documents in one of your drawers or file cabinets without organizing them. Needless to say, this isn’t the most efficient way of going about your business. So, how do you archive your financial documents such that managing them becomes a lot easier? Read on to find out.
Perhaps the first thing you need to know is exactly which financial documents should you keep and for how long? Here is a quick rundown:
Tax-related Records – You may keep these documents for about seven years before discarding.
IRA Contributions – These documents need to be kept permanently.
Retirement Plan Statements – Quarterly statements need to be kept until your annual statement arrives. Check if the numbers match and if they do, you can discard the quarterly statements. The annual statements need to be kept permanently.
Bank Records – Bank documents that aren’t that important can be kept for a year before discarding. Important bank documents should be kept permanently.
Brokerage Statements – These documents should be kept until your sell the securities, at which point your can discard the documents.
Bills – Most bills can be discarded once they’re paid in full or when you receive a cancelled check. For big items such as a car, however, it’s best to keep the bills permanently.
Credit Card Receipts – These receipts can be kept only until you can reconcile them with your statements, at which point you can discard the receipts and keep the statement for seven years before discarding.
Paycheck Stubs – You need to keep these until you get your annual tax statements.
House Records – These documents need to be kept permanently.
Bear in mind that the best way to discard financial documents when you no longer need them is to shred them first before throwing them out with the trash. Now that you know which financial documents to keep and for how long, here are some tips on how you can effectively archive these documents:
1. Choose Your Medium
You need to take into consideration the fact that your financial documents will be stored for a long period of time. This makes it imperative for you to choose an archiving medium that can last for as long as you need your documents. If you choose to keep your files in tapes, remember that tapes of the best quality last for just about ten years. This means you may have to transfer the files to new tapes or to another medium before the ten years are up. Optical storage devices may be a better option for documents that need to be kept permanently, since these can last for an indefinite period.
You should also consider the accessibility of your chosen storage device a number of years from now. To illustrate, there are people who stored important documents in zip disks several years back. These disks are now practically extinct and you’ll most probably have a hard time trying to retrieve data from a zip disk, if you can retrieve them at all. Of course, there’s really no way you can predict which device will last. It may be a good idea to transfer your files to a newer device every ten years or so.
2. Choose a Data Format
The application you use today to archive your financial documents may no longer be supported ten years from now. There have been many cases where archived files can no longer be recovered because the format used has become obsolete. To avoid such a problem, you could archive copies of your chosen installation media and the necessary license keys along with the data itself.
3. Select a Scanner
Paper records need to be converted to digital images. Scanners that were once expensive and difficult to operate, install and maintain have improved considerably over the past 20 years. The newest models are very simple to install (USB interface) and many come bundled with rudimentary scanning applications. Features to consider include Automatic Document Feeders, scanning speed (as rated in pages per minute), color/black and white options and flatbed capability to capture damaged documents and photographs.
4. Set Up a Retrieval Method
Bear in mind that there’s always a possibility that you’ll need to refer to some of your archived files from time to time. This is why you need to devise an efficient retrieval system for your archives. For example, if you choose to store your files in tapes, you need to make sure the tapes are properly indexed. This makes it a lot easier to locate files that have been indexed years ago. The good news is that there is now plenty of archival software that simplifies the task of retrieving data from archives.
It’s only logical for archiving and storage devices to change over time. This is why it’s a good idea to revisit your archives annually to see if there’s a need to transfer some files to a new storage medium. Let’s say, for example, that you decide to store your files in CDs. You never know if CDs will someday become obsolete, so you need to be always aware of evolving trends in terms of storage innovations and be sure to transfer your files before your chosen medium completely becomes outdated.
6. Make Copies
Don’t make the mistake of storing just a single copy of your data. What if something happens, causing that copy to get damaged? In the same way, you should avoid keeping the copies of your files in one place. What if your hiding place gets flooded? The essence of making several copies is to make sure you have a backup for your files, so it only makes sense to keep the copies separately.
7. Need to convert lots of paper records? Consider outsourcing.
There are companies that specialize in converting paper documents to digital images. These firms, typically known as service bureaus, perform the service of record conversion on behalf of clients that prefer not to incur the costs and expense of operating scanners and learning and maintaining specialized scan capture software.
The criteria for selecting a document conversion service bureau are fairly straightforward. Ask potential service bureaus if they have clients with material similar to your own. Will they show you their facility and equipment? Do they have multiple stations using similar equipment? How long have they been in business? What about references? Do they have the equipment in-house to satisfy every facet of your conversion project, or will they use subcontractors? Most well established service bureaus will create a sample set of images using your own paper documents at no charge to make certain the output will match your expectations.
Having an organized archiving system enables you to manage your finances a lot more easily. Now financial paperwork doesn’t have to be such an ordeal anymore.
Craig Hollingum has been in the Document Imaging business for well over half of his life. He has been involved in Micro Com Systems Ltd. on an evolutionary path as an employee/partner/sole owner since 1982.
As someone who writes a “how to do stuff” type site, it can be hard to find that balance between talking about what to do and why you might want to do it in the first place.
I always try to focus on how what I write might actually help people, which is why I am really intrigued by the new project by my friends Mike Vardy and Michael Schechter: Workflowing. (You might recognize those names from the Mike Techniques podcast I did recently).
All too often, attempts to do better get lost in learning how to do better. While we will certainly help you find the tools, tactics and tricks that will help you along the way, we decided to put something at the core of this site that will help us all to focus on the bigger picture.
This looks really great. I’ve subscribed to both the RSS feed and the newsletter. We’ll see what they come up with.
The article has some good advice for going paperless, including some ideas that I had I had never considered such as using mindmaps to plan out your file structure.
Surprisingly it can be quite hard to create a system whereby every single piece of paper that lands on your desk, or is scrunched up in your pocket, has a pre-determined pathway to a digital existence.
For those of us that think visually one suggestion is to try Freemind.
It also covers some familiar hardware and software products, and some new-to-me tools such as the HoverCam. I look forward to learning more about that one.
On the subject of Ian Hardy, he also recently wrote a great article about tagging, not the easiest subject to explain. I recommend checking that out too.
The podcast is about all the things that I am a big fan of such as Evernote, GTD, and other productivity topics. You can subscribe in iTunes here.
The first six episodes have been posted, and against their better judgement they decided to have me on for two of them: Episode 3 and Episode 4.
I had an excellent time talking to them about going paperless, Evernote, taking action, and getting schooled by Daniel about weekly reviews (which I needed!). Episode 3 was about general philosophy and taking action, and Episode 4 is more nuts and bolts about Evernote and GTD.
It looks like, Episode 3 and 4 aside, they are going to have some great guests on, so I recommend that you check it out. It’s worth subscribing.
If you read Meg’s blog post, you’ll notice a P.S. at the bottom:
P.S. In the mean time, I’ve been able to pursue my passion of creating an aquaponics system, the purpose I found that really inspired me to push through to complete the job.
I hadn’t heard from Meg for a while, then I was pleasantly surprised to receive an e-mail from her the other day.
It turns out that going paperless allowed her to find the mental and physical space to really pursue her passion for aquaponics. Here’s what she wrote me:
Being relieved from the burden of paper clutter gave me time to really focus. In one short year I’d gone from dabbler to an officer in the Aquaponics Association, based on my desire to make aquaponics something anyone could do with local materials.
Congratulations Meg, that’s amazing! It looks great and I will be checking it out.
When I give talks about going paperless, I always start by telling people to ask themselves “Why?”
It is really helpful if you are doing this for a purpose. It makes all the difference when it comes to keeping going, and Meg’s story shows that you never know what can happen when you accomplish your goals.
Writing a blog such as this one, it probably will not surprise you to learn that I keep an eye on the term "paperless" on Twitter.
I find a lot of great links and resources this way, but there is one thing that I see every single day. People making this joke:
A paperless office has about as much of a chance as a paperless bathroom.
Here is a very small sample of what I mean from yesterday:
I only bring this up because over the last few days many, many people have been kind enough to send me this cute video which is a commercial for the French toilet paper maker Le Trèfle.
Thanks to everyone who sent it in. It’s very well done.
Whenever I see those posts on Twitter, I think about my wife’s 6 months of travel through India and South East Asia after University, and our honeymoon traveling through Turkey.
More often than not, in our bathroom visits we were greeted by a small hose beside the toilet (if there was one), and there was not a roll of Charmin to be found. In fact, in many cultures water is thought to be much more sanitary.
So, if it is true that a paperless office’s chance of success can be equated with a paperless bathroom, I’m happy with the knowledge that millions upon millions of people are doing just fine.
This might seem like a strange thing to say, but I am not a fan of the word “paperless”.
It creates an unrealistic expectation, and even worse it creates a false binary state. You either want to get rid of 100% of paper (“Go paperless!”) or you only like and feel comfortable using paper (“You’ll pry my Moleskine out of my cold dead hands!”).
For better or for worse, paperless is the term everyone uses, so we’re stuck with it.
When you pledge to go paperless, you’re pledging not to create more paper for other people or yourself than you need to.
Paper generation is definitely a great place to start. If you are not printing documents for yourself and if you can send documents to others electronically, you will be surprised how much you can cut down.
Usage vs. Storage
I like to think about paper from two perspectives: what do we use paper for, and what do we do with it after?
I know many people, including many DocumentSnap readers and Paperless Action Plan students who couldn’t imagine giving up their paper. My friend Mike Vardy makes the case effectively in his post Why Paper Works.
On the flip side, I was at a conference a while ago with Tim Grahl from Out:think, and Tim is the man as far as going all-digital. All his note-taking was on his iPad and incredibly useful and reference-able.
The question becomes: what do you do with your documents and other paper when you are finished actively using them?
Bringing It All Together
To me, here are the facets of “going paperless”:
How can you reduce the amount of paper that you create and send to others?
What paper do you currently work with? Can you move any of it to digital?
How much of your paper do you need to keep? Can it be digitized?
How can you find the information that you need when you need it?
How can you protect your electronic information in multiple places?
Paperless is a term that has unfortunately become both highly idealized and highly divisive, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
Let’s just forget about the actual term and focus on what is important: making our lives and work easier, less cluttered, and more effective.