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I Spoke About Going Paperless To A Paper Loving Audience And Survived

Burrowing OwlI have done my fair share of public speaking, but it has generally been in a business context and mostly to professionals who want to learn how going paperless can improve their business or their life.

This time was different. This time I was about to take the stage at SimpleREV in Minneapolis, and I was much more nervous than usual.

It could have been the fact that I was on 3 hours of sleep (thank you Sun Country). It could have been that I was coming from 31 degrees in Southern California to 3 degrees in Minnesota and was trying to recover from a brutal cold.

Truth be told, the main reason was that I knew that this audience was different. This was an audience that not only uses paper, but loves paper.

Joshua Becker from Becoming Minimalist was there. Mike Vardy from Productivityist was there, and just a week earlier he had done a podcast about his love for paper. David Delp from Pilot Fire was handing out stacks of index cards to the audience.

Patrick Rhone was there. Patrick freaking Rhone, who amongst many other activities runs a site called The Cramped, which is “dedicated to the pleasures of writing with analog tools”.

In other words, this was not a group of accountants or real estate agents. So what the heck was I doing there?

Partially it was to support my friends Dan Hayes from Simple Life Together and Joel Zaslofsky from Value of Simple, who are doing great work and are creating a movement.

Mostly it was because I truly believe that it is hard to focus on simplicity and being mindful if you have “stuff” all over the place and don’t know where anything is.

To me it is hard to live a contented life if you have to dig through piles of paper to find that one crucial document, or if you have to worry, even subconsciously, that you are one hard drive crash away from losing your entire digital life.

Thankfully, no one threw rare Japanese pens, artisanal notebooks, or staplers at me. The aforementioned Patrick Rhone was kind enough to sketchnote my talk, and here were his main takeaways:

My focus, other than the tactical aspects was:

  • Going paperless does not necessarily mean a total absence of paper or taking away activities that you love to do. It is just about being mindful of the paper that you use and the paper that you keep.
  • Think about what it is you are actually trying to achieve.
  • Think about how you are actually going to find these documents later.
  • The most important thing is to make sure your documents are protected, and this means backing up to more than one location.

My goal for my talk was to have people put some thought into how they store and find their digital documents, and most importantly to make sure that their digital lives were backed up. I was pleased to see that at least one person took action.

It is always good to do some things that are outside of your comfort zone, and speaking at SimpleREV was definitely one of them. If nothing else, I learned the origin of the name of Flin Flon, Manitoba.

(Photo by Mitchell Gerskup)

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The Paperless Conference

Chris Anderson at LeWebBetween session handouts, itineraries, and notes, how the heck do you go paperless at a conference?

In most events, there is paper coming at you from all directions.

Julie Bestry from Best Results Organizing did a great blog post about her experience at a recent conference that I spoke at in Phoenix: NAPO2014: Taking Notes–The Paperless Experiment.

The plan was to try something I’d never done before, to go paperless for an entire NAPO conference. To do that, I’d have to:

  • Take notes digitally
  • Print nothing
  • Figure out how to integrate different input sources of information

Julie’s post made me think about how my approach to attending conferences as paperlessly as possible has changed over the years.

Conference Itineraries

This one depends on the conference, of course.

Many events provide the itinerary online ahead of time. When that happens, I like to store it in Evernote so that I always have it available on all my devices.

The best event I have ever seen for this is the National Association of Professional Organizers annual conference, which Julie and I both attend. They provide an iOS and Android app that allows you to build your schedule. I referred to the app constantly.

Speaker Handouts and Slides

Here is a possibly controversial opinion – if I need the slides from a presentation, the talk was probably not constructed very well.[1]

This is why when speaking, unless I have a gun to my head, I prefer not to submit my slides ahead of time to be printed in the Conference Binder Of Paper Hell.

Again this is just me, but I don’t follow along with The Slides when I am listening to a talk. I prefer to see what the speaker has to say and be surprised.

For speaker handouts and The Slides, sometimes the conference will provide them in PDF format for downloading before or after the event, and sometimes the speaker will provide a resource page that they can be downloaded from.

Often there is nothing you can do and things are on paper. That’s fine – I just capture them with my phone’s scanning app and off to Evernote they go. The paper never makes it home with me.

Note taking

The way I take notes at conferences has evolved, and you can see that evolution on the DocumentSnap blog.

I used paper notebooks for a while and captured them with my phone. Then I got a bit more advanced and used the ScanSnap SV600 to capture them.

I did a conference writing notes on my iPad with Notability, which I was inspired to do by paperless notetaking ninja Tim Grahl.

I’ve also used my Wipebook at an event and that went pretty well.

Now more often than not I type my notes on my iPad using the Logitech Ultrathin keyboard into the Drafts app.

I do this for many of the same reasons that Julie outlines in her post:

  • Because I can type without looking at the screen (but can’t handwrite the same way), I was able to pay attention to each speaker’s non-verbal communication in greater depth.
  • I was certainly able to type faster than I’d ever been able to handwrite my notes, giving me the opportunity to scan and correct errors without missing what the speaker was saying.
  • My notes are far more legible than in past years.

I like being able to type my thoughts while watching the speaker. Since I don’t care about The Slides, flipping back and forth between them isn’t an issue for me.

However I capture the notes, they end up (surprise!) in Evernote.

There Is No Right Way To Do It

There are many benefits to handwriting your notes, which Julie outlines very well in her post. I understand the tradeoff, and the way I do it works for me.

You need to figure out how paperless you want your conference to be for you. The important thing is not how you capture things, but what you do with that information after you leave the closing party.

Do you have any paperless conference tips? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

.(Photo by Robert Scoble)

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Supermom vs. Super Mom By Vanessa Hayes

Supermom vs Super MomAs far as I am aware, I am not a mom. I’m certainly not a super mom. I can say with reasonable confidence that my wife has me beat in all super mom aspects (sometimes she whips up a batch of muffins in the morning before heading off to her corporate senior management job – I’m lucky if I can make my smoothie without it exploding).

However, I enjoy the work that Dan Hayes and Vanessa Hayes do on their Simple Life Together podcast, and when Vanessa released her book Supermom vs Super Mom: Simplicity Tips for Busy Moms: A Simple Life Guide to Getting Organized, Finding Margin and Embracing Simplicity for Moms I decided what the heck, I’ll pick it up and maybe get some good simplicity tips.

I bought it when it first came out, but because of the weird way that I read books, I haven’t gotten to it until just now. Since I am currently on a train heading down to the World Domination Summit, I figure it is a good time to write about the book since WDS in 2011 was the first time I met them. If you look closely in this picture, you can see Dan, Vanessa, and I all listening to Leo Babauta in his “class on the grass”.

WDS Zen Habits Meetup

While I’ve established that I am not a mom, I found that the book has a lot of great tips that you can implement immediately. One area I really liked was her S-I-M-P-L-E method for organizing. We have some areas at home that are a bit, shall we say, disorganized. I’m going to apply this methodology to those and see how it goes.

I don’t think I have ever said this about a book, but the Appendices are almost the most valuable part. There are specific sections for specific types of clutter, and there are routines she outlines that can really make a difference.

For example, there is a fantastic appendix on dealing with paper clutter. If you want to learn to create an overall paper plan, the book is worth it just for that chapter alone.

While targeted to moms, I think Supermom vs Super Mom could be valuable for anyone who wants to create order at home and get their stuff and routines under control.

Full disclosure: At the National Association of Professional Organizers conference in Phoenix this year, I went out to dinner with Dan and Vanessa and they bought me a burger called The Green Monster, and there may have been one or two Lumberyard IPAs involved. However, I had purchased the book months before this dinner, and the deliciousness of The Green Monster did not influence my recommending this book.

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Should You Have A Document Destruction Policy?

Prune BonsaiWhen you go paperless, over time you will accumulate a lot of information. This may lead you to ask yourself an important question – how long should you keep your electronic documents? Should you prune them periodically, or should you keep them forever?

I need to be open and transparent right off the bat here – I do not prune my documents. To this point, I have taken a “you never know what you will need until you need it” approach and have kept everything.

That has worked for me so far, but there may be some very good reasons to have an electronic document destruction policy – especially if you run a larger business.

But I Want To Keep My Electronic Documents Forever

That is entirely your choice, but here are some things to consider.

Storage Costs

The nice thing about going paperless is that more document storage does not usually lead to more physical space being taken up. We don’t have to worry about file cabinets, boxes, or storage rooms.

You often hear “storage is cheap” when it comes to electronic data, and it is. You can get terabyte upon terabyte of cloud storage for free, and the price of external storage keeps falling.

Over time though, you may start hitting storage tiers where keeping more data leads to additional cost, which may be unnecessary.

Increased Complexity

The more information you keep, the more you will need to wade through when you or your users are looking for a document. Using a consistent and descriptive naming convention will help, but the less outdated and irrelevant information you need to wade through, the more effective you may be.

Legal Issues

This is mostly applicable in an organization, but keeping old documents around may open you up to legal risk. The more documents you have, the more discoverable information there is if you are involved in a lawsuit or audit.

It is sad for historic and preservation reasons, but there is a trend for organizations to get rid of documents as quickly as they can for these sorts of legal reasons.

There are some important caveats around this though, so read on.

Create An Electronic Document Destruction Policy

So you’ve decided that you want to start removing old information. Here is what you should not do: go crazy and start deleting stuff.

The first thing you will want to do is talk to your legal and tax experts to find out which records you need to keep and for how long.

Once you have sorted that out, it is still not to time to take a chainsaw to your document archive. You should create a formal document destruction policy.

For example, the time to delete documents related to a lawsuit is not when you are involved in the lawsuit. That is what is known as a Bad Idea (remember Enron?).

Rich Medina puts it well in his AIIM post 4 Things You Need to Know to Safely Get Rid of Electronic Stuff (Technical Term for Information Chaos):

The first step is to develop your Defensible Disposition Policy. This is the design specification that states very clearly the objectives that your methodology will fulfill. You should be able to defend your actions by pointing at your policy for defensible disposition, which shows what you intend to do, and then showing that you are following it. The good news is that you don’t need to be perfect – you don’t have to perfectly satisfy your retention demands. You do need to use the Principle of Reasonableness and act In Good Faith.

Some things you will want to think about:

  • What should be removed?
  • What should never be removed?
  • When should they be removed?
  • Who removes them?

Though it is specifically targeted at lawyers, Lawyerist has a good Sample Document-Destruction Policy.

Make Sure Everything Is Documented

You want to make sure that everything you do around document destruction (especially if you are an organization) is done carefully and deliberately.

When you destroy records, you want to make sure that the act of destruction is documented and shown that it is in compliance with your policy.

Document Pruning Strategies

Many higher-level document management systems have disposition features built-in that you can use.

If you are not using one of those systems, you can do things like set up smart folders on your computer to identify files in your archive that are of a certain age in a certain location and then go through those to decide which to delete.

Make Sure You Review And Update

Over time, you will want to review your policy and make sure that it is still relevant, and you will want to do some sample audits to make sure that the policy is being followed.

Do You Have A Document Destruction Policy?

Do you keep everything (as I currently do), or do you prune your documents? If you are comfortable sharing, I’d love to hear below the sorts of things you delete and how you go about it.

(Photo by Tanaka Juuyoh)

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Mac Users – Save Browser Tabs For Later And Take Action

TabsBrowser tabs, amiright?

For those of us old and/or geeky enough to remember when tabbed browsing first became available, it was a godsend. No more stacks of never-ending browser windows all over the place.

Of course, we still have the same underlying problem. We still have too much stuff open in our browsers; it has just shifted to too many tabs instead of too many windows.

Often these tabs are things we no longer need, so that is no problem – close away. But what if they are something we want to research later? What if they are reference material, or items that require some sort of action?

Technology wizard Justin Lancy (aka Veritrope) has put together this fantastic list of resources for Mac users (sorry, Windows friends) that allow you to capture those open tabs and quickly do something with them:

Tools to Organize Browser Tabs for Mac Users – Veritrope

Here’s a strategy that you might consider trying: Prepare some tools which can, at the moment you’re ready, put all those tabs exactly where you need them so you can close those tabs. If most of those tabs are really your to-do list, line them up in one window and then get them into your actual to-do list. I’ve found that if your tools are easy to use, you’ll be more likely to make it a part of your routine.

That’s the key – Getting in the habit of not letting those open tabs accumulate.

If you are using Safari or Chrome, he’s created AppleScripts to save your open tabs to Text files, Evernote, OmniFocus, OmniOutliner, Reminders, and DEVONthink Pro.

He’s even packaged them up in easy Alfred workflows and Launchbar 6 actions. Bananas.

I’ve found the Alfred Chrome-to-OmniFocus one super handy because that is how I roll, but I am going to start playing with the Evernote ones as well.

Thanks Justin! Now I just have to actually take action on these tabs I am putting into my task manager.

(Photo by Peter Dutton)

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Ampad Shot Note Writing Pads – From Handwritten To Handheld

Ampad Shot Note IconI have attended the annual conference for the National Association of Professional Organizers for the past two years, and both times I eyed the booth for a product called the Ampad Shot Note.

The Shot Note pads are billed as an easy way to digitize handwriting and sketches, and this year they were handing out some samples.

I picked up two 5×8 Writing pads in ruled and dot graph format to try out. As usual for these sorts of tests, I am trying it out at my local Starbucks to simulate “real world” use.

I can’t tell if people are staring at me because I am taking pictures of notebooks like a crazy person, or if it is because I have a World Cup match playing on the iPad beside me.

Ampad Shot Note
Ampad Shot Note

It’s All About The Corners

These writing pads come with 40 sheets of lined or graph paper. Unfortunately, they are single-sided.

The first thing you will notice is that the pages have strange-looking squares on each corner. The Shot Note app (more on that in a moment) uses these markings to easily determine the page capture area.

Shot Note Corners
Shot Note Corners

Speaking of the pages, I have seem some complaints online that the paper is a bit thin and that there can be some bleedthrough. Unless you’re Daniel Gold and use a fountain pen, you probably won’t have an issue, but it is something to be aware of. I personally have not experienced any bleedthrough problems with my trusty Pilot G2 .38 pen.

Capture With The Shot Note App

Of course you can take a picture of the paper with any camera-enabled app, but the point of using these special notebooks is to use the free Shot Note app which is available for iOS and Android.

When you use the app, you position the camera so that the corners are inside the blue boxes and hit the button to take the picture (it’d be nice if it automatically detects that and does it for you).

Shot Note Corners
Shot Note Corners

Once you take the picture, it automatically crops out everything outside of the corners.

Shot Note Cropped Image
Shot Note Cropped Image

One thing I don’t understand: if it is able to crop out everything outside of the corners, why don’t they crop out the corners themselves? It is weird that the resulting image still has the corner squares and the Ampad branding. Who would want that?

Here is an image captured with the grid paper. Once you capture the image, you can perform basic cleanup such as making it black & white, adjusting the brightness, and adjusting the contrast.

Shot Note Grid Image Manipulation
Shot Note Grid Image Manipulation

Image Export

The Shot Note app wouldn’t be very useful if the images stayed in the app. Fortunately you can email the image, and one handy feature is the ability to set up a default email address.

You can also link the app to your Evernote or Dropbox account.

Shot Note Export
Shot Note Export

Evernote Export

For Evernote, you can set a default notebook and default tags for your exported images.

Here are two notes that were exported to Evernote: ruled and grid.

Dropbox Export

When you export to Dropbox, it creates a folder under Apps called Ampad Shot Note. For each exported note, it creates a folder which has a text file containing the note’s description, and a JPG with the image.

Shot Note Dropbox Export
Shot Note Dropbox Export

My Verdict

The Ampad Shot Note pads are an interesting idea and the app seems to work well. The 5×8" Writing Pad, which I used, is available on Amazon. There are also 8.5×11.75" pads, 9×12" spiral bound notebooks, and even easel pads.

While everything works well, I am not a huge fan of systems like this that rely on proprietary paper that you have to keep buying. At $6 for 40 single-sided sheets, it will get pretty expensive if you use it a lot (maybe I am just cheap though).

There are also so many great document scanning apps like Genius Scan, Scanner Pro, and Scanbot that this sort of solution perhaps isn’t quite as useful as it once was.

Maybe that’s my bias though – do you see any great uses for a system like this? Let me know why I am wrong in the comments.

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Codes And Document Naming Conventions

Name TagsThe more I work with electronic documents, the more I become convinced that a consistent, descriptive naming convention is the biggest thing you can do to be able to find your documents later.

Having searchable PDFs is great, but using a naming convention will help to make sure that your documents are findable, not just searchable.

This includes including dates in the file name and using words in the name that will help you search for the document later.

Project Or Client Codes

If you work with clients or projects, you can go one step further and have a unique code that you include in the file name. I find this incredibly helpful to quickly zoom in on the file or folder that I am looking for using search.

I tend to use three letter codes inspired by this oldie but goodie blog post by Ben Brooks.

I was once talking to someone from an accounting firm, and she told me that they came up with a shared naming convention by which they would have a code of the first three letters of a client’s last name and the first three letters of a client’s first name in the file name.

For example, for an invoice they might have something like this:


What About Privacy?

At the NAPO conference last week, I was in a session by the Project Digital Sanity crew. They made an interesting point – if you have a situation where for privacy reasons you wouldn’t want the client name in the file name, you could use a client number instead.

What Do You Use?

These are three examples of naming codes you could use. You need to figure out what works for you and your documents.

Do you have a naming code system for your documents? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

(Photo by Mr. Eugene)

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You Are Responsible For Your Own Data

Control KeyPeople often ask me if I recommend downloading paperless statements and bills, or if it is okay to leave them on the bank or other vendor’s website.

My answer to this is always the same: do whatever works for you, but I always recommend downloading your electronic documents.

Why is this?

You Need To Control Your Data

It takes extra work, but my opinion is that you need to be the one to control your data.

Your paperless statements on your bank’s website? They’ll only be there for a set amount of time.

How long is that set amount of time? It varies. Six months, a year, eighteen months, six years? You are completely at the mercy of the bank’s IT department. If they decide they want to cut the amount of time that statements are stored, there is nothing you can do about it.

If you have downloaded the statement, it doesn’t matter what the bank does. You are in control.

Even Awesome Services Go Away

Just because a service is popular does not mean it will survive. Case in point: Manilla is closing as of July 1, 2014.

Many people used Manilla to take the billing process paperless. What could be better than managing and paying bills in one place through the web, and then having free online document storage?

Well, users have until September 30, 2014 to get their documents out of Manilla. After that, they will be gone. Judging by the company’s Twitter stream, users are now scrambling to download their documents.

By the way, for Manilla refugees, a feature I like in the FileThis service is its ability to automatically download bills and statements, but you can then have them automatically download to your computer. You get some of the benefits of Manilla, but you don’t have to worry about ending up in the same place later.

Does This Mean Don’t Use The Cloud?

I am absolutely not saying that you should only store your documents locally and not use the cloud.

What I am saying is that no one cares about your data as much as you do. Want to use a cloud synchronization service? Go for it. But have a local backup of your information, and know how to get your stuff out of your chosen platform before you are forced to.

Manilla users are fortunate that they have four months to download their information – not everyone will be so lucky.

I have always appreciated Evernote CEO Phil Libin’s proactive stance on how they treat user data with their Three Laws of Data Protection:

Everything we do at Evernote follows these three basic rules:

Your Data is Yours
Your Data is Protected
Your Data is Portable

The key law is the first one: your data is yours. Even if you entrust it to a third party, you are still responsible for your own data. You would be well served to take that responsibility seriously.

(Photo by Faramarz Hashemi)

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Wipebook Review

WipebookAt the end of 2013, I did a post about an interesting looking Kickstarter project. The product I funded (I have a Kickstarter weakness) is called the Wipebook, and I have been using it for the past month.

If you want to skip the rest of this post, I will save you time and just say that I love the Wipebook and use it every day.

What It Is

I spent many years doing and running software support, and my not-so-secret weapon was a pad of paper I kept beside my desk. For jotting down information, there is nothing (for me) as fast as scrawling quick notes.

I have found iPad apps like Penultimate or typing into Evernote an acceptable substitute, but it was never quite the same.

When I saw the Wipebook, I knew right away it was what I was looking for – a way to quickly jot down information, but it is erasable and reusable so I don’t waste paper.

The book is 25 pages (50 sides) and you can get it in blank, lined, grid, or a mix thereof. I ordered the blank version.



The first time I went to erase something, I used a whiteboard eraser I had lying around and – nothing erased (unless I put a lot of elbow grease in). I thought “oh no, another Kickstarter disaster.”

I quickly realized that was a function of the pen I was using (more on that in a moment). I’ve found that if I put a few drops of water on a paper towel, the page erases quickly and perfectly.

If you are using standard dry erase markers, erasing is easy. You can even erase it with your finger. If you are using correctable markers (again, more on this below), they recommend erasing the page within a week.


If you don’t erase weekly or if you are having any other eraser trouble, it’s not a big deal. Just put a bit of isopropyl alcohol (available in any drug store) on a paper towel and it will come right off good as new.


The Wipebook will work with standard dry erase markers, but you will find the ink will smudge off quite easily.

The manufacturers recommend that you use a correctable marker, and when you buy the Wipebook they’ll offer to tack one on to your order. I highly recommend picking one up. I find writing on the Wipebook with a Staedtler Lumocolor Fine Correctable marker great. You can either buy it from the Wipebook folks, or you can buy a pack of four on Amazon.

Staedtler Lumocolor Correctable Marker

Once you start delving into the world of Staedtler markers, you will see that there are Non-Permanent markers as well. You don’t want to use these – they will cause ghosting. Stick with Correctables.

Now Feel The Wrath Of The Left Hand Of Brooks!

Being a lefty, I fully expected the Wipebook to not work out for me. If you are left-handed you will know what I am talking about.

For those not in our secret club, imagine writing on a whiteboard and finding that half of what you wrote is smudged onto your hand.

I have found that smudging isn’t nearly as much of an issue as I had expected. Using the aforementioned Correctable markers, there has been very little smudging. It occasionally happens, but the eraser on these markers is very good and it is quick to fix if desired.


Your use may vary, but for me, I want to keep many of these notes that I am taking.

What I do is write away in the Wipebook and then when I am done, I use a scanning app (usually Genius Scan) to capture the page and send it to Evernote.

Believe it or not, the Wipebook folks have a video where they show scanning the Wipebook pages with a ScanSnap, but I have not tried that, and don’t really expect to be taking my binding off.


There isn’t much I would change about the Wipebook. I’ve seen some complaints online about the binding not being sturdy, but I have not experienced any issues at all.

The main thing I wish is that they would make smaller versions. A 25 page 8.5×11" book is hefty to carry around. I’d love a smaller version that I can throw in a bag with my iPad.

The Wipebook is $29.99, so it is not drugstore-notebook cheap, but for me it is worth it.

What do you think of the Wipebook or the concept of a “reusable book”? Do you have any use for it?

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Organize Electronic Files The National Archives Way

Hard Drive Light EffectsOn the DocumentSnap Facebook Page, awesome reader Corey Adams shared this great video from the US National Archives.

The video is titled “Let’s Get Organized! Setting up your Electronic Files”, and is by Donna Read from the National Archives.

The presentation is a little geared towards agencies and larger organizations, but it still has solid tips for file organization, naming, and some of the challenges we face when organizing electronic documents.

It makes some great points about why organizing electronic documents up front is more important than with paper files.

Thanks for the tip, Corey!

(Photo by Matt Rudge)

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