A while ago, there was a great suggestion from an awesome reader:
I'm interested in how you and other people manage their lives, their tasks, priorities, documents, to-do lists, and everything that goes with it. I first came to DocumentSnap for help on making my world paperless. With your guidance I've made good progress but still have more to do and I'm fascinated with hearing how other people do this.
Interesting question. Going paperless goes beyond just scanning documents and downloading statements. In this post, I will share how I try to minimize the use of paper in my life. Before I get into it, three points:
1. I use both Mac and Windows, but my primary machine is a Mac. I also use an iPad and an iPhone. Therefore, many of these solutions will be Apple-leaning. I understand that some of you don't go that way, and that's cool. There should be Windows and Android equivalents to all of these. If I know one, I’ll try to mention it. If you know of a great one, please share it in the comments.
2. Just because this is what I do, it doesn't mean that it is what you should/need to do. If you want to write in your paper notebook and use post-its, go for it! We all have to do what works for each of us.
3. To me, going paperless does not mean getting rid of every piece of paper in your life or business. I haven’t done it, I’m sure you haven’t done it, and frankly, it’s not a goal of mine. I wrote more about the word “paperless” here. To me, eliminating paper is not the goal — being more efficient and effective, and having access to the information I need right when I need it is. If that means the information is digital, great. If it involves paper, that’s cool too. Being religious about this sort of thing doesn’t make sense to me.
With that said, let’s get into it.
I'm sure there are post-it notes somewhere in my office, but I don't know where they are. I try to do all my quick capture/jotting stuff down electronically. There is almost never a time that I am without an electronic device of some sort (sad, I know).
I used to use Field Notes notebooks, and I always have one in my bag, but since the Drafts app was released, I never use a notebook anymore.
I tend to capture information or tasks in one of three ways:
- If I’m at my computer, I’ll do a quick keyboard combination to bring up the OmniFocus Quick Entry window and dump the item into there.
- If I’m out and about, more often than not I am listening to a podcast or audiobook. I use Apple’s AirPods, and I have them up so that a double-tap on the left ear will trigger Siri. I’ll then say something like this:
Add Download passport renewal forms to Omni list
This will then put it into a special list I have in Apple’s Reminders app, which will then put it into OmniFocus for future action. I like doing it this way because then I don’t have to take my phone out of my pocket. However, I have my phone out already or if I’m in a situation where talking to my phone wouldn’t be ideal…
- If I have my phone out already, I’ll fire up the Drafts app and capture it there.
The key to all three of these strategies is that I want to capture the thought as quickly as possible. I can process/send it to its eventual destination later, but if I don’t capture it, I’ll probably forget it.
I don't use any special software for this, I just have a variety of shopping lists in Apple's Reminders app. I find it quick to add items to the appropriate list, and I can use Siri. I like how it syncs with all my devices, and I can check items off as I go through the store.
Another nice thing about the Reminders app is it is built-in sharing. So I can share my grocery list and she can add things to it.
I wrote more about paperless grocery lists here.
For my to-dos, I need something a little more powerful than Reminders.
I am a big fan of OmniFocus, which is available on the Mac, iPhone, and iPad.
I tend to (more or less) follow David Allen's Getting Things Done methodology, and OmniFocus is great for that.
I've used OmniFocus for a number of years, but I had a big epiphany after reading the OmniFocus Premium Posts guide from Asian Efficiency. The workflow they outline has made a huge difference for me over the years, and I still do things more or less the way it’s described in the Guide. Full Disclosure: I’ve been doing work with AE since 2017, but I bought OmniFocus Premium Posts back in 2013.
If you’re not an Apple person, many people like Todoist as a task manager.
I am a big mind mapper. For me, there is nothing better for brainstorming, planning, and getting my thoughts out.
Sometimes I do this on the iPad, and sometimes I do it at my computer. Either way, I use MindNode. It makes building out elaborate mind maps extremely fast and keeps everything in sync between my Mac, my iPad, and my iPhone so I can capture and review wherever I am.
If you’re not an Apple person, I know many people like MindMeister.
You can imagine my shock and dismay when I came home, and my wife had a paper calendar taped to the fridge. I still have nightmares.
Over time, we have made a surprisingly successful transition to an electronic calendar. We use Google Calendar and have a shared family calendar between us.
While Google Calendar is the backbone, I use BusyCal on the Mac and the Google Calendar app on the iPhone. I just use the stock Calendar app on the iPad.
Usually, when I am at an event, I take notes by typing into Drafts on my iPhone or iPad. In some cases, I write into a Moleskine notebook.
When I’m at an event with someone I know, this can be funny. For example, this is a picture my friend Rebecca Mullen took when she was shocked to see me writing in a Field Notes notebook.
I recently picked up a 10.5” iPad Pro and an Apple Pencil and have been experimenting with the GoodNotes app for capturing handwriting. I’m going to give it a try at my next event and see how it goes.
Either way, all these notes end up in Evernote.
I am a big fan of the You Need A Budget methodology, aka YNAB. They describe it as "four simple rules that help you stop living paycheck to paycheck, get out of debt, and save more money faster".
They have moved to a web-based service, but I’m still using the old YNAB 4 software on the computer. I download all my transactions into YNAB and categorize and track from there.
Using the same password everywhere is a recipe for disaster. You want to use a password manager so that you can have unique secure passwords for each site without going crazy.
I use 1Password on my Mac, Windows, iPhone, and iPad devices. It makes password management so easy and automated. More accurately, my family subscribes to 1Password for Families.
It's very rare that I need to fax something, but when I do, I use either HelloFax on my computer or Genius Fax on my iPhone. They make it easy to send faxes without having to touch a fax machine.
I like paper books, and I do still read many books on paper
Having said that, the majority of book reading I do is digital. My digital reading is on the Kindle that my wife and I fight over, or on the Kindle app on the iPad or iPhone when I inevitably lose that fight.
For books that I download in ePub format, I use the iBooks app on the iPad.
I also listen to a lot of audiobooks. If I am in the car by myself, I am listening to an audiobook. Audible is my service of choice for that.
I have shifted all my magazine reading to the tablet. I use the Wired app in Newsstand to read Wired, but I am starting to enjoy the Zinio app for some other publications.
I am sliding more and more down the slippery slope of digital comics lately, so ComiXology has become my guilty pleasure.
Filling Out And Signing Documents
I use PDFpen or good old Preview.app to fill out PDFs, even ones that are not "fillable". Nitro is a good option on Windows.
Of course, Adobe Acrobat is the most popular program, and I do use that sometimes.
I don’t send paper cards for obvious reasons (need to live the brand!), so when I want to send a card, I use Paperless Post.
I hate having instruction manuals for my purchases all over the place. When I buy something, I search online — more often than not, there is a PDF version of the manual out there. If not, I scan the paper manual. I want to have this stuff accessible digitally.
How About You?
These are some ways that I manage my life without paper. How about you? Are there any areas that I have missed? Do you have any alternate tools that you recommend? Let us know in the comments.
If you need somewhere to keep everything I would recommend using Devonthink which I think is only for Macs but I’ve used it for some years and found it very useful. It’s a sort of glorified database but uses AI to help with filing and much more. Definitely paperless!