Productivity Porn: 8 key steps to going paperless

Photo via Chris Tolworthy

I love paper. I hate paper.

Independent of format, print or digital, what I want is information at my fingertips when I need it, wherever I am. I want instant capture of ideas, to-do’s and notes (which for me still requires paper) but I want that paper to disappear as quickly as possible.

Less paper helps me focus. Less paper makes me more efficient. Less paper is a competitive differentiator.

This isn’t paper-free. I’m not there, and doubt I ever will be. But I’ve eliminated at least 80 percent of paper from my life with a significant, measurable improvement in efficiency, access and results.

Here are the eight steps I use to make paperless a reality in my life.

  1. Photo via D'Arcy Norman

    Use paper first as a capture tool. I keep an 8.5″x11″ pad of paper with me for all meetings, and I put the date, topic and/or client at the top. Throughout the meeting, I take notes, put boxes for to-do’s, like normal. I’ll do the same throughout the day in other situations with index cards, torn out pages from magazines, anything physical that can quickly summarize and/or remind me of what was discussed and what I need to do.

  2. Process paper into online systems. The to-do’s on those meeting summaries are translated into my Outlook Task lists. Meetings get scheduled, outsources tasks get assigned.
  3. Process all other inbound paper similarly. This includes business cards, letters, bills, anything else you get that’s paper-based. Everything has a purpose, a next step, something you need to do as a result. If it’s just something you want to keep for reference later, there’s a place for that too (keep reading). I have a physical “inbox” at both my office and home office to collect these physical documents and reminders for processing.
  4. Scan all documents into a secure, cloud-based filing system. You can use Dropbox, box.net, SharePoint, Google, doesn’t matter where. The key elements are organization and access. I use an organizational system that’s based on a combination of function and customer/client names. All of my meeting notes for the past three-plus years are saved in a secure database online – organized by topic, client and date. These documents are, in turn, available to me literally anywhere – at my office, on my laptop, my iPhone and iPad. I use a Fujitsu ScanSnap to quickly transform two-sided documents into PDFs.
  5. Online task, calendar and reminder management. My preferred system is still Outlook. I’m familiar with it, our Exchange server makes it available anywhere, and it nicely integrates several common systems I use daily (email, calendar, tasks, contacts). There are countless tools you can use similarly today, may for a lot less money (i.e. RememberTheMilk, Toodledo, etc.)
  6. Actively use mobile apps for further information capture. Whenever I can, I capture information straight into digital systems. I’m getting better at using Evernote for note capture especially when traveling – at events, conferences, and other places where carrying just my iPad is ideal. In the car and elsewhere I don’t have access to paper, I’m a big fan of Dial2Do, which via speed-dial quickly records a voice instruction and translates that into email (where I can move it quickly into the appropriate next-step system).
  7. Ubiquitous Moleskine notebook. During the workday, I carry this with me at all times. It’s always in my right inside jacket pocket, and a pen is clipped right next to it. Fast and easy note taking and to-do recording when I don’t want to interrupt the rhythm of a conversation by flipping open a device. Any next steps or to-do’s are processed using the steps above, and “finished” pages are clipped in the corner so I can quickly flip to the latest pages in the notebook.

If you’ve read this far, you’re likely either interested in trying something similar, or think I’m a nut. Whatever you choose as your own process (online or offline, digital or paper) clearly isn’t going to work if it doesn’t make you comfortable and isn’t something you can sustain on a daily basis.

All I know is, this basic process makes my life easier, less stressful and far more productive.

Matt Heinz is president of Heinz Marketing, a Redmond-based sales & marketing firm. You can connect with Matt via emailTwitterLinkedIn or his blog. He writes occasionally on GeekWire under the column Productivity Porn. Previous columns…An introduction to productivity porn: How to be lazy, productive & successful… 15 New Year Resolutions for Entrepreneurs. All past columns here.

  • jamesgould72

    ohhh good stuff!

    http://goo.gl/ONyDU

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/UQF2EKZ5N5AJWXDEBYFKDEUJTI ronnie

    Evernote and RemembertheMilk are good for notes, Shoeboxed for other documents, 1dollarscan for books and Fujitsu for small quanity things. There’s also many services that rip your cd’s and dvd’s for you.

  • http://paperlesshome.bryanskitchen.net/ Going Paperless

    Printing to PDF is my favorite thing.  I invoice my customers this way and can save on postage