Simplifying Incoming Paper

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“Find the elegance in the chaos, and simplify to the extent possible.” – Tim Ferriss

I was always a paper and pen diehard. I couldn’t imagine reading documents online, and wouldn’t dare dream of letting go of my paper to-do lists. I started to reconsider when I was introduced to Evernote. Evernote is like a digital filing cabinet – but better. You can save not only documents, but also notes, ideas, pictures – basically everything – in an organized and easily retrievable fashion.

I did resist going completely paperless at first.

I feared that if the system totally failed, I would lose everything in my whole life. My fears were allayed when I came to terms with the fact that the service constantly syncs to the Internet, so my data will always be “out there”, accessible from any device with an Internet connection (even if my laptop crashed). Also, I reasoned that if I did have everything in hard copy format, if there were some kind of disaster like the house burned down or something, I would lose everything anyway and there would be absolutely no backup. With Evernote, everything is backed up all the time.

Another advantage of going paperless is keyword searchability. If I still had everything in paper form, I would have to shuffle through hundreds if not thousands of papers looking for whatever it is that I misplaced. With Evernote, I simply click to the search bar and allow the searching to be done for me.

When we move, I will simply pack my laptop into the car, and will have all of my files with me – not boxes and boxes of papers. Going paperless is a huge undertaking and can seem overwhelming, but at the same time is such an exciting idea. For one, no more (or at least fewer) paper cuts.

Incoming Papers

I have a red leather zipfolio from Levenger that was given to me as a gift several years ago that serves as my physical inbox. This is where my mail or anything paper that happens to come into my life goes – not in a pile on the kitchen counter or anywhere else in the house. I go through the mail and throw out as much as I can before I even start opening individual envelopes. I made the decision a while back to throw out catalogs that I used to save to go through, because I decided that I could just as easily visit the store’s website and browse through items if I really really wanted to – rather than keeping it in a stack of things to go through later when I feel like it, because “later when I feel like it” almost never came. Instead, it was just a pile of unfinished tasks sitting there, taunting me and my inability to get things done.

Up until a few months ago, my goal was to process this inbox to empty once a week. One of my New Year’s resolutions this year was to develop a “weekly review” ritual. My vision for the weekly review was to have one time a week where I could totally catchup on everything in my life that I couldn’t keep up with during the week, such as stacks of mail, my email inbox, and my mile-long to-do list of the moment. I envisioned myself in a productivity session at Starbucks every Saturday morning, feeling amazing and awesome as I gave my life a much needed weekly overhaul.

I have since come to terms with the idea that the weekly review maybe was not the best idea, at least the way I originally envisioned it. For starters, I was not very good at getting around to the weekly review consistently every weekend, and the times that I did I ended up spending several hours just going through email and mail, and didn’t feel like I had accomplished much of anything.

Since I have started ritualizing my repeating tasks, I have found that some things are better off getting done in the moment or the same day they come up, rather than saving them up for some productivity session that I can never seem to get around to.

I am pretty happy to say that what I once used as a place to keep a stack of papers that needed my attention is now almost always empty. I do still pull my zipfolio out of the drawer when I go through the mail several times a week, mostly because it makes me feel cool I guess, and productive of course! I keep my letter opener and a little pair of scissors in there, so I guess it is kind of like my personal mail station.

When it is time to go through the mail or any other incoming piece of paper, each item will eventually go to one of four places:

1. Trash / recycle

2. Shred

3. Scan, then trash or shred

4. Keep (most infrequently used option – only something like a new credit card, driver’s license, or passport goes into this category)

So now when I get the mail, for the few items that I would like to or need to keep, I will scan in the document, and then save it in Evernote. If the item is a coupon, it goes directly to my coupon file in the glove compartment in the car, and if I have to mail something, it goes into my bag so I will remember to take it to the mailbox next time I go out.

Almost all of my bills are automatic, with the exception of the few that don’t provide auto-pay service. If I do still get a paper bill statement in the mail (I try to sign up for e-statments and ebills whenever possible), then I will just make a note in my “expenses” note in Evernote of the amount, date the amount will be withdrawn from my checking account, and the name of the service. Then I shred the statement. I throw away or shred everything at the end of the whole process.

What To Keep

We do have one single firebox to keep things that need to be kept as a hard copy, because they cannot be accessed online or we need the original document for some reason. This is where we keep the passports, other cards that I have already scanned into my phone, some owner’s manuals that can’t be found online, car titles, and other must-keeps. I also have scanned everything in this file to Evernote as a backup, with the exception of the owner’s manuals. I also keep printed out copies of our dog’s vaccination records, just because I have had to produce those more than once , such as for obedience training or certain times when he goes somewhere with us, so it is easier to keep them printed and in the box. That is the only exception I have made, because there is no need to keep anything else in paper form.

Going paperless has been a journey of several years for me. I still have a lot of work to do too. More than paper clutter now, I am on a mission to clear up the digital clutter that I have created along the way by not following a more consistent system of organizing files as I go. I have always enjoyed organizing though, so it will be a fun project to continue to work on.

Have you taken steps towards going paperless, or thought about it but weren’t sure where to start? I would love to hear about it!


photo credit: sweet-reality-xo

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