As I watched my mother-in-law flip back and forth through notebook pages and loose sheets of paper trying to find the most updated version of her Christmas shopping list, I realized how much time and energy I’ve saved over the last year since going paperless. I’ve never considered myself an overly organized person, but I could access my holiday list in about 30 seconds and tell you exactly which gifts have been purchased and how much of my holiday budget is left - and I could do it from a crowded shopping mall if necessary. I can also pull up every single one of my business and personal receipts from 2011, each of which has been tagged according to type of expense and potential tax deduction.
You’ll have to excuse me if this sounds like bragging; I’m still a little mystified that I’ve managed to maintain an efficient filing system for several months in a row.
I made the decision to go digital last spring in anticipation of my family’s move into a 24-foot travel trailer. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to haul a filing cabinet with me and, quite frankly, a majority of my papers and receipts never made it into that filing cabinet in the first place. My first goal was to convert the records I had into digital storage; since then I’ve moved practically my entire life over to digital storage. Nearly everything I need to live, work, and play can be accessed by my iPhone or a computer (except, you know, for the people.)
My digital filing system has changed much since it’s hasty creation in April of 2011, but there have been a few tweaks and additions along the way. Here’s a list of the tools that keep me organized on the road, at home, now and (hopefully) at tax time.
Smartphone - I have an iPhone 4. I can’t imagine living without access to my computer and the web in my pocket.
Genius Scan+- anything that comes into my life as paper goes through this handy iPhone app on its way to the digital world. I’ve scanned everything from gift receipts to multi-page documents. After scanning, I can email the PDF to myself or someone else, send it directly to my computer via DropBox, or store it in online via Evernote. Genius Scan can also send documents to Google Docs, box.net, or a wireless printer.
Dropbox - this file sharing program has changed my marriage. For the first time in 11 years, my husband has been able to actively participate in budgeting and other accounting tasks because we both have constant access to our planning documents. We can access documents from our phones or the web and make changes from our own computers.
Evernote - I don’t need copies of thousands of receipts on my computer. This is where Evernote comes in handy. I also use it to keep track of posting ideas and organize business contacts.
Google Docs - If you haven’t yet discovered the magic of collaboration through Google Docs, check it out today. I don’t do all of my record keeping through Google Docs (my personal budget stays on my own computer, for example), but anything I need to share with someone other than my husband is created in this easy to access, easy to share system. My family also relies on Google Calendar, which lets you share calendar items with others, to keep organized without a paper calendar.
Trip It - I’m traveling for a year with my family and I travel a lot for work; going paperless requires a very good digital system for organizing travel plans and records. Trip It keeps track of all travel dates, ticket information, reservations, directions, contact info, meetings, and anything else I might need on the road. I don’t even have to print out a boarding pass anymore on many airlines.
Getting rid of the paper in my life is probably the single most productive thing I’ve ever done. If you’ve still got one foot in the paper world and the other in the digital one, I highly recommend making the leap to go 100% paperless in 2012. I hope these tools will help!