Digital Tools helping in going Paperless

Based on my question from two days ago, I would like take the conversation a step further by asking the following:

What tools do you use (or know of) that help us in the quest to go digital and say goodbye to paper?

Here are some of the ones I use on a daily basis:

JotNot iPhone App, basically a scanner in your pocket. Email your photos as a PDF, back them up with various different services like Evernote or fax them. Fantastic app, highly recommend it to turn that receipt, that you might otherwise lose, into a pdf and store it in your files.

Don’t own one yet, but it’s on my wishlist: Neat Receipts Scanner and Filing Software.

Online based Project Management Tool Basecamp keeps me from printing out documents, knowing they are all up there in the cloud, always accessible.

Dropbox. Best $10 I spend every month. All my files, always synced on my various computers, at all times. As well always accessible on my iPhone and iPad. I have all my files on me at all times, at a click of a button. No need to print anything. Ever.

Google Docs. I used to bring a print out of my Class Rooster to class every week to keep track of attending students. No longer. I now log onto my Google Docs account while in class, check the boxes and save. Voila. Done.

What services do you use? Or dream of? What services does your company use to help you go digital?

42 Comments leave a comment below

  1. My Fujitsu ScanSnap S1550M (such a terrible name) seemed like an indulgence when I first bought it, but it’s become an indispensable — and much liked — tool for ingesting paper documents and spitting out PDFs. It works like that, meaning it’s fast, very fast, which is essential. Now that I have it, I don’t hesitate to throw paper away because I can just send it through the ScanSnap and have it on my hard drive in seconds.

  2. This may seem like a shameless self-plug, but our Contact and Events Management System (Lyrek CEMS) enables our clients to organize events online, send invitations/seating assignments/follow-ups by email, drag-and-drop attendees into seats, create hundreds of reports as PDFs, and do everything digitally without using a stamp, mailing label, invitation, business reply card or a single scrap of paper. It’s entirely paperless. Please have a look:

  3. EVARNOTE! OK, it’s been said before, but Evernote is not only a way to avoid having to take notes by hand, but is a nice way to take other people’s poorly written notes (via iSight Note) and add to them, share, and store. Generally it is the first place I go to look for any material and just do a quick Evernote search. The OCR isn’t perfect, but it has made out hand-written words I couldn’t even read on more than one occasion.

    I also use it as a way to create quick mood boards because it’s so easy. Love it!

  4. It’s a little more technical, but we’ve replaced our fax machines with Hylafax and have it hooked in to our Asterisk phone system via iaxmodem. All inbound faxes are routed through the company via email based on the number that was dialed.

    We also use YajHFC as the fax client on the computers, so that we can send out an fax via printing to a virtual printer that goes the other direction through the phone system and Hylafax.

  5. Oh, these are all great. Please keep them coming! Thank you!

  6. I have used FarFinder, which is similar to DropBox in that you can remotely access files and information. I’ve been really happy with it so far, but might have to look into DropBox for the future. Thanks for all the other tips I hadn’t thought of yet. Looking forward to seeing what everyone is using as well.

    Unrelated note, we’re having a giveaway right now. We’d love to have you stop by:

  7. Being that we create document layouts and such, we use Indesign to create full featured pdf with links and interactive media which are sent via email or exported as flash and uploaded to client sites or portfolios.

    One tool that keeps us paperless and allows us to stay in constant communication is none other than…

    ~~~~Google Wave ~~~~~
    Keeps us totally paperless. I guess we’re green.

    And definitely agree>>> Drop Box!

    Great Post. I love the SWISS MISS font for some reason…

  8. DevonThink (Personal, Pro or Office), for storing, categorizing and searching (and finding!) documents like text files, e-mails, PDFs, web archives … whatever comes your way.
    The Office version includes scanning and OCR, but I’m happy with the Pro so far.

  9. Add another one for the Fujitsu ScanSnap. I love mine, plus I pair it with DevonThink Pro, which has support for the ScanSnap. I love being able to scan my document, have it converted to a PDF then file it all in a databases by topic/interest. Literally, life changing and the best way I’ve found for myself to go paperless.

  10. Our bank now has envelope-less deposits at the ATM. And we are switching over to Paypal to receive payments (instead of paper checks in the mail).

    I use Evernote in place of paper to-do lists. Love it. It saves WHILE you type! And syncs every day.

  11. Seconding the Fuji ScanSnap. And for a less pricey option (err, for the horde), Doxie. on OS X and iOS. Great for structured “snippet” storage. I don’t do that new-fangled GTD stuff but Things is indispensable as a test-based knowledge repository. Basically anything I’d normally use a Post-It for, or a page-as-todo-list in my one paper-based (!) notebook, goes into Things instead.

    Simplenote, web-based and iOS app. Great for long-form note taking, accessible from anywhere.

    Lastly, Redmine. Technically it’s a bug & project tracker for software development. The reality though is that it could be used for all sorts of other industries. It’s not hardcoded for software development conventions, and is pretty damn easy to customize for specific industry needs. Can serve as an intranet – tracking tasks, projects, dates, host wikis, host document, files, track time, etc. And for open source, it “feels commercial.” I usually raise an eyebrow at most open source-based end-user experiences, but Redmine is simply without peer. Exceptional. Best ever.

    Now once you get everything in digital format, how to track it all, at least on local machines? Unfortunately, since we run OS X everywhere and live a very pain- and anguish-free office life (“Have you tried it? It’s new but good!”) I have zero Windows recommendations…

    But check out both Papers ( and Ironic’s products ( I don’t use either personally but have been told great things about them all.

    Oh, and the button: eFax. Ditch that moldy old fax machine.

  12. Paperless from Mariner software all my receipts and docsgo straight in there via my Epson 1500 scanner, then get shredded.

    Make sure you have good backups!

    A scanner with document feed is essential. I wish I had spent more to get one that did double sided scans, but you also need a flat bed for odd receipts, so catch 22. The Paperless app makes that bearable by letting you flip the stack and scan the other side – it interleaves the PDF pages for you.

  13. to bring LAP TOP everywhere to show clients designs, or sending by email…

  14. A digital scanner, a wacom intuos sketchpad, and good old Adobe CS4.

  15. More primitive than digital, but I got white underpainted glass desks for our office space, so we can take notes on the surface. No more post-its, notepads, or call slips — we write reminders to ourselves and notes to others on the desks! Super simple.

  16. at work we have a ~40years old paper archive and we use a Canon Image formula dr-2580c to scan all the paper we have. it speeds up all the work

  17. A great part of our paperless effort at River Arts is to use… you guessed it, TeuxDeux!!! Thanks Tina!

  18. I have to recommend Devonthink also. I store pretty much everything in there. Its search and indexing are awesome. And I love saving pages in Safari to it as multiple-page PDFs with just a click of a button.

    For organization, Producteev all the way. Best task tool I’ve used and the iPhone app is icing on the cake.

  19. Microsoft OneNote, it’s so cool that I dont use scratch paper, post it, notepad anymore

  20. I have a Canon 8800F flatbed scanner connected to my Mac. Any letters or bits of paper I want to keep filed I scan straight into Evernote using the hard keys on the scanner. The scanned file is a pdf so it gets indexed by Evernote and thus is searchable.

    I use Evernote for all filing like this and tag the notes accordingly.

    I still sometimes have to keep paper copies of important documents for legal reasosn but the rest I shred and just keep the Evernote version. Occassionally I backup the whole of my Evernote account just so I have some fallback.

  21. love the glass desk idea…. we use evernote, dropbox too and genius scan for the iPhone.. you can then email scans to evernote and tag them #invoice #paid

  22. Easy – don’t have a printer in your office/studio. Dropbox & Evernote are the perfect replacement.

  23. Not to sound a dissenter, but have you read “The Myth of the Paperless Office”? It’s by a couple of colleagues, and is a tad old now, but takes a fascinating in depth look at what goes badly (and what goes well) when organisations attempt (and fail) to go paperless:

  24. I have to say the Scansnap changed the way I collect and file stuff when I got it a few years back. I use Yep to tag, organise and file pdf’s that have no further actions and Evernote for stuff I want to read, access etc etc

    Hard to be completely paperless when I also have a letterpress and bookbinding studio.

  25. I’m still working on this myself, but here’s how far I’ve gotten:

    I have a folder called “Filing cabinet” that contains folders and documents in the same structure as my old hardware filing cabinet.

    Things that I can get paperless to begin with (bills, etc) get downloaded as PDFs. I use Hazel to watch my Downloads folder and automatically move things into appropriate folders (so, for example, any PDF that contains the phrases “Consolidated Edison” and “Total Amount Due” is definitely a bill, so Hazel files it in my “ConEd Bills” folder by year and renames it appropriately).

    Other things that exist as paper — model releases, contracts, etc — get scanned on my Fujitsu Scansnap. They all go into an “Incoming” folder to start out, and then I can drag them onto an applescript droplet that will batch-OCR them with Acrobat. Once they’re OCR’d, I file them in their folders manually (some of this could be further automated with Hazel when I get around to it).

    I use “Leap” to organize and view my PDFs. I used to use “Yep” for this purpose, but after the latest updates to Yep I find I like Leap much better.

    Receipts get scanned on my ScanSnap, but I use the software from Neat Receipts to organize it all (the standalone software is called NeatWorks). Note that the IRS accepts digital copies of most receipts, but if it’s over a certain amount I think they still require the original. Check with your accountant.

    Digital receipts from online purchases get added to NeatWorks through the print dialogue. Under the mac’s PDF menu, there is an option to “Add as receipt to NeatWorks”.

    NeatWorks can export as CSV or QIF file for importing to Moneydance or whatever other financial software you use. I think the Windows version can export directly to Quickbooks.

    Everything is backed up offsite using CrashPlan. I don’t shred documents until I’m sure they’re backed up both locally and offsite.

    I’ve tried DevonThink and other tools, but so far this is the workflow that works best for me.

    There’s a pretty good episode of the Mac Power Users podcast about going paperless:

  26. Wow, David, that was a truly insightful. Didn’t know about Hazel and Leap. Will try your workflow for myself. Thank you for sharing.

  27. I was aware of Hazel for a while but didn’t quite understand how useful it could be until I actually used the trial version and decided it was worth the price to purchase. It makes oft-repeated organization tasks much easier. There happens to be an episode of Mac Power Users dedicated just to Hazel alone:

  28. I can’t handle anything so heavyweight as Evernote, and I like free things. So…

    I use the Simplenote app on my iPhone and iPad to keep my notes. In a pinch I can get at my notes at, where they are synced to. But for me, the Mac client app Notational Velocity is the real star of the show. There are other clients for Mac and Windows, and all the apps I just mentioned keep your notes offline and sync them too. The iOS apps can even share a note publicly with a permanent URL.

    Even if you don’t care to sync or share your notes, look into Notational Velocity for personal notes. it’s minimalist and super fast, and has a great set of keyboard shortcuts.

  29. The popularity and proliferation of DropBox continues to mystify me. SugarSync does more things, and you don’t have to conform and put all your files in a particular folder. (And no, I don’t work for SugarSync.)

  30. Doxie is a good alternative to Neat Receipt:

  31. Since being greener is part of the purpose of this thread, I’m going to be a little controversial.

    While I’m all for going green and have been for years, there’s a balance. Paperless isn’t 100% green. Here at work we got rid of the paper disposable cups and replaced them with reusable. Now our water consumption is up. There’s always a tradeoff. While we base more of our product promotion in the electronic form of web design and email, it has required that we add more machines. We’ve traded expensive paper for expensive energy.

    When I can, I use existing hardware to go paperless since it will only use electricity that is already in use. So Google Docs, an external hard drive, spreadsheets, and pdfs are my friends.

    For list making I use the Action Method app (free) on my iPhone.

    When I upgraded my computer hard drive, I purchased an inexpensive case to turn the old one into an external drive. Reusing rather than just replacing.

    When using paper, I try to limit it to what I’m going to keep and minimize the waste. For my home business, design notes work best on paper for me (computers are still too limited for what I do and how I have to work) so I make sure to be efficient about it and store/archive them appropriately. I use refillable pens to keep my footprint low in that respect.

    When I can purchase used books for my research or references, I do that since the carbon footprint is lower than a new book and most of the books I need are not available electronically.

    JotNot is a great app for recording receipts as a back up. As I recall the IRS isn’t 100% okay with copies of register receipts yet so I archive the hard copies with the appropriate design notes.

    My product can be sold electronically, so I use the appropriate web based stores to sell and right now 99% of my sales are paperless. However, there is still a small market for the paper based variety, so I use 100% recycled paper to print on. The carbon footprint is higher, but it seems better to use fiber that has to be reprocessed than imported virgin fiber.

  32. WorldCard Mobile for the iPhone – snap a photo of a business card, make any corrections (in decent lighting, I almost never have to change any of the information) and with a tap on the screen, it’s imported into your Contacts.

  33. I take a lot of notes on site – measurements, material notes. I had a Moleskine, then another, then some sketchbooks. Now I just use Adobe Ideas on my iPhone and draw direct onto a photograph. I can e-mail the drawing to Evernote and it’s then archived in gmail.

    Dropbox/Evernote/Simplenote works well for me, plus a scanner, and a script for Things that I wrote that, when I create a new project in Things, makes a new project folder in Dropbox with the Project name, and two subfolders (Docs & Images). I found that while I was happy with electronic files, I just needed somewhere to put them independent of a tagging system. So now I have a place for documents (Dropbox), a place for image notes I want to archive (Evernote) and a place for simple, quick disposable text notes (Simplenote).

  34. The main tools I use and couldn’t live without are Dropbox, Google Docs, Google Reader, Basecamp, Highrise (+ the iphone app), Skype, Freshbooks (+iphone app) and Diigo. These all help me save paper.

    I really really really need a cloud syncing tool (a bit like dropbox) that helps me manage screenshots in a private group way (including clients). I take lots of screenshots including iphone and ipad stuff, but there is nothing out there that helps me manage them (Flickr, Ember, etc. are not what I’m looking for).

  35. Dropbox, Evernote, ScanSnap, devonTHINK, many applications to help the individual going paperless (and I endorse their opinion, for they are very powerful). How about the office initiatives?

    Say I am the CFO of an organization. Then I request information about how the budget is being spent. So, directors usually report either individually or someone collects the information and then condenses it for me to see how things are going.

    Then, the information request goes further and managers report their status. Often, much of this is printed and each person would think: ‘oh, I only printed a two-page report, which my superior will quickly condense and archive the information if later needed’.

    Or the communication of policies, that often goes printed either to each employee or each department, depending on the company’s behaviour.

    I think we have a lot of things going well to the person, but did you see any of this consistently applied to an entire company?

    Sorry for being ‘offtopic’ :)

  36. For paperless, store-less, shelf-less, package-less, shipping-less books: the Kindle. ;-)

  37. I work for an Architecture firm and we commonly use a SmartBoard in our conferenece room during design meetings. It’s a large touch pad/projection screen that is synced with a computer so you can draw/note on top of images, drawings, documents, webpages, powerpoints, etc. and save off screen shots at anytime. Then email off to all attendees.

  38. Yeah I appreciate campaigns about going paperless. In fact I appreciate a lot when my internet provider urged us users to access our bills online. Since we have the digital access today, why not take advantage of this and take it at par without motive to save our beloved nature.

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