Living the Digital Life

A year or two ago I almost completely abandoned paper, pencils, and pens. I made a point of taking all my notes on one of my computers or my iPhone. I removed all the note pads and writing instruments from my desk in an effort to force myself to record everything digitally. It was a little hard to get used to but now it's second nature. I just pop up an Org capture buffer or even a little electronic “post-it” note (they're called stickies in OS X) to make a quick note or record a phone number or whatever. I still do mathematical calculations with pencil and paper, write the (very) occasional check, and sign my name to credit card receipts but that's pretty much it.

Naturally, I've accumulated some tools to help me with this. Grocery lists go on gubb.net. During the week we add things to the lists from one of the computers or even an iPhone. When we get to the market the list is available on the iPhone and it's easy to check off items as we get them. There are plenty of services like gubb but I started using them early on and stuck with them. I track expenses with XpenseTracker, a really nifty little iPhone app that records expenses and allows me to capture an image of the receipt as well. Travel itineraries and reservations are recorded and tracked by Tripit and TravelTracker Pro. I use Evernote to capture and remember notes, Web pages, photos, or virtually anything else. All the data is available on any of my computers or iPhone. I use reQall for quick spoken notes, which are converted to text and emailed to me for disposition when I get back to my computer. All of these apps are either free or nominally priced. All have far more capabilities than I've described here.

The next step was to start getting rid of paper that I'd already accumulated and to avoid accumulating more. I moved as many recurring bills as possible to email notification so that I don't have to deal with paper bills. We pay almost all our bills on-line, which avoids writing checks and dealing with more paper. I bought a cheap but reliable Canon LiDE 100 Scanner to scan any documents or bills that I need to keep.

Yesterday, I stumbled onto a post over at Steve Losh's blog. In it Losh explains how he went paper-free for $220. Most of that was for a scanner and the rest was for some software to automate scanning and storing documents. It's a great post and if you have an interest in that sort of thing I really recommend it. Also follow his link to Ryan Waggoner's post about how he went paperless and filled two dumpsters with shredded documents that he'd scanned. Waggoner recommends the Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500M scanner; it's pricey but really good for high volume scanning.

One thing that Losh and Wagonner do that I hadn't thought of is to run OCR on their scanned documents. Then they can be searched for with Spotlight, if you're on a Mac, or whatever your local equivalent is. That's a big win because it means you don't have to decide where to file each document. Losh just dumps them in a single directory called “Dead Trees” and even that is automated. He puts newly scanned documents on his Desktop and his automation setup takes care of running the OCR software, intelligently renaming the file, and moving it into Dead Trees. Once he puts it on the Desktop, no further action is required on his part.

As I said, I really like the OCR idea and intend to implement that here. I'll probably also implement some sort of automation like Losh's. The trick to making all this stuff work is to make it as painless as possible so the automation makes sense.

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