Going Paperless - 2. Essential Tools

Perhaps because my pop was a machinist, I am a tool-freak! In fact, one of my guilty pleasures is browsing the Snap-On and Matco tool websites - I sorta like to fantasize about all the wonderful things I could do with a good Cleco fastener (for sheet-metal work). The truth is, I don't need a Cleco fastener, because I am never going to do sheet metal work - besides, I'm pretty sure my pop has one anyways ;-) On the other hand, I've found that the right tools, and the right QUALITY, are really important to getting things done effectively.

I once stopped to help a man on the side of the road change his flat tire. When I drove up, he was trying to remove the lug nuts with a pair of pliers. I guess it COULD have been done - but he really needed the lug wrench that remained pristine and undisturbed in his trunk.

Frankly, when it comes to going paperless, some of the same principles apply. There are a lot of very specialized tools that are both expensive and specific. Conversely, there are probably ways to get lugs nuts off with a pair of pliers - but the right tools can make a MAJOR difference.

So what tools are most valuable when it comes to going paperless? I have found the following necessary in my normal every-day management of files and paper.


This is my default place for storing files. I even keep my iTunes and Photos libraries there - so all of my stuff is available on my desktop, my laptop, and my tablet. I recommend starting with the free version, but keep in mind that at some point you will want to pay for additional storage. I've tried other cloud services (iCloud, GoogleDrive, Box, and even thumbdrives) - there's just nothing out there that does the trick as well as Dropbox.

Dropbox is NOT a backup. It's a really good idea to use some sort of additional backup (like Time Machine or Carbonite) to have second version of your Dropbox saved in case aliens abduct all of the Dropbox servers. 

Pro-Tip - Other folks on campus will invite me to Google Drive documents to share stuff "in the cloud." I've written a Hazel rule that gathers stuff from shared folders in Google Drive and places them in an "inbox" in Dropbox. I try to process that inbox once a week and put things where I want for them to go.


I use Dropbox to store FILES. I use Evernote to store INFORMATION. There are other services that are also pretty good as well (OneNote is great), but Evernote is becoming increasingly ubiquitous among other users. Since you will likely want to share a note or notebook at some point, Evernote is likely the best option.

I use Evernote for almost everything I scan. Receipts, student work, course development materials, projects, and even my own personal LMS are in Evernote (see my post about Evernote as my preferred LMS HERE). If I am likely to need to reference information later, it will be in Evernote.

Evernote is free to start, but you should plan on purchasing an upgrade in very short order. Currently (as of June 17, 2016), their plans are Free, Plus (24.99/year) and Premium (49.99/year). I started with the free version, and then went to the full Business version - that was a bridge too far. If you are planning to go paperless, I recommend starting with Plus, and then move to Premium if necessary.

Pro-Tip - When I want to take notes on my iPad, I have find "Drafts" by AgileTortoise to be indispensable. The app opens VERY quickly, talks to other apps very well (Evernote, OmniFocus) and supports Markdown (you can even Markdown to Evernote). If I am typing on my iPad, it's in Drafts.


Folks will be giving you paper, whether you want it or not. I have three scanners, and they each do different things for me...

  1. ScanSnap ix500 - This desktop scanner is the most important part of my paperless toolbox. It is extremely fast, scans duplex (two sided), almost never "misfeeds," and the ScanSnap software is remarkable (it allows one to choose whether to scan to Evernote as PDF, Evernote as JPEG, Dropbox, etc.). My assistant uses a NeatDesk scanner, but she's decided that mine is better. It's pricey (around $420), but it works ALL the time. The ScanSnap s1300i is also quite nice, has a smaller footprint, the same software, and a lot cheaper (around $260). I use one of these on my home computer.
  2. Scannable - This is a free (as of June 17, 2016) app that the good folks at Evernote developed for iOS. It is a GREAT scanner!!! The camera finds the edges of a sheet of paper (or Moleskine page, or receipt) and captures the page. Scannable will capture the image as soon as it sees it - without having to push any buttons. It will also deskew, unwrinkle, convert images to black-and-white, and send them to Evernote with exceptional ease. Evernote has the same software in the iOS Evernote app, but I keep Scannable on my home screen so that I can quickly capture paper without opening the Evernote app. Scannable is so fast that my colleagues who travel with me have joked about how I can scan a receipt faster than they can open a wallet to store theirs. True. What's also true is that I'll actually have mine when it's time to do the expense report ;-)
  3. Copier - The university provides offices with a big copy machine (Canon irC2550) that also scans. It's in our department's main office, so it's not really convenient to go over there to get something scanned. But when I started clearing old paper files, it was really useful. I actually had student workers do a lot of that scanning, so it was nice that they didn't have to sit at my desk - and the copier chews through big files very quickly. My rule is, if I am doing the scanning, I use my scanner. If a student is doing scanning for me, they can use the big copier.

Pro-Tip - I use Scannable a lot in the library. I take a quick snapshot of text that I want to refer to later, and send it to Evernote. 


I'll probably refer to this in the next post as well, but I spent a good deal of my graduate education in the basements of libraries with my cargo-pants LOADED with nickels. It's so very nice to be able to search for and find academic articles online. Zotero has become my file-cabinet for all academic articles.

This is one instance where free is better. I purchased Papers III, and have paid for Mendeley, and found that neither met my needs nearly as well as Zotero (to see a comparison of Zotero and Mendeley, CLICK HERE). I also tried to keep that stuff in Evernote for a time, but I decided that Zotero's citation tools and browser integrations were just too good to pass up. If I am saving a peer-reviewed article, especially one that will likely be cited at some point, it goes into Zotero.

Pro-Tip - I use Zotero to manage my own library as well. I use a free app called "Bar-Code" to scan the ISBN bar code on the back of the book, and import those into Zotero. I can track where by books are (Home, Office, Student-who-I-errantly-believed-would-return-it), and the citation help is really nice as well. I've an upcoming post planned for that workflow.

There are other tools that may be valuable for more specific concerns - and if I ever need a Cleco fastener, I'll go get one. These are the tools that, at least currently, are indispensable multi-taskers that have proven valuable in my paperless office.

Image Credit: http://selnd.com/1GP6uIt



Posted on June 17, 2015 and filed under General, Evernote.