How I Went Paperless–And Why You Should Too

While I have always been an advocate of technology, I never thought of eliminating paper from my school life. Everything was on paper: my notes, my assignments, my schedule, etc. But when I threw out my back last February, I realized that my 22-pound backpack had to go. As I recovered, I rethought my various organizational techniques and slimmed down my load by digitizing my whole life. Ultimately, my new system became a magnificent success–so much so that I have decided to share my experience with you. Read onwards for details about how and why I achieved a life without paper.

The Benefits:

  • Lighten and compress my load–I removed a small car tire’s weight (16 lbs) from my bag!
  • Store my files, notes, doodles, forms, etc. digitally so they can be accessed anywhere and anytime
  • Organize my personal information better and faster than any physical system
  • Collaborate and share my personal items with ease

My System:

Evernote:
Effectively my digital brain, Evernote is where I house all of my notes, files, scanned documents, etc. Its fast and intuitive organization system allows me to file everything away in its proper place. For example, I keep a notebook for every class and store each assignment, homework, class note, or hand-out in separate notes that are easily searchable. In addition, the plethora of platforms supported by the company allows me to access my notes from my phone, my computer, my tablet, and the Web. The magnitude of items I store in my account forces me to pay for their premium plan ($44 dollars per year), but its utility more than makes up for the cost.

iPad:
In almost all cases, the iPad has replaced the need for paper in my everyday life. Its smaller form factor makes it more portable than my 4.46 lb laptop, and the combination of amazing software and ingenius hardware addons have made it indispensable. For one, I use it for taking notes on Evernote with my keyboard addon, and and handwriting notes and assignments with my stylus. Of course, it will not replace my computer for power-intensive tasks, but for taking notes and doing homework it suffices.

Stylus:
Abandoning paper and its functions would have been impossible, but luckily I have assembled a capable system of emulating it. One of the most crucial aspects of this model is definitely my stylus. My two favorites are compared and contrasted below:

  1. Adonit Jot:
    My stylus of choice, the Adonit Jot brings a unique pen tip and form factor to the stylus world. The Jot’s fine point and clear disk are perfect for handwriting and diamgramming–allowing me to write much more accurately than its rubber-tipped cousins. However for the artistically minded, this stylus falls short due to its inability to produce a variety of angles. Unfortunately, writing with the Jot takes getting used to; for example, I have to press a bit harder on the iPad screen for the tip to register, and the tapping noise that the stylus makes can get on my nerves. I also found that over time it lost responsiveness unless I kept my iPad screen spotless.
  2. Wacom Bamboo:
    The Wacom Bamboo wins best-in-show from the classic rubber-tipped styli. The stylus’ small tip makes it quite accurate, but I found the tip-visibility issue leaves something to be desired. The Bamboo’s tip makes it ideal for artists, as pen and brush strokes can be emulated in a much more natural way. For people who do more drawing, I would recommend the Bamboo, but otherwise, go for the Jot.

Digital Paper Software:
While the hardware involved in echoing the paper experience is important, software also deserves a mention. In regards to software on the iPad, there are two applications I would recommend:

  1. Noteshelf:
    Noteshelf offers a sleek interface and loads of features in order to jot down anything. The app allows you to create different notebooks to house your scribbles, and contains the ability to zoom on each page–a feature that makes your writing much more precise. Its export features are also quite robust: Email, Evernote, and Dropbox are only a few of the options offered. The only thing that is lacking from Noteshelf is the ability to import PDFs to anotate–something I sorely miss but am willing to live without. Overall, Noteshelf has become my note-taking app of choice because of its looks, features, and easy exports.
  2. Notability:
    An alternative to Noteshelf, Notability sacrifices beauty for increased utility, such as the ability to import PDFs and automatic sync to Dropbox. While I appreciate the increased feature set, I am not inclined to give up Noteshelf’s ease of use and export directly to Evernote.

Keyboard/Laptop:
In order to avoid carrying around my 4.46 lb laptop around, I decided to purchase a keyboard addon for my iPad–somewhat of an oxymoron mind you. Despite my original misgivings, the keyboard has proven to be extremely utilitarian when lightweight tasks need to be done, or when I am traveling. Read about my top choices below:

  1. Adonit Writer:
    For the past eight months I have been using the Adonit Writer for iPad, and, having tested other iPad keyboard cases by big-name manufacturers, I can say that the Writer tops them all. The case allows for a wide range of viewing angles for your iPad, and the keyboard stays locked in place with a powerful magnet. The case features a full QWERTY keyboard including iPad-exclusive function keys such as Home, Copy, Paste, and more. Additionally, the case covers the whole iPad, front and back, when closed, meaning that the tablet is fully protected from dents, scratches, and gunk. Of course, the keyboard needs to be charged once a month with a micro-USB port. Its only drawbacks come from cheap build quality, a slightly cramped keyboard layout, and the annoying instance where my fingers catch the edges of the key wells.
  2. The Brydge:
    The other major candidate for an iPad keyboard attachment is the Brydge, a Kickstarter project that has begun shipping its amazing keyboard. Unlike many cases on the market, the Brydge tries to emulate the MacBook Air experience with a clamshell case actually made of aerospace-grade aluminum. In addition, its patent-pending clamp/hinge keeps a firm grip on the iPad, allowing the keyboard/tablet combination to stay connected even when shaken vigorously (see Brydge video). Otherwise, it works the same way as the Writer, with a full-sized QWERTY keyboard crammed into an iPad form factor and charging available through micro-USB once per month or so. So far, I actually prefer it over the Writer because of its ease of setup, better and sturdier build quality, and more ergonomic keyboard.
  3. Other Options:
    Other options, such as the Logitech Ultra Thin Keyboard Cover present themselves, but their awkwardness and lack of utilitarian features such as sleep-wake magnets and intelligent on-and-off to conserve battery make them less than ideal. If you already own a Macbook Air, there is less need for an iPad keyboard, but many (including MG Siegler) have decided to replace their computer completely. Regardless, the ability to type is still extremely important even in an age where traditional PCs are on the decline.

Scanner:
Unfortunately, as hard as I may try, I always end up with real paper documents in my possession. Luckily, there are many scanners on the market that easily help me digitize the papers I receive so I can send them to Evernote and throw them in with my digital notes. My favorite happens to be the Doxie:

  • Doxie:
    The Doxie family of scanners by Apparent are by far the cheapest, simplest, and most portable scanners on the market. Designed for small size, these scanners are svelte enough to fit in a backpack (not that I need to), and using them is as simple as turning it on and threading pages through. Once I am done scanning a day’s worth of assignments and handouts, I can plug the scanner into my computer and import my scans using Apparent’s excellent free proprietary software. With features such as Optical Character Recognition (OCR), PDF stapling, image adjustments, and export ability to programs and file formats such as Evernote, Photoshop, PDF, and more, The Doxie software is more than adequate to fit my needs. From scan to import, Doxie scanners deliver the best experience anyone can get for a relatively cheap price, and I highly recommend that you choose it as your scanner of choice.

The Big Picture:

Although unconventional, going paperless has been one of my better decisions. All of a sudden I can carry less, worry less, and travel light. Everything I need is in one place, and I only have a few items to keep track of, rather than many notebooks and folders. My information is also more accessible, and I can get at it at home, on the go, and anywhere else there is Internet. While it may seem like a significantly difficult change, the benefits more than outweigh the drawbacks. Really, take the plunge, and you will never regret it.

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    • stephaniesharron
    • November 27th, 2012

    Terrific ideas, Brad. I am a big fan of going paperless when possible, but I find that I have to be selective. For example, proofing agreements is never as accurate on the screen as when I print and read a hard copy. We are waiting for our Brydge. Lucky you that you already received yours!

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