There was a time when I had two large file cabinets in my office at work, each stuffed to the brim with old reports, notes from meetings, and heaven only knows what else. The file cabinets were probably four feet high, four cabinets per shelf, and contained more folders full of stuff that I could count.
That was another lifetime. Today, I have no file cabinets. I maintain almost no physical paper. My work life is digitized, but still categorized in much the same fashion as it was years ago.
One of the secrets to this improved workflow is Evernote, a software program that allows you to divide your work into notebooks and these notebooks can be grouped into stacks. I tend to think of these stacks as file cabinet drawers and each individual notebook as a folder within a file cabinet. All the reports and meeting notes are there, neatly categorized and just as easy to retrieve as the paper documents were. Easier in fact, since I can do a quick search for any keywords to quickly find what I’m looking for.
The best part about this migration to a digital file cabinet, however, is that I can access it from practically anywhere. I have it on my phone, my computers at home, and of course it is accessible via the web at work. The files I need are always with me. And it’s not just for work. Personal paper goes in too: important receipts, emails that I need to keep, even user manuals for appliances can be downloaded and kept in Evernote. Maintenance records are another great use case. Anytime I purchase a replacement part, be it for the car, an appliance, or my lawn mower, I snap a picture of the item purchased including the model number and save it to Evernote on the day that I do the replacement. Now I have the part info I need for replacement AND it’s linked to the date that I replaced it, so I know when I actually did the maintenance. There are countless use cases like this. The point is, I have lost absolutely nothing getting away from a physical filing system and moving to a paperless workflow. It’s cleaner, more efficient, and accessible from wherever I need it.
The Workflow: Capture, Categorize, & Retrieve
One of the great aspects of Evernote is the seemingly endless ways to get stuff into it. Web clippings, scanned documents, audio clips, emails, you name it. If it can be digitized, it can be put into Evernote. I use one notebook as by default for all incoming data. It’s named simply “unsorted”. if I’m browsing the web and save a snippet of text or an image, it goes into my unsorted folder. If I drop a report I’m working on for school into Evernote, it goes to unsorted. Everything gets dropped there so that I can keep working. Oh, that big pile of meeting notes and reports that I came home with after an all day marathon of meetings, scanned into unsorted.
While some folks like to categorize and file each document as they scan it, I have found that this only slows down my workflow. By dropping everything to the unsorted folder, I can keep stay focused on my priorities and deal with organizing my files later.
At the end of the work day, or at a time that is convenient for me, I’ll open the UNSORTED folder and categorize the files I’ve dropped in. While there are a multitude of options for tagging and categorizing your files, the method that I’ve personally found most effective is simply being mindful of how I title the note. Because Evernote’s search features are so powerful, a carefully crafted title for my note is usually all that is required to retrieve it later. I then drop it into the appropriate folder and move on.
Now comes the fun. With all my documents filed away in Evernote, I can shred or toss the originals with full confidence that I’m not losing anything. If I need to retrieve something, I know it’s filed away in my online file cabinet. My pile of papers are gone and I’m back to a clean, distraction-free workspace.
For my money, there is nothing that makes me more productive than an organized workplace and easy access to everything I need. Evernote is an essential part of that equation, clearing my desk of papers and ever-at-the-ready to retrieve whatever documents I need throughout the course of my workday.
Visit the Evernote website to sign up for a FREE account and begin your quest for a paperless workflow!