Step 2. Learn how to search your computer and email. Really knowing how to do this makes you a genius to your colleagues. Questions such as ‘Do you remember when we….’ can quickly be answered if you know what you’re doing. Some people suggest you should delete your email as soon as you process it so that you don’t get swamped with a swollen inbox. This is nonsense. Used properly, an archive of your email isn’t just a record of your own career; it is also the institutional memory of your school or district. For those of us that work on policy issues at these levels it can be very important to remind everyone where we’ve been and what has come before.
The tools used to search your computer vary by platform. Windows has a built-in ‘Windows Search’ that you can read about here; Mac OS X has ‘Spotlight.’ You can then move on to “Advanced Tips for Searching Windows” and “Spotlight Tips and Tricks” for additional ideas. For help searching email you might start here for Outlook on Windows, here for Outlook on Mac OS, and here for Apple Mail. I’ve included two images to the right. The first shows you some of the options available for searching email in Apple Mail. The second shows Spotlight on the Mac.
Step 3. Buy a good scanner. I own a Fujitsu ScanSnap S510M. It is several years old and cost 3 or 4 hundred dollars at the time, but the cost was worth it. Years later it works just as well as it always did, and I use it every week. As you can see from the image below it doesn’t look like much. But what is great about the ScanSnap is that you can place multiple sheets of paper in it and it will scan the whole stack. It takes about two seconds per sheet of paper and is just as fast when scanning both sides of the paper. I’ve tried double-sided scanners such as those included on some all-in-one Canon printers and they aren’t nearly as fast.
How does this help you go paperless? Two ways:
First, you can attack the stack of binders that you have on the shelf but never use. In 5 to 10 minutes you can scan a two-inch binder of paper and have it in a single PDF file in Adobe Acrobat Professional (which comes with the scanner). You can then let Acrobat Professional work its OCR (Optical Character Recognition) magic and, voilà, you have an almost infinitely small, searchable PDF file instead of the binder you never opened.
Second, you can use it on a regular basis to scan handouts, minutes, chapters, and other pieces of paper you get. The ScanSnap software allows you to scan all of these items into one of my other favorite tools: Evernote.
Evernote is the digital equivalent of a file cabinet full of file folders. Except the file cabinet has magical powers. For example:
- You can find any document in it by just typing a few letters.
- You can store the same document in more than one folder.
- You can share a file or folder with other people but keep the original to yourself.
The Evernote software is free and runs on Windows, Mac, iPhones and iPads, and Android devices. A basic account is free, although a paid account ($45 a year) allows you to store a lot more stuff and have access to features such as searching within the PDF files you have attached to your notes.
There are a variety of Fujitsu ScanSnap scanners to choose from. But you might want to also check out the Doxie. It is a small, portable, and cordless (especially if you get the Doxie Go + Wi-Fi model) scanner. It only scans one side of a piece of paper at a time, so if you’re thinking you want to scan all those old binders it might not be the workhorse you need. But once you’ve obtained your paperless nirvana it might be exactly the tool you need to stay paperless.
In my next ‘Going Paperless as a Teacher’ article I’ll discuss the joy of tagging and suggest a few other tools that might help you go paperless. But I’m also interested to know how other people are attempting to ditch the paper. Do you have a favorite tool or workflow? Let me know!