I was recently working on a real estate development project, and the mountain of paperwork that was produced and wasted was heartbreaking. Every time the plans changed, an oversized set of prints was made — a copy for the owner, the builder, the engineer, and one for the town building department.
We’re talking about 60 sheets of paper that might have garnered four minutes of attention, and were then discarded. This doesn’t take into account the invoices, delivery slips, contracts, faxes, etc.
The point is that using paper is inefficient, it’s bad for the environment and it locks us down, preventing mobility. Let’s get rid of it, shall we?
The following services, apps and gadgets aim to completely eliminate the need for paper in your life.
LifeLock is a service that helps prevent identity theft by automatically removing your name from every mailing list you don’t want to be a part of.
The service renews monthly to ensure you are permanently removed from lists and not placed on new ones. Within three months of signing up for Lifelock, I had reduced my paper mail intake by about 70%.
CatalogChoice is a non-profit that works with companies to make sure catalogs are sent to people who want them and not to you. This free service lets you search through a huge database and remove your name from any listing.
The Square Reader app allows you to accept credit card payments from your iPhone at low rates and with no monthly fees.
Payments are approved instantly and both you and the buyer get copies of the receipt via email.
You also don’t need to carry the physical card reader with you. You can enter the card number manually at a slightly higher percent charge.
HelloFax gives you a local fax number that delivers to your email inbox. You can seamlessly fill in forms, sign documents, request signatures from others and fax the documents back. It’s been about three years since I’ve held a faxed piece of paper in my hands.
With SignNow you can simply forward a document from anywhere, including your iPhone. In a few minutes you’ll receive an email that lets you sign anywhere, fill in fields, and send to someone else for signature.
It’s similar to HelloFax except it’s free, doesn’t have the fax element, and works well on mobile.
Doxie is a small, efficient scanner that will digitize your documents directly into cloud services like Dropbox and Google Docs. There will soon be a version that doesn’t require a computer, so you can scan anywhere and then sync up when you return.
If you still need to send physical mail, PostalMethods lets you upload a document with its web interface or via email.
The company will print it out, put it in an envelope, stamp and mail it. Never lick a stamp again.
For remaining mail, consider a virtual mailbox. Virtual Post Mail will give you a P.O. box and any received mail displays in an organized web portal. You can then decide if you want to have Virtual Post Mail open and scan the contents, recycle it, or forward it to any address in the world.
You can also automate letters to sort for certain senders. That way you can download and forward images as PDF files, check your mail on the beach in Thailand or let a virtual assistant handle it for you.
Check depositing is great, especially if you manage rental properties, or deal with a lot of checks. Have them sent directly to Virtual Post Mail and for $1 per check, they will be deposited at the bank for you.
CardMunch is an app that turns a picture of a business card into a transcribed piece of information sent to your phone. The scanned card is added to the contact in your address book, making it their picture.
The free app is owned by LinkedIn so the person added to your contacts is one click away from a connection request.
For bigger documents, CamScanner is an application that lets you use your phone as a scanner. Take a picture of the document, and it finds the edges, adjusts perspective and enhances text and images. Then you have a PDF you can email or upload to one of your cloud services.
ScanDigital is great for those old boxes of photos fading away in your basement. Send all of your old media, photos, VHS tapes, even slides, and it will scan and digitize everything for you.
Now you can really enjoy those photos by carrying them on your mobile device to share with friends and family.
Shoeboxed is great for outsourcing paperwork. The service mainly catalogs receipts, but you can also send any other paper product. It also provides pre-addressed and stamped envelopes. Mobile apps are available to capture receipts and business cards on the go.
All pertinent information is organized, so if you need to do expense reports or taxes, your life will be so much easier. You can also send in reams of paperwork to clear out for a fresh start. Everything is scanned and organized in an online portfolio for you.
For the odd paper-based tasks that will inevitably happen every once in while, you need to get a person involved. I use TaskRabbit to turn my handwritten notes into something more useful. (These are few and far between, thanks to Evernote, of course.)