My Paperless Journey Begins

After more than 20 years of working for a company that produces the leading document imaging SDK and a card carrying member of AIIM, I finally decided that it was time to personally go paperless. There are many motivations behind this decision, including reducing clutter, better protection for my data, and better access to information when and where I need it.

One of the things that was holding me back in the past was finding a system that I trusted to store my data. My definition of a trusted system is a system where I know my data is secure, safe, and available. Additionally, I need to be able capture data from anywhere, including Internet, e-mail, snail mail, and out in the real world. I was trying a combination of OneNote and OneDrive, but I was not completely happy with it and never totally dove in. Then, I discovered Evernote. I had heard about Evernote in the past, but thought of it as just a non-Microsoft replacement of OneNote. However, once I did begin considering it, I found that there are specific features in Evernote that I have not been able to find or use as easily in OneNote that can make it my trusted system.

The number one priority of my desired system is data security. For example, I want to ensure that my information does not fall into the nefarious hands of an identity thief. If the system does not meet that criteria, I will not add documents that contain personal information. Evernote addresses this on their security page by addressing how different areas of the system are secured. While I would not keep top secret information in the Evernote cloud, I will keep a copy of my tax returns in password protected PDF files using the AES encryption algorithm with a 256-bit key. Also, there are ways of using LEADTOOLS to encrypt or redact certain parts of files that I may cover in a later post.

The second priority of my system is data safety; knowing that the data will be there when it is needed is key. The point of going paperless is to dispose of the paper once it is in the digital system. I am not going to do that until I know I will not lose my data. Evernote does not have a menu item to “back up” data. I cannot speak for the makers of Evernote as to why they left this feature out, but I have found a solution that requires scheduling a batch file that completely meets my needs. I will provide that script in a future post.

The third priority is data availability. Data availability has two meanings. First, I should be able to get to my data without having to go to a specific location, preferably accessing it from anywhere using my phone. With Evernote, I can access my data from my desktop, laptop, and phone. Second, I should be able to quickly find a specific document out of the thousands that will be stored in the system. By employing Evernote’s notebook stacking and note tags in a way that is logical (to me), this requirement is satisfied.

Finally, I need to be able to get data into the system very easily, else I might not use it consistently. This is accomplished with the combination of software (Windows Explorer integration, mobile app, Outlook add-in, and browser extension), hardware (scanner and smart phone), and a workflow or methodology that enables me to capture information without breaking my stride to organize.

While I have been surrounded by digital imaging technology since 1996, I am still learning what works for me, shortcomings of certain pieces of existing software and hardware as I try to make them work in my system, and ways to streamline and improve the overall system. Stay tuned because I will be adding more posts as I learn and make improvements, including how to automate Evernote backups, PDF password protection and encryption, adding encryption to parts of an image for added security, Evernote notebook and tag organization strategies, scanning large batches of documents with maximum efficiency and much more.

In the comments, tell me about your experiences or stumbling blocks that you have encountered with going paperless.


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5 Responses to My Paperless Journey Begins

  1. John in Michigan, USA says:

    I am a fan of Evernote and a user for several years now. It is with sadness that I have to warn you: Evernote is *not* reliable. Rarely, but frustratingly, notes appear and disappear for no reason; more often, notes in offline notebooks turn out to be unavailable until you’re back online. Client features that you may come to depend on are subject to change or removal without notice; for example, a few months ago, a particular search I depended on for my GTD implementation just stopped working in the Windows client. Getting support to acknowledge the problem took a while, only to find out there appears to be zero interest in fixing this problem. The note history feature, which I very much wanted to take advantage of, is inconsistently implemented and buggy. You can change important things about a note, such as its tags or reminder status, and the system doesn’t consider them to be changes, so it doesn’t record them in note history, doesn’t update the “last updated” field, etc. Evernote is supposed to be seamless (hence the elephant imagery in their branding)…but it isn’t.

    The one thing Evernote does well, and continues to do well, is act as a clipping service for web pages. It continues to surprise and delight me with how well it captures the content without the ads or other clutter.

    Evernote isn’t useless…it works for me most of the time, now that I’ve learned its peculiarities and adjusted my system to avoid these many pitfalls. But, I shouldn’t have to change my workflow to avoid bugs or missing features. Worse, the times that it doesn’t work, or works and then stops working, are so demoralizing, so unpredictable, that the only thing keeping me using it is the lock-in effect.

    Anyone serious about GTD who is considering making Evernote a part of their seamless system should strongly consider avoiding Evernote so you don’t end up like me.

  2. John, Thanks for your feedback!

    I respect your experience and warning about Evernote, but it is the best solution I have found so far.

    While I was investigating the Evernote SDK, I found a forum post on the Evernote site that talked about how changes to metadata do not affect the note’s Updated Date. They had their reasons, but I do not remember what those were off the top of my head. Anyway, it seems that this behavior is by design, which may be why they do not seem to be interested in fixing it.

    I have noticed that if I work on two devices at the same time the syncing gets a little hokey. To get around this, I make sure I do a full sync when I am done with one device and a sync on the new device before I start working. This seems to solve the problems.

    The script to do an Evernote “backup” was posted this morning. Check it out here:

    • John in Michigan, USA says:

      “changes to metadata do not affect the note’s Updated Date” “behavior is by design” Yep, I got that feedback too from their support.

      Their treatment of changes to metadata seems arbitrary. Changes to some metadata do effect the note’s updated date, while other metadata is exempt from this. But, few if any of the changes to metadata that DO effect the updated date are treated as changes by the note history feature. More arbitrariness. To me, it all implies a poorly designed, ad-hoc object model in the code, which makes me VERY nervous from a stability and security point of view.

      Be sure to test the heck out of any offline features your group will depend on. There’s a lot of arbitrary or un-intuitive design choices there, too.

      It is a decent product that could be outstanding if they got their act together.

  3. Michael Rugaard says:


    I have been using the Nozbe app for 6 years. It is true GTD and is accessible even outside the app through universal shortcuts in Windows and OSX and through mail. It integrates with Evernote (you can link individual notes to tasks as well as dropbox etc). We are a small team who that also use it as a collaboration tool. Read all about it here, if you like:

  4. Thanks Michael! I will check it out!

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