By Manvinder Singh, Google for Work
It’s been a great 2000-year run, but paper is finally losing. This is hardly news for most of us, and while the statistics certainly show that the usage of paper continues to decline, you don’t have to look far to see that many of today’s photos and documents are already digital. A fully paperless future is within our grasp, one where the dreaded file cabinet disappears and every document and receipt is instantly searchable. But we’re still living in an in-between age, and we have many important paper documents to keep track of.
Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this way. Using readily-available apps and a simple, trusty system, you can fast forward to a paperless future right now. It requires commitment and a smartphone, but trust me: it’s worth it. You can rest assured that everything important is securely stored in the cloud, allowing you to access anything you need, from anywhere.
Here are five of my favorite tricks for effectively adopting a paperless work and personal life:
#5 Save your favorite web-pages and articles straight to Drive
While browsing the web, I often stumble across interesting content that I want to read later when I have more time. In the past, I would have printed these documents or downloaded them as a PDF on my desktop. But a faster and easier way is to use the “Save to Google Drive” chrome extension. You can save articles with one click in a pre-defined Drive folder in a variety of formats. Best of all, you can search for them by keyword when you need them later. There are lots of nifty apps that do this, but it’s useful to have all your items in one place.
#4 Scan your snail mail with Android widgets
I like to check my mail on a weekly basis — preferably while standing next to a recycling bin. Most of it’s junk, but frustratingly for those of us living a paperless life, there’s often that one important car insurance certificate or Homeowner’s association letter that you might need to save. The Drive for Android camera widget is a fast and easy way to scan and file documents straight to the cloud, before recycling the physical copy. Consider creating multiple widgets linked to different folders for the various types of mail you might receive (tax docs, doctor, home/appliances etc.)
#3 Journal for your Work and Life
Smartphones can do a lot today to help you make your life more efficient. Being a “moderate” automation nut, for me it means having all the house lights go off when my wife and I leave for work, or changing temperatures via voice commands to my phone. For many of these actions, I rely on third-party services (like this one) that enable connections between your apps to automate tasks. If you like keeping a record of your life (and work) in sort of a “cloud journal”, these apps provide amazing integrations between Google Drive and hundreds of other services that you might be using. All of these workflows are really easy to set up and can be created, even by rookies, in a few seconds. Currently my “journal” folder in Drive has spreadsheets that automatically log all my texts and calls, receipts from Gmail, my daily step count, my weight from a wi-fi enabled smart scale, “save for later” Youtube videos, my tweets, how much time I spend at work, and more. Looking back at some of these can be fun and enlightening. Below is the actual (anonymized) distribution of all my phone calls in 2015 automatically generated by the Explore feature in Google Sheets. (Note to self: need to call mom more often!)
#2 Backup those fragmented memories!
In the pre-mobile era, managing photos was a pain. People might have boxes of them, or painstakingly-organized albums, or folders on a hard drive with digital pictures. However, now we have a different problem: we upload billions of photos every day, and our memories are scattered across our phones and a variety of apps and services. As a solution, I’ve founded it useful to consolidate my photos in Drive. For my smartphone pictures, I’ve enabled the Back up and Sync feature in Google Photos. If you like to store photos on your computer, you can download the Google Drive app to sync the files. And finally, you can experiment with services that connect third-party apps to make copies of photos on other services.
#1 Create “ALL” your content in Drive
Most of our paper is created at work. While documents, spreadsheets and presentations can be easily created and stored in Drive, what about other file types? Not many people realize it, but Drive offers an amazing ecosystem of third-party apps. These apps can connect with Drive and enable you to create, edit and store many types of content automatically in Drive. The list of apps that I’ve installed has grown significantly over time.
For example, if you’re a realtor who needs to edit floor-plans, a project manager creating Gantt charts, an educator creating flow-diagrams, a software engineer reviewing code, a musician writing musical scores, or an engineer viewing CAD drawings, there is a solution on the marketplace! No matter what you do at work, you can replace those files full of paper with a Drive app.
So next time you’re about to hit “Ctrl+P” or thinking of starting a new journal, consider adopting a paperless method. It might just help you be more organized, and even open up a few new possibilities you haven’t yet thought of!