Going Paperless with Evernote

There aren’t many things I hate, but when it comes to my workspace two things come to mind: cables and paper. I never understood how one small laptop and printer could eventually fill an entire room with filing cabinets. We spent the 90s being told that computers could store infinite amounts of data, but very few companies actually ever tried.

When I started Applingua, I decided that my computer would be my office and nothing else. Unfortunately a few weeks in I soon realised Barclays and HMRC, the UK’s tax office, enjoy bombarding you with forms. These semi-official forms do make you worry somewhat as it’s engrained in us all that we should keep paper ‘for six years’ (!!). Well it’s not true.

HMRC offer pretty much everything online (there was only one notable exception where I paid too much sales tax and they required a hand written form to get the money back – not to be cynical or anything). You can even tell Barclays online to stop sending mail to you.

So how do we do it? What about invoices sent and received? Receipts? Tickets and other mail we get? Simple: Evernote + Canon P150 Scanner

The Canon P150 Scanner (superseded by Canon P-215) is an ultra-portable, high-resolution, USB-powered document scanner that scans directly to Evernote with just one touch. Although not the cheapest of gadgets, the Canon replaces the traditional filing cabinet, mountains of paper and several ring binders you’d traditionally find in most offices. It also reduces floor space to zero, which, if you’re in a small office, will make a big difference.

The scanner is just one part of the operation however. Evernote, an app I’ll admit to overlooking when it first came out, has grown into a filing powerhouse. Take a look at our setup:

Screenshot of Evernote

Items get scanned into an unsorted ‘Notebook’. You can then create notebooks that fall under groups. You’ll see in the screenshot, we have a group called ‘HMRC’, under which there are several category notebooks such as Corp Tax, PAYE, VAT, etc. Whenever we have 5 minutes, we’ll sort the scans into the correct notebooks. It hardly requires any effort as Evernote makes it easy to see, edit and tag scanned documents. For invoices and important information received online, you can just forward it to your personal Evernote address.

Every software has its idiosyncrasies, but I’m very happy with the way Evernote works. So much so, I would recommend paying for Evernote’s Premium packages. Apart from the increased storage and sharing capabilities, Evernote Premium uses server-side OCR on all your documents making them spotlight searchable. This totally negates the fear that when the tax man comes you won’t be able to find the right invoice, because Evernote can search even within the text of the PDF or statement or invoice.

Finally, if you didn’t know this already, Evernote’s storage is both local and ‘in the cloud’. You can access your data from anywhere in the world, online, on your iPhone, your iPad or any Mac, PC or Linux device you can get your hands on. You lock this down with a password to prevent prying eyes. I can’t help but giggle when I see my father’s company’s files strewn across six 5ft filing cabinets, knowing all of mine are on my iPhone in my pocket.

Needless to say, this wouldn’t have been possible five years ago. It’s taken time for HMRC to react and allow online filing of nearly every form, but we are there now. It also helps that there are qualified accountants like Chris Maslin who operate entirely online and use services such as EchoSign to accept official signatures. Evernote has grown into an excellent tool and Canon, along with other manufacturers, have been able to create USB-powered, portable scanners that make the whole thing a whole lot easier. If you aren’t paperless already, there isn’t a better time to start.

Robert Lo Bue

Rob is CEO of Applingua. With over a decade's experience, he is at the forefront of tech localization.