Ever feel like you can’t remember yesterday? You’re not alone! The culprit is likely stress. I’m not talking about the flash of hormones that are released when you see a snake and the corresponding fight or flight response. Rather, I’m talking about long-term chronic stress that is part of the daily grind of caring for someone with special needs. What makes chronic stress so problematic is the high elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol that inhabits our bodies and brains on a daily basis.
There are numerous studies that correlate chronic stress with poorly functioning memory. Over-secretion of cortisol can impair long-term delayed recall memory. According to a study on stress and memory, stress can affect how we learn, how we consolidate memories, and how we retrieve information from our brains.
So now you have an excuse the next time you’re at a doctor’s office and can’t recall what you talked about the last visit! The reality is it can be a real challenge to handle the never-ending stream of medical and educational information we are required to manage for our loved ones. One of the ways to reduce both chronic stress and the effects of stress induced memory loss is simply good organization.
Before we found ourselves in the midst of medical hell, I thought myself a pretty well-organized person. After all, the Army routinely pounded into me the virtue of attention to detail. Ever see a barracks room in basic training, or a cadet’s dorm room at a military academy? Even every military technical manual has the “right way” (read: only acceptable way) to account for and organize equipment. To say that everything has its place in the Army is an understatement. So when we began to embark on this great special needs journey I thought nothing of my organizational systems. What a mistake! It only took a few months of pinging around from one specialist to another to quickly realize I needed to get a handle and relook how we were organizing our life. Doing so has made all the difference.
Prior to arriving to this conclusion, we lived in the world of the binder. You know the one; the binder that is stuffed and overflowing with specialty referrals, medication instructions, the latest in medical research, appointment slips, therapy instructions, school and early intervention paperwork and reports. We had three such binders, and they were quickly over-filled and became more and more inaccessible and unmanageable over time. We found ourselves trying to remember which one to bring along to which medical, therapy, or school appointment. It felt like we were out of control, and then I discovered the beauty and simplicity of going paperless.
I had enough and came home one weekend, purchased a scanner, downloaded Evernote, and went to work scanning and uploading hundreds of documents we had accrued over the years. I filled three large trash bags with the files I digitized. The next Monday, I took the bags to work and shredded each and every document. It was a wholly satisfying experience. While I recognize going paperless isn’t for everyone, it has had tremendous benefits for our family. By establishing a more efficient system to keep track of important (and even unimportant) papers and appointments I helped minimize stress-influenced conditions in our home.
The purpose of this post is to share how we went paperless, reduced our stress, and increased our organization and efficiency in our home. Disclaimer! What is about to follow may not work for everyone. There are numerous applications, tools, and approaches to decluttering your life. The following is simply what worked for us.
The Saving Grace That is Evernote
The first thing I did after deciding to go paperless was research cloud based storage options. I ultimately settled on Evernote because of not just the storage, but it won me over with the ease of recalling a “filed” document. Evernote is an app that serves many purposes. It is your digital file cabinet, a note-taking tool, a daily journal, a task or project management system, a recipe-keeper, really anything you want to be able to store. Thanks to its cross-platform accessibility it can be used with desktop apps, web apps, and mobile apps. You really can offload all of your notes, reference materials, ideas, and to-do lists into Evernote and never worry about where you’ve collected all those random bits of information. It is essentially a standalone binder replacement system. The key to Evernote is to commit to it and jump in with both feet. It’s not very effective if you’re just using it for a few isolated tasks. Rather, if you commit to its use, and fill it full of your data, it will truly help the unorganized get organized.
Evernote’s search function is really good. It allows you to retrieve all of your stored documents quickly. Evernote uses Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to quickly find your searchable terms. OCR recognizes text inside scanned documents and photos and can convert virtually any kind of images containing written text (typed, handwritten, or printed) into readable text data that can then be catalogued and searched for by Evernote’s powerful search function. This is perhaps the biggest selling point for me on the utility of Evernote over some of the other cloud based storage systems like Microsoft OneNote (which I also have) or google cloud. Because the search works so well, you hardly spend anytime stressing over the storage strategy. There is no need to make multiple folders and sub folders. Just simply upload your document and search for a key word or phrase and Evernote’s OCR search system will find the corresponding word on each document that contains it. Simple as that.
The Web Clipper function solves the challenge of saving references and articles for later when you are researching or come across new tools or ideas during your browsing sessions or social media use. It truly is “a save button for the web” that provides you searchable website screenshots. Before Evernote I would have to save the article in my browser’s bookmarks folder or drag the article to my desktop to be reviewed later if I could remember where I stored it in the first place. Evernote Web Clipper solved that problem by allowing me to save portions of a website, add my own notes and commentary, and even build a notebook with similar ideas or items; essentially my virtual scrapbook.
Not only can you organize notes into a system of notebooks, you can also create ‘tags’ for any or all of your documents. Using tags is where you can really boost the efficiency, searchability and overall functionality of your Evernote storage system. Tags can be especially useful if you have notes that you think could fit into multiple notebooks. The combination of tags, notebooks, and OCR give Evernote a step above most other file systems.
Evernote solves the problem of access. If you saved a file on your computer, when you likely needed it, you were probably not anywhere near your computer. One of the key features of Evernote is its ability to be used on all major platforms such as your desktop computer, your laptop, your smart phone or tablet. Evernote will sync between all of your devices and is backed up to the cloud so you have access wherever you go. This eliminates the need to transfer those documents or files and reduces the risk of corruption, loss, or theft of your data. This has come in handy on numerous occasions as we sat in the waiting room, or as we met with teachers or therapists and needed to quickly answer a question or provide background. A quick search on my phone, and I could access all of my files in the moment and reference previous visits, or the latest instructions.
A key function of Evernote is its ability to create and take notes. The wide range of note-taking options includes text entry, upload of photos, attachments, audio recordings, calendar links, and emails. The ability to create and store electronic notes has many advantages over the traditional route of taking notes using a pen and paper. It removes the necessity to find a place where you can physically file and store hundreds of papers. It saves time and effort by being able to access and edit your notes electronically, and syncs your notes to each of your devices. You will effectively have your notes on you at all times without the need to carry a notebook with you.
Sharing information digitally is becoming more important as our world becomes more paperless. Evernote has several sharing features that make it appealing, such as sharing your notes through email or social media. My son is on a strict diet and sharing recipes or feeding instructions with his caregivers is as simple as emailing them the link to the appropriate notebook.
Cost and Tiers
The cost of Evernote will vary depending on how you plan to use it. For a new user who is just trying it out, you can subscribe to Evernote Basic for free. Evernote Basic comes with 60MB of uploads per month, and basic users will only be able to sync between two devices at once. If you are committed to going fully paperless, you will find that Evernote Basic’s 60MB upload limit is just not enough. The next tier is Evernote Premium which currently costs $7.99/month. Premium users get up to 10GB uploads a month, increases syncing across unlimited devices, as well as a host of additional features. You can compare the different plans here. My wife and I have Evernote Premium loaded on two smartphones, two tablets, and our home computer. Evernote goes everywhere we go.
If you are going to venture into the world of cloud storage, you should learn as much as you can about data security. Because Evernote is an online account that gives anyone access to your account should they be able to obtain your password, you should treat it just like any other online account and take the steps to safeguard your password. Because anyone with your password can log in like you can, theoretically they could access all your Evernote content. This is a scary thought to many people; but there is hope. Evernote has ways to make your account more secure so that you can be assured that your account will most likely never get hacked.
There are three primary vulnerabilities with all cloud based data storage systems. The first is transportation of your data during upload and download where a hacker could access your files as they are in transit. The second is your data that is uploaded on the cloud and “at rest” during storage. The third is access to the application itself through your password.
Transport Encryption: Evernote notes are encrypted in transit (i.e., over the internet), but encryption isn’t end-to-end by default. This means that notes are decrypted for indexing when they arrive to the storage server before being encrypted again for storage. They do this to speed up the search function but does create a vulnerability. To combat this, Evernote uses industry standard encryption to protect your data in transit using secure socket layer (“SSL”) technology. (www.evernote.com).
Data at Rest: Once your data is uploaded to Evernote’s servers, your notes are then encrypted at rest using 256-bit AES, a security protocol not known to be crackable.
As an added security bonus, Evernote also lets you encrypt your notes for extra protection. This means that nobody can access the text contents of that note unless they know the specific password you used to encrypt that note. If you have something within a note that you want to keep private like passwords, financial information, doctor’s notes, etc., you may want to further encrypt it. You can follow this link to learn how to encrypt your notes for extra protection.
Password Protection: Unfortunately, neither SSL nor AES will prevent your data from being stolen by someone who knows your username and password. As a measure of security against someone cracking your Evernote password, you should also turn on two-factor authentication. With two-factor authentication on, even if someone steals or cracks your password, they likely won’t be able to use it. Two-factor authentication forces your account to require not only your password but also a unique code that is sent to and only accessible from your phone, hence the second factor. As long as you have your phone with you, nobody but you can access your Evernote data, even if they have your password.
Additional Security Options: For those that are still concerned about the security of their information, you can use a third-party application that will further encrypt your data inside Evernote. One such tool is Saferoom. While I haven’t personally used it, Saferoom ostensibly is an app that will encrypt your data stored in cloud services (like Evernote) with its own encryption and password. Think of it as an encrypted file that is then loaded into an encrypted server giving you twice the protection. However, the drawback of this approach is that there is no way to restore your data if you forget your password, and indexing and search functions will be minimized because there is no way for Evernote to see what is in the encrypted document.
A Word about Risk
Security is probably the biggest concern for anyone looking to go paperless. The fact is anytime you are using digital systems your data is at risk. I would also argue that your data is at risk on your home computer, it is at risk in a cloud based server, and it is also at risk laying cluttered about your home office. You can worry yourself sick over digital threats, or you can choose to take reasonable safe steps to secure your data and take advantage of recent technology. I personally think that my data stored in cloud server behind some of the best physical security available is safer than if I used a home server. At any rate, it is a personal choice and you must decide how comfortable you are with the idea and do the best you can to secure your data with the resources you have available.
Going Fully Paperless
If you are making the choice to go fully paperless then you need to invest in a high-speed scanner. Fortunately there are great options available. At a minimum, your scanner should be capable of quickly and efficiently scanning a large number of documents. It also needs to work well with OCR. The following are two popular scanners:
The Doxie Go is a great scanner and a favorite of many people who have the need to move about. It comes with a battery so you can use the scanner more easily while on the go and scan documents away from your office. It’s small and portable enough to fit into a bag and go with you almost anywhere. It is powered via USB, and great for scanning everything from photographs to multi-page documents to receipts. It has OCR and integrates well with Evernote.
The S1300i is another small, space-saving scanner. Unlike the Doxie Go It includes a fold-out document tray to help with multiple pages and papers of odd sizes. You can keep the tray closed and feed photos or other documents yourself though as well. It even supports multi-sided documents which is a really nice function. The fact that it is also small and USB-powered makes it portable enough to take with you if you travel as well, although not as portable as the Doxie Go. The ScanSnap software can also sync to Evernote. I use the S1300i at our home and it has worked wonderfully for a number of years.
Your Smartphone’s Camera (free…sort of)
Most of us use a smartphone these days. Any modern smartphone will have a functional camera that can also serve as a scanner. It’s free, notwithstanding the cost of an app, and it only requires the smartphone you already own. While “free” it is also slow and somewhat tedious, and therefore not recommended for any large projects (like going fully paperless). There are numerous third-party apps you can use in conjunction with your phone camera to enhance the “scanning” capability. I currently use scannable, which integrates directly into Evernote and is useful for quickly scanning in receipts on the go, or even bills and mail at my kitchen counter.
Investing in a good shredder is a must. When I started this adventure, I had a cheap shredder I bought years ago from Staples. It served its purpose at the time for occasional shredding, however, it would constantly overheat and spill little pieces of shredded paper all over the floor when I tried to empty the too small basket. Now that everything gets shredded after it is scanned in, you won’t want the aggravation of an overheating shredder. I recommend you get one that shreds a high-capacity of sheets, has a strong motor, and cuts your paper into the smallest bits possible.
The Virtue of Paperlessness
It would be hyperbole to suggest that going paperless has fundamentally changed our lives. I do think it has significantly reduced the stress induced by clutter and disorganization. We have become more efficient, and as a result, become better partners with our many doctors, specialists, and teachers. Special Needs Families are predisposed to chronic stress. You owe it to yourself to control what you can.