Developing paperless habits: Dropbox

“Why don’t you just wipe your ass with your iPad? –Allison Mitchell

Once you have the tools you wish to use to adopt a paperless life, it becomes time to start using the tools. This is by far the most difficult part of the process, because it requires making real, meaningful changes to how you organize your stuff and how you deal with information as you get it. More importantly, you have to change your instincts when you find that you are in need of some piece of information.

When you first start putting stuff into a digital repository, it’s hard to get into the habit of continuing to do it because you haven’t yet benefitted from having the information stored like this (since there’s not yet much information in your digital repository). However, once you do encounter that situation where you need something and you realize “oh, I have it right here in Evernote, let me just grab it!” it’s at that point that you are on track to be in the habit.

Let’s start with the easiest habit to change: saving your files into Dropbox. It’s straightforward enough to do. First, move your existing documents into Dropbox. If you have a Documents (OS X, Windows Vista and up) or a My Documents (Windows XP) folder, make one in your Dropbox, move the contents of your old Documents folder into it, and then start saving your stuff in the new Documents folder instead. If you are using OS X or Vista or Windows 7, it’s a good idea to remove the sidebar shortcut to the old Documents folder and replace it with the new one.

If putting these documents into Dropbox puts strain on the free space you’re allocated, just buy more Dropbox space (or switch to an .edu account and refer lots of people). Don’t ever put yourself into a situation where you have to decide what’s worth keeping in Dropbox, because you’ll inevitably some day be in an airport needing a document you never thought you’d need again. 50 gigabytes of Dropbox space can be had for as little as $100 a year, and unless you’re a video editor or someone whose job involves incredibly large files, it goes a long way.

Having your files Dropboxed gives you some peace of mind. For one thing, for each computer you have Dropbox installed on (if you’re doing it right that is all of them), you have a redundant local backup of all of your files that automatically propagates instantly. You can walk from one computer to another (like a BOSS) and pick up on documents right where you left off. Did a catastrophic storm happen, destroying one of your computers and leaving you without an internet connection? Fear not, the files are right there for you to use on your other machine.

What’s that? You accidentally deleted a file and now it’s deleted on all your computers because Dropbox propagates changes like that? No problem. Go to Dropbox’s web app, log in, and browse to your folder and click “Show Deleted Files.” Bam.

But what if you didn’t delete a file, but instead you drunkenly made some egregious modifications to one of your files? Not to worry. Dropbox has you covered there as well.

At a friend’s house and you didn’t bring a computer with you but you need a document? Again, no problem. Just log into the Dropbox web app and you can see all your files and download the one you want to work with it. You don’t have to worry about installing some software on your friend’s computer.

It gets cooler, though. Dropbox’s mobile app gives you handy access to all of your files. Sitting on a beach and your friend wants that PDF of the eBook you have a (perfectly legal) copy of? It’s surprisingly easy to email your friend a link to the file. And in situations where access to an important file is even more critical, you’ll appreciate having that safety net that much more.

Again, Dropbox isn’t exactly an integral part of a paperless life since those documents were already not on paper, but it’s a habit worth getting into.

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