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How to Do The Impossible: Create a Paperless Life, Never Check Voicemail Again, Never Return Another Phone Call...

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"I must create a System, or be enslav'd by another Man's." -- William Blake

Forget the paperless office -- it's aiming too low.

Let's take a look at the bigger picture: a paperless life. While we're at it, let's also eliminate three other nuisances: answering the phone, checking voicemail, and returning phone calls.

Is this possible? It is. The key to finding means to accomplish the "impossible" is asking the right question: "How would you do ____ for a week if your life depended on it?" Most things considered impossible just haven't been looked at through the "how" lens of lateral thinking. Here are two warm-up exercise questions for Paperless Life 101:

1. What would you have to do to never again touch mail?
2. What would you have to do to never touch another check?

Consider these questions as real questions. If I offered you a million dollars to do each of these things for a month, could you do it? Here are a just a few potential strategies for doing all three, then we'll move on to phone games:

1. No more mail:
First, we need to cut out the crap -- reduce volume. To begin, get removed from junk mail lists and common commercial mailing lists. There are a few ways to do this: 1) Get removed from the most common junkmail lists (this costs a few dollars in some cases) and check alternative strategies at www.stopjunkmail.org, 2) Use LifeLock, or another identity protection service, which automatically removes you from large mailing lists, one of the most common vehicle for identity theft. Last, we'll have your mail forwarded to special processing centers, where it is all scanned and emailed to you. One popular service is called Remote Control Mail, and there are two big benefits to the time-focused and mobile-minded: relevant postal mail is funneled into e-mail, so you can check both email and postal mail at once ("batching" both at the same time); you can travel freely whenever and wherever without ever missing a letter.

2. No more checks -- this is the easiest and most familiar:

-Set up online banking so you can issue checks directly from your bank, and set up automatic recurring payments
-Give your accountant power of attorney to sign specific checks (for tax documents, etc.) on your behalf. Power of attorney is no joke, so do your homework, but it can be used -- as I do -- with little risk. This approach not only cuts down on checks but also finance-related mail, which you can then forward to your accountant for handling start-to-finish.

But what of the other 9-to-5 headaches, you ask? How can you eliminate the need to answer the phone, check voicemail, or return phone calls? Here are just a few quick fixes:

1. No more answering the phone:
Use a service like GrandCentral to listen to voicemail as they're being left. Each caller is required to announce their name before the call is dialed, and you are able to preview the name and send them to voicemail, where you can listen to their message as they leave it. If you want to speak with them, you can jump in. If not, let them leave a voicemail and -- at the set times when you batch -- go to step 2.

2. No more voicemail:

Get your voicemail delivered to your e-mail inbox, which then serves as your single communications "funnel." This would be our single "bucket" in the parlance of David Allen, and our remote control postal mail joins the voicemail here: e-mail, postal mail, and voicemail all in one place. GrandCentral can e-mail audio files, but for those who want text, Simulscribe is a popular option with near 90 percent transcription accuracy. Stop managing separate inputs from office phone voicemail, cell phone voicemail, and multiple email accounts. Consolidate. To further encourage all people to communicate with you via e-mail, there are two approaches that I've used effectively: indicate in your voicemail greeting that people must leave their e-mail address, and respond to them via e-mail; use Jott to send a voice message to them as an e-mail.

3. No more returning calls:
Pinger enables you to send voicemail to people without calling them. Why would you want to do that? From their website:

We've all been there -- you make a call and think to yourself, "please don't pick up," or you call and think "I hope I'm not interrupting..." With Pinger you leave the message at your convenience, and they get it at their convenience. Unlike voicemail, there is no ringing, no annoying prompts, no lengthy greetings -- just your message.

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None of these strategies are perfect, but they do demonstrate that none of our impossible questions are impossible to answer. Once you frame the question in terms of "how would I...?", it is entirely possible to stop tolerating most of life's annoyances and eliminate them altogether.