How to Do the Impossible

“I must create a System, or be enslav’d by another Man’s.” – William Blake

Forget the paperless office – that’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 voice mail, 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:

What would you have to do to never again touch mail?

What would you have to do to never touch another check?

Consider these as real questions. If I offered you a million dollars to stop doing these two things for a month, could you do it? Here are a just a few potential strategies you could use… then we’ll move on to phone games:

  • 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 junk-mail lists at (This costs a few dollars in some cases.) And check alternative strategies at
  2. Use LifeLock, or another identity-protection service, which automatically removes you from large mailing lists, one of the most common vehicles for identity theft.
  3. Have your mail forwarded to special processing centers, where it is all scanned and e-mailed to you. One popular service is Remote Control Mail, which offers two big benefits to the time-focused and mobile-minded: (a) Relevant postal mail is funneled into e-mail, so you can check both e-mail and postal mail at once. (b) You can travel freely, whenever and wherever, without ever missing a letter.
  • No more checks
  1. Set up online banking so you can issue checks directly from your bank, and set up automatic recurring payments.
  2. 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 with little risk. This approach not only cuts down on checks but also on 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 I eliminate the need to answer the phone, check voice mail, or return phone calls?

Here are a few quick fixes:

  • No more answering the phone

Use a service like GrandCentral so you can listen to your voice mails 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 then send the call to voice mail, where you can listen to the message they’re leaving. If you want to speak with them, you can jump in. If not, let them leave the message.

  • No more voice mail

Stop managing separate inputs from office phone voice mail, cellphone voice mail, and multiple e-mail accounts. Consolidate. Get your voice mail delivered to your e-mail inbox, which then serves as your single communications “funnel” – with all your e-mail, postal mail, and voice mail in one place. GrandCentral can e-mail audio files, but for those who want text, Simulscribe is a popular option with nearly 90 percent transcription accuracy.

To further encourage people to communicate with you via e-mail, there are two approaches that I’ve used effectively: Indicate in your voice mail greeting that they must leave their e-mail address, and then respond to them via e-mail. You can also use a service like Jott to send a voice message to them as an e-mail.

  • No more returning calls

Pinger enables you to send voice mail to people without calling them. Why would you want to do that? Pinger’s website explains:

“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 voice mail, there is no ringing, no annoying prompts, no lengthy greetings – just your message.”

None of these strategies is 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.

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