Paperless Office Software: 5 Tools for a Clutter Free Desk

Do you dream of a clutter free desk at work? Is it really possible? Well, with a little upfront planning, imagination and acceptance that you really don’t need to kill trees anymore. In this post I’ll share 5 types of paperless office software that will help you keep your desk clean — and save a few trees in the process.

Adobe Acrobat

Going paperless all begins with creating electronic documents from the start, and for that you can use almost any text editor. But for quality and security there’s nothing better than Adobe Acrobat Pro. Yes, it’s pricey at $499, but you get a lot of bang for your buck including lots of cool things besides traditional PDF documents. With the latest version you can create fillable PDF forms and combine various media types (including video and interactive media) into a finished PDF portfolio.

Check out Seth Godin’s “vook”, Unleashing The Super Ideavirus, for an example of this exciting blend of new and traditional media. This release combines text, audio, video and imagery into a fascinating content party available on multiple platforms.

But if all you need to do is convert your finished word processing document into a text-only PDF you may not need Acrobat Pro. If you’re on a Mac, the print utility in Microsoft Word has the ability to automatically do this for you. If you’re on a PC you can use a free utility called Bullzip for the same purpose. Both of these output print-quality PDF documents, but at the end of the day you will want to use Acrobat Pro to optimize them for the web.


After you create your paperless documents you’ll need a place to store and share them, preferably off site so you’ll have a backup of everything. Dropbox is a free (up to 2GB) online storage and backup solution for just about any computing platform or mobile device. I recommend and use the $9.99 monthly subscription program, which gives me 50 GB of storage.

After you download and install the Dropbox application it appears as another folder on your desktop. While this is great for quickly moving docs around from your computer,  you can also access files from the web or any mobile device. Just be careful when you move a document to to your Dropbox folder since it does not make a copy. It simply moves it from one place to the other.

While it’s not true document management software, my favorite use of Dropbox is for writing articles like this one. I’m Mac-based, so I write my all of my draft documents in a basic text editor and save them to Dropbox using Elements, a Drop-box syncing app for iPad and iPhone. This way my workflow is not only paperless, but I can literally work anywhere I have an internet connection using my computer, iPad or iPhone. Dropbox allows me to seamlessly integrate all three devices and create content from anywhere. This makes writing and editing on the go a snap.


As a freelance writer and UX designer, I do a ton of research for each assignment. Evernote is an excellent tool for capturing web clippings, images, voice memos, and simple text. You can also email random thoughts as you come up with them directly to your account. Because it is easily searchable using tags, you can use it for brainstorming and storing just about anything you need for later reference. Like Dropbox, Evernote offers free and paid subscriptions and is available for many mobile devices.


Basecamp is an online communication, collaboration and project management tool for distributed teams. It’s a great way to manage all the moving parts of a project involving lots of people or for freelancers who want to track different client projects. It has limited document storage on it (100MB per document for most accounts), but it is excellent for providing context around projects and pulling important conversations out of email. Using Basecamp enables you to create a virtual paper trail of everything involved in a given project. And, like Dropbox and Evernote, you can try it out for free before moving to a paid monthly subscription. However, you will need to upgrade to a paid account to share files and manage multiple projects.


Finally, you’ll need a way to bill clients for all of these great projects you’ve produced in your new paperless office. Freshbooks is my preferred solution to automate your bookkeeping and billing. You can track hours worked or send project estimates to prospective clients, and report on all work performed across employees, contractors or projects. You can also forecast expected sales. Freshbooks also lets customers download PDF versions of your invoices so you can help them go paperless too.

Freshbooks does so many great things it deserves a blog post of its own, so I’ll let you check it out from here. As with the other online tools mentioned, you can signup for free.

Over To You

These paperless office software tools have enabled me to work in a clutter-free office for almost three years. How have you gone paperless in your office? Please share your thoughts in the comments.


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Mary Shaw is a freelance web writer, UX designer and project manager with 13 years experience in corporate web design.


  1. Wasim Ismail on the 6th December

    Great to see how you use different programs for different tasks.
    I use the same or similar programs, slightly differently:

    DropBox – for my work documents, and business docs, files..etc

    Basecamp – I use this internally with my staff to assign projects and manage all the projects

    Evernote – I store all my bills on Evernote, evetime get a bill, scan it, and store it, also I use to carry a notebook and a pen, don’t need to now, as I can access this though my phone.

    Google Docs – To write my articles, and access them on the move, also keeps an archive of my blog articles in Google Docs.

    Kashflow – for my accounting and invoicing, don’t need to print anything, its all stores on the system

    Capsuel CRM – To manage all customer accounts and correspondence
    EcoSign – For electronic Signature, amazing tool, it does everything online, and I then store it on my evernote aswell.

    Remember the Milk – I use to have a list of things to do written down in my notebook, not anymore its on this program, which also syncs with my phone, and I have a plugin for it in Gmail.

    All the above makes me Paper free and keeps me in touch with my business from any location.

  2. Orson on the 6th December

    A few small additions that folks might find useful:

    Xero ( is online accounting and invoicing software for businesses who aren’t in the USA – Currently supports Australia, New Zealand, and the UK.

    Mac (OS X) users can print to PDF from anything that can print, not just Word. Realy handy, I use that a lot.

    I suggest a good sheet feeding duplex scanner – for all that stuff that comes into your office as paper, that you want to get rid of (but still have filed).

    Lastly – turn off (and unplug, maybe even put away) your printer! Make it irritating when you have to print – then you’re inclined to print a lot less casually.

  3. TrafficColeman on the 6th December

    Mary I use dropbox a lot, and mainly because of the stuff I outsource…this keep me organized and can retrieve my files from anywhere..Thanks for the other softwares..I will take a look at them.

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

  4. Jennifer Brown Banks on the 6th December


    Thank you for this great, useful post! I haven’t gone “paperless” yet, but it’s in the works for 2011, and these tools and tips should definitely help. 🙂

  5. Jestep on the 6th December

    We use outlook messenger a lot. It allows very fast transfer of messages and files over a LAN. It is extremely easy to install for an entire organization.

    We haven’t been able to go 100% paperless, but we’ve been able to get down to about 1% of the paper we were using 5 years ago. Acrobat was probably the biggest step. Electronic fax is absolutely key as well.

  6. Adam on the 6th December

    I am a fan of Dropbox and Evernote. Use them all the time.

    • Mike Vardy on the 6th December

      If you like Evernote, you’ll enjoy this week’s WorkAwesome podcast with Brett Kelly, author of Evernote Essentials. The podcast will be posted later today.

  7. Jen on the 6th December

    Thanks for this post mary. I am *nearly* paperless, but not quite… I will look into these suggestions.


  8. Bruce Caraway on the 6th December

    And when you are forced to touch the dead tree stuff (paper), the quickest way to digitize and “put” that content into the computer is to use one of the awesome duplex and flexible ScanSnap printers from Fujitsu. They have several models for both PC and Mac. I had attempted to go paperless a couple of times, but trying to use a flat-bed all-in-one printer scanner just didn’t work. I bought a ScanSnap 5110eoxm off of ebay and that was the final piece of the puzzle – I LOVE my ScanSnap!

    It’s so easy and fast to scan any kind of document: bank statements, receipts, bills, letters, etc. And, oh so, satisfying to then shred that paper as soon as it comes through the scanner.

  9. Patrick Keady on the 6th December

    Hi Mary, thanks for yet another helpful post. Basecamp is my favourite – it my main source of communication with a colleague based 300 miles from me. As you say, it creates a virtual paper trail of all the steps in the project. Looking forward to your next post.

  10. Shawn on the 7th December

    Great tips.

    I’m a Linux guy myself, but I use Dropbox a lot and it (along w/ TrueCrypt) takes the hassle out of storing passwords. No more scribbles on papers in a filing cabinet (my previous method).

    I also like CurdBee for invoicing and billing. Very nice (even the free plan) and very, very simple.

    I use and it’s built-in PDF export for most of my PDF needs.

    I use Simple Scan (comes with Ubuntu 10.10) for scanning docs straight to PDF. You can scan multi-page docs and combine them into a single PDF really easily. Great for contracts.

  11. Get Organized Already on the 13th December

    Good Stuff. I will share. Also, @Olson, I like the unplug the printer idea.
    Of course if you must print, use both sides.

  12. George Peterson on the 27th December

    I personally tend to favour SSuite Office’s free office software. Their software also doesn’t need to run on Java or .NET, so it makes their applications very small and efficient. 🙂

  13. George Peterson on the 28th December

    I personally tend to favour SSuite Office’s free office software. Their software also doesn’t need to run on Java or .NET, like MS software and so many open source software, so it makes their applications very small and efficient. 🙂

  14. Rachel Melloy on the 3rd March

    I use DropBox for sharing files between computers, Evernote for keeping notes and Dokix’s Home Document Manager for paperwork.

  15. Lori Salzman on the 18th February

    I like the Scansnap s1300 which is portable. I use it to help my clients become paperless. (Or less paper-ful.)

  16. Mike on the 27th November

    Hi Mary,
    I already use all of them except basecamp and I will give it a try today.
    I recently closed my freshbooks account and now I am using for invoicin and time tracking for me and my team. Did you ever tried it ? What s your opinion ?

    The most impressive is that this product is completely free, no paid plan .. worth checking out

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