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


“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 a few 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?
What would you have to do to never touch another dollar?

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 remove from the most common junkmail lists (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 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.

3. No more cash — easier than you think:
I hate cash, and I hate coins even more. Why don’t men’s wallets have pockets? In all cases, getting rid of physical wampum is more about breaking personal habit than overcoming external resistance. For the last several months, I’ve replaced a brick of a wallet with a razor-thin money clip holding four credit cards (Business Platinum AMEX, business Chase Continental Mastercard, personal AMEX, personal Mastercard), one debit card for emergencies, and health/car insurance. I haven’t had a single problem. Some smaller shops will prefer that you cover coffee with cash, for example, but credit is accepted.

Paper cuts fingers and kills forests, but what of the damn 9-to-5 headaches? How can you eliminate the need to answer the phone, check voicemail, or return phone calls? Here are 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% 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.


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.

Did you like this? Please take a second to Digg it here and I’ll focus on more of doing the impossible, tech lifehacks, etc.

Posted on: June 14, 2007.

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176 comments on “How to Do The Impossible: Create a Paperless Life, Never Check Voicemail Again, Never Return Another Phone Call…

  1. Personally, I login to online banking so frequently that I see charges as they come through. Other than that, I don’t do a real reconciliation like you should.

    If you really wanted to, take a photo of each receipt with your smart phone, and then chuck the receipt. JotNot for the iPhone is what I use for scanning and filing notes like that.


  2. I like the idea of companies going paperless. I can see where a few problems may arise, but for the most part I can appreciate the concept. I think more companies are going to jump on this ever growing trend.


  3. I really like how you mention not answering the phone — I hate voicemail and phone calls! The idea that I am at everyone’s beck and call 24/7/365 because of my cellphone is just awful; but then it is rude not to answer.

    E-mail I can deal with more…


  4. Hi Tim

    I read your book some time ago and have been following your site and web appearances since but had not read this post previously. There are some great points here for extending time saving opportunities and I will be trying to add some of them to those I am doing already.

    Keep up the good work!



  5. You are a genius!!
    And my favorite author…
    Every time that I pick up 4 Hour Week or 4 Hour Body to read, over and over again, that’s what comes out of my mouth… Genius!!
    And the funny thing is that I resisted a lot before finally giving up and reading your books… It just didn’t seem possible!
    But well… you proved me wrong!!


  6. I know its a late post, but your books are awesome mate!

    You have really changed the way I do things for the best and have recommended this to all my friends.

    See you on Twitter and Facebook.



  7. Hi Tim,

    Fantastic post, and yet again some amazing tips for efficiency! However, sadly, it seems like “truly” going paperless seems impossible, although we’re all aiming for it.

    Anyhow, I just picked up the new version of 4HWW the other day, and have been reading diligently again, great new updates in it, hope to someday have the success that you have!



  8. Nice article! With a baby on the way, I’m about to move my home office from a bedroom to an attic (installing skylights for this too!) but was contemplating how the additional space will inevitably lead to more clutter accumulating. Instead I should implement the suggestions here.


  9. Still my all-time favorite Tim Ferriss article. This is probably my third or fourth comment on this one alone. Just wanted to share another piece of how I’m making it happen.

    This is for all the other commenters that have asked for help with their voicemail messages. As of two minutes ago, my Google Voice number is on “Do Not Disturb”, as I am leaving for Paris tomorrow to start a 6-month, around-the-world journey (while still running a tax consulting practice). Here is what my new voicemail message states:

    “You have reached the private voicemail box of Jassen Bowman. Please note that I am currently unable to answer telephone calls live. So that I may give you a response with my undivided attention, please leave a brief message with your name, purpose of your call, and your email address or fax number, and I will respond via email or fax with a thorough response to your inquiry. Thank you for calling, and make today your best day ever.”

    All voicemails end up in my email inbox, transcribed. The fax part is important for me, as it is how I regularly communicate with IRS personnel on behalf of my clients, more so than phone, actually.

    I hope this helps somebody out there!


  10. One product that is useful for eliminating the use of paper is the Boogie Board. Basically it is a reusable eWriter. There is a version that can save what you write as well. It is made by Improv Electronics. You can find it at their site, amazon, brookstone, etc.

    Personally, I don’t see a paperless society as being a completely reachable goal. I think that paper products are still more useful in many situations. It would take generations of effort and a worldwide paradigm shift to create a totally paper free world. But I’ll definitely reduce, reuse, recycle, and find better alternatives for paper wherever possible.

    BTW, thanks for the 4 hour work week Tim. I am not yet as successful as I would like to be with the ideas in the 4HWW, but the information has been extremely helpful in my business endeavors.


  11. Recently, I moved from large city to a village with less than 3000 inhabitants. Its so silent, but I like it. Living without internet would be possible, but do not know if I want to have it.


  12. Hey Tim,
    As usual, a great read. Im not sure that I agree with the no cash thing though… too many people these days live by their credit card. With that, they feel like they have unending access to cash… which is bad.

    Gonna try out the Pinger tool though.


  13. Sensational ideas! Especially getting voice mail to inbox – that alone has saved us some time. No more keying in mailbox numbers and passwords – and i can get my messages on the go. Woo hoo!


  14. I think in 20 years or so, we won’t use currency anymore. Everyone will use debit cards and/or credit cards. You can currently get a credit card swiper that plugs into your cell phone for free. Who needs cash.


  15. @Andrew – that’s fascinating! I’ve been thinking for a while about going back to using cash – I attend a lot of underground music shows at bars and it really is horrible the idea that all of these little businesses are getting gorged by the credit companies. Plus cash transactions aren’t tracked like credit transactions are.

    Regardless of that, I much prefer it when I use debit and a transaction is immediately posted and withdrawn from my account. Not only does it cut out the middlemen (credit companies) but also helps me keep a clear idea of what i am actually spending.


  16. Doing the impossible might be possible in the future, however,
    people would have to deal with what we have right now.
    Some people doesn’t want to make a change because that’s what
    they’ve been doing for a long period of time. But change
    would make or break us. Let’s make the impossible possible! :)


  17. We can do things impossible possible. But in a third world country, it would be hard to face these challenges. Change is the only constant thing in this world, It may be difficult for some but who knows, this might make our life easier. :)