We hear so much about “going paperless” that we feel a twinge of guilt when we open a printed book or write a note on a piece of paper. But does a truly paperless office exist? Is it a goal worth achieving? Should we even try?
The answer is a conditional yes, we should move towards reducing the paper coming into our homes and offices, while recognizing that paper still has an important role in our lives.
Benefits of Paper
Let’s talk a little about the benefits of paper. It is an extraodinary medium. It’s lightweight, flexible, can be printed with thousands of typefaces in B&W and color, and its high resolution and high contrast make it easy to read. It is also tangible. We can pick it up, move it around, and spread it out. We can quickly flip through a document and pick up information. We can annotate, doodle, and make notes on a document without changing the text.
I talked in a previous blog about the merits of a messy desk. Paper can represent an array of ideas and the process of active thinking. According to The Myth of the Paperless Office, “the computer is the canvas on which documents are created, [but] the top of the desk is the palette on which bits of paper are spread in preparation for the job of writing.”
That said, it makes sense to reduce paper clutter and free up physical storage space. However, a paperless solution is not a silver bullet. It will not magically solve your office organization issues. Like any system, it requires set-up and ongoing maintenance to succeed.
Here are some things to consider as you embark on a paperless course:
Where do I start?
The best way to start is with current incoming information. Once the system is in place, you can work on the backlog.
- Set up paperless delivery with virtually all your monthly bills through their websites
- Pay online. Either pay your bills from your bank account or at the website of the vendor. You can schedule automatic payments through your bank.
- Autocharge bills to your credit card to help consolidate your bills.
- DO NOT authorize any of your creditors to draw directly from your account. Make sure you are “pushing” the payment to them.
What equipment do I need?
For receipts and other documents, you need a scanner with an automatic document feed and duplex scanning. This will allow you to scan a stack of paper and to scan both sides at once. An all-in-one printer will scan, but the software that comes with a dedicated scanner is usually superior than what comes with a printer. It’s a big job to scan old files. Use an outside service to handle any older files and documents you need to keep.
If you have a large volume of paper to shred, use a shredding service. Keep a bankers box in your office for documents to shred and when full, take it to a shredding service. For most homes and small businesses, you’ll only need a 6-10 sheet capacity that cuts documents into small pieces.
How do I organize my files?
Being paperless doesn’t mean you don’t have to organize your files. Most computers’ built-in search functions are very robust, but you still need a way to identify your files.
- You’ll need a naming convention for your files that makes sense to you. Use a date in the file name and words that will help you find it later.
- You will also need a folder structure. Since files are searchable, you don’t need a lot of sub-folders. Use broad categories (Home, Work, Projects, Activities) and let your naming convention delineate the file.
- File organizing software is available, but it is just as effective to use the Finder in Mac or Windows Explorer for PCs.
What happens if my computer crashes?
Technology can fail! You must assume that something will happen to your electronic documents if they are kept in only one place. Plan redundencies. Back up your files to two locations:
- A local external hard drive
- An offsite cloud-based service like Crashplan or Backblaze.
Some important documents still need to be saved in hard copy – marriage licenses, divorce decrees, military discharge papers, birth certificates, adoption papers, stock and bond certificates, Social Security cards, and the like. However, more and more documents can be scanned and saved electronically.
Don’t try to go paperless all at once. Let it be a gradual process so you can learn what works as you go along. It doesn’t need to be complicated, it just has to work for you.
For more information and tips on paperless systems, check out the DocumentSnap website.