Going Paperless. What do you think of when you hear that phrase?
A lot of people think of it as kind of a failed concept.
"Oh yeah, we're supposed to be going paperless - but we have more paper than we've ever had before."
But maybe they're not doing it right.
Going paperless is not just about scanning a bunch of paper and stashing it on your hard drive. It is about
- creating a reliable digital system for finding your stuff
- using the right equipment for scanning and storing
- disposing of your paper properly
- and hanging onto the paper that you really need.
So you see - going paperless doesn't mean that you need to ditch all your paper. You just need to be more intentional with what you have.
What Does Going Paperless Mean?
The formal definition? Creating an environment where the use of paper documents is eliminated or reduced.
To make it happen, you convert your paper documents into a digital format (and round file the papers that you really don't need).
Open Your Mind to The Digital Mindset
Before you even get to the mechanics of going paperless, try and come to terms with the digital mindset.
If you are not truly ready to ditch the paper completely, that's ok. But you have to be open to reducing the paper in your life and storing it in a digital format.
For your paperless system to work you need to find digital storage that you are comfortable with and that you can trust.
This storage could be Dropbox, Google Drive, a home based cloud drive like the WD MyCloud EX2, or even the hard drive on your computer. (And make sure to make regular back ups!)
If you don't trust your system, you will end up creating a digital file but you will also hang onto the piece of paper.
So now, not only will you have paper clutter, you will also have digital clutter.
Just make sure you trust your system.
Gather a Few Necessary Tools
You will need a bit of equipment to make going paperless easier.
- a storage destination for your digital files
- a reliable backup solution
- a plan to organize your digital files so you can find them when you need them
- a high speed scanner - I like the Fujitsu ScanSnap IX500 for this
Create a Paperless Plan
Now it is time to get started!
1. Assess your comfort level
Remember, you don't have to go completely paperless all at once.
Let's say you think going paperless is a good idea, but you are a bit skeptical do a test run on a small aspect of your life.
You could start with one area of concentration. In a home office - it could be a particular type of bill or a specific bank account, or even kids artwork - etc.
2. Choose your scanning equipment.
Usually, this consists of :
- a newish computer,
- a fast sheetfed scanner that can scan two sides of a sheet of paper at once - like the ScanSnap iX500
- and a powerful paper shredder (don't be tempted by the small ones that overheat).
I know that a good scanner is a big investment. But if you are serious about going paperless - it is a necessary purchase.
You might be tempted to use a flatbed scanner that is part of an all in one printer - but these scanners are generally very slow. They are good for photographs but take too long for documents.
The software that you use is also important at this stage. Generally, if you just plan to scan to your home computer, then the software that comes with the ScanSnap will be perfect. But make sure that your operating system is up to date and works with ScanSnap.
3. Pick your storage.
You will need to decide whether you want to store your scans on a hard drive or server in your office or "in the cloud".
Both of these choices then need to be broken down further - so you can purchase the hardware or subscribe to the right cloud storage option.
4. Create a disaster proof back up system.
A paperless system is only as good as it's backup.
If you decide you are going paperless with important files - then you will need to make sure that they survive should disaster strike.
This usually means having at least two backups - one at home (like Apple Time Machine) and one offsite in the cloud (using a service like BackBlaze)
5. Organize your digital files.
Even if you have a plan for where to store your digital files you need to have a plan for how to name them so you can find them.
So many people say - I scan the paper but I don't know where it goes.
That's a problem.
6. Document your workflow.
Whether you are a one-person home office or a large company - you need to write down a workflow for how a piece of paper should be handled.
Once that paper comes in the door
- where does it go?
- who handles it?
- who scans it?
- how often does scanning happen?
- once it's on the computer - how does it get named and filed?
- what to that piece of paper once it is processed?
7. Securely shred the paper that you don't need
This is the whole point, right? Get rid of the paper that you scan so it doesn't clutter up your home.
8. Special Considerations
Some industries have strict rules about digital files.
Sometimes digital copies aren't good enough for court etc. You need to consult with the proper regulating agencies or counsel in these circumstances.
Also, you should hold onto the original document when it comes important life documents like birth certificates and social security cards etc.
What you need to know about file types before you go paperless.