My (Almost) Paperless Office

When I moved house recently, I had to schlep a bunch of folders and files with paper documents. Looking at the pile, I realised that actually finding a document I wanted would be a very time consuming activity and all those folders would take up lots of space. Surely there's a better way...

Paper on fire picture from Shutterstock

As it turned out, moving to a paperless existence wasn't as hard as I'd initially anticipated. Here's how to get the ball rolling in four easy steps:

#1 Dealing with legacy

My first problem was dealing with all the existing paper. So, step one was tossing everything that was more than five years old. The only docs I kept were old school reports (I'm sentimental) and personal files such as birth certificates, other important identity documents and some papers from my parents.

With the rest, I organised them into folders based on year of issue so that I could dispose of them as they became un-needed. For example, the ATO requires receipts and other documents to be kept for five years.

#2 Reducing the inbound paper

The good news is many organisations will communicate with you electronically rather than mailing paper. Banks are the obvious candidates here but many government agencies will use email to let you know when a document is sent to you via MyGov.

Many utilities have online billing systems and will provide electronic bills as well. If reducing the paper is important for you, consider switching to a paperless provider.

My supplier does almost everything through an app and sends me a monthly email summarising usage, payments and changes.

#3 Dealing with inbound paper

This is the step that requires the most self discipline.

I purchased a Fujitsu ScanSnap 1300i scanner and every piece of inbound paper that I need to retain is scanned and saved.

Although I already had a multifunction printer/scanner/copier in my home office, the ScanSnap is much faster, is small enough to keep on my desk so it's handy to use, and can do a single-pass duplex scan. And it can send scans directly to my preferred storage system, Evernote, where I can search for a document as everything is indexed with OCR.

I pay for an Evernote Premium account each year so I get extra storage capacity and access to their OCR feature. Within Evernote, I've created just a few notebooks, which are my filing categories, so saved documents can be filed quickly.

Although it was tempting, initially, to get a little anal about creating lots of categories and using a lot of tagging, I've found Evernote's search is good enough for finding documents. For example, when I needed to find a receipt for a defective hard drive, I could just search for the vendor and find the receipt quickly.

As Evernote is multi-platform, I was able to show the receipt on my smartphone at the store to effect an exchange.

#4 The need for discipline

Just like a paper-based system, it's important to keep on top of the paper as it comes in. However, I've found scanning and categorising documents is far faster than putting the paper into folders.

However, I do set some time aside each week, as part of my regular admin time, to scan receipts and other documents. Otherwise, I just end up with a pile of paper on my desk.

When I was dealing with paper, I used trays — a to do tray and a filing tray. Now, I just keep a neat pile and deal with it each week as the papers aren't hidden.

What are your tricks for reducing the paper? Is there a hardware and/or software solution you like? Can you suggest ways I could refine my system? Share your thoughts and opinions in the comments.


Comments

    going paperless in a business can be super hard and often make life harder but at home I have a digital copy of just about every document I own. Good feeling having what used to fill 2x filing. cabinets now fits on a flash drive then archive the paper copies in the roof for if i ever need them.

    Its been about 12 years paperless for me....... Start basic then just keep pushing along.

    My problem was not my office it was always the other businesses that I dealt with

    Love.
    Adobe Pro
    Cubby
    Dropbox
    Scanbot
    Avision Scanners Duplex

      Could not agree with you more! We are an accountancy practice that went from partial paperless to totally paperless about 3 years ago. The resulting time saving, cost benefits and boost to staff’s willingness to be creative has been substantial. Anyone who works in a paperless office will know exactly what I am talking about. As with you our biggest issue these days tends to be other firms. accountants and auditors etc. My experience is the bigger the accounting firm the less adaptive and more archaic their office administration systems tend to be. Because they are bigger firms they tend to think they are the most professional and the most knowledgeable. This is probably very true when it comes to tax law and all its related complexity etc but as for electronic administration many of them are miles behind their small firm counterparts. You then often have to deal with an entrenched view that small firm paperless systems are not to be trusted or have limited value. This can be really frustrating when you know they have no idea what the hell one is.

    That's an awful lot of PII to be trusting to a cloud service provider. This is why I have not embraced paperless yet. I keep some local electronic copies but I'm yet to find a service/solution that is relatively easy to use and allows the ability to further encrypt my documents. I have started to test BoxCryptor with DropBox, it appears to do some of what I want. But it also means you need a good filing system as your ability to search is limited.

      Paperless - cloud sure but paperless is so much more. What about electronic signatures, interactive forms. automated processing, macro enable work papers, using MP3 and MP4's to hold/ store and communicate with clients, email merging templates, server search engines that eliminate the need to name files and put them in directories, expert type systems that give staff access to practice protocols etc?

        Funny... Im an accountant too. My thoughts exactly. The big guys think they are cutting edge but they move like glaciers. I dont use the BIG Boys software either. I had my Prof review and the guy said our systems were the best paperless he had seen in 70+ firms. Funny thing is that ours are based on virtually free software and I setup the core of it in about 1/2 hour.

    Ah, paperless - best decision ever!
    Multi digital touch points + software is the solution: Laptop, 2nd screen, iPad, on the road iPhone and my yellow note pads for brainstorming and doodling, and now that all the legacy paper is gone a ScanSnap scanner for whatever I need to get rid of (just because sometimes you simply can't stop someone from sending paper).
    I'm pretty much paperless both with my business and at home. Getting there resulted in tons of paper, books etc being digitized and then recycled.

    If you use a Mac, you can create an encrypted Disk Image (.dmg file) via Disk Utility, and store it on Dropbox. When you mount it, you can use Spotlight to search. The drawback is that this doesn't work on iOS, so you can't use your phone in a store. I think for Windows, you can use Bitlocker/Dropbox (and obviously a Surface or Pro could be taken to a store).

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