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.

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