Do you have a paperless office? Yeah, neither do I. But I have a "there's hardly any paper lying around" office, and it isn't because I have neatly filed every scrap of paper in a filing cabinet. In fact, I got rid of my filing cabinet in my last move because all the paper I need to file and keep fits in one drawer that is the bottom of my printer stand. Hey. OTHER people like to have paper.
If you are a paper hoarder, why? I love, love, love recycling almost everything. Some things you have to keep, and I won't go through them. Ask your attorney, accountant, advisors, and other professions, apparently, that start with A. Most things can run through a scanner and be chucked into a recycling bin with zero worries.
What? I hear the murmors. What about...? I was dubious too, when I got rid of my first pile of paper. Here were my worries.
- I might need it.
- My hard drive might crash.
- I won't be able to find it when I need it.
- Someone else might need it.
- But I've always done it this way.
The last one was the worst. If you're an organizer, as I am, FOR SOME THINGS, it is actually scary to think of not having your neatly tabbed and labeled drawers and boxes of paperwork. That is a mental change that argument will not help. For the others, how many times have you actually needed something that was filed, and how many times out of those were you able to find it? For me, the answer was "not very often" to both. As for the hard drive issue, your hard drive will crash. Anyone who has a computer should have a secondary and tertiary backup system, one of which is off site. Because I have a computer, I have those, so I am confident I can get stuff back when my hard drive crashes. If someone else needs a paper copy of an electronic document, I print it, or, more often, discover they're planning to scan and electronically file it themselves so I e-mail them a PDF.
(If this talk of backups, PDFs, and scanners is making you want to stick a needle in your eye, fine. You may be better off with manila folders. Everyone else has no excuse.)
Going as paperless as possible is just a good idea. It saves space and clutter at home, it lets you recycle stuff there's a 0.005% chance you'll ever look at again, and it dramatically increases the chance you can find it if you do need to look at it again. Something electronically filed is something searchable. There is really no reason to avoid a paperless system unless you're a committed luddite or cannot be trusted to back up your data (bad! bad! coal in your stocking!).
How to do it, I could tell you, but others have done so already. Google it. I use Evernote and Dropbox and a ScanSnap scanner and go from there. In fact I am a geek, so I have automated processes set up that use Hazel and TextExpander on my Mac to make my life really, really easy.
Picture this: I have a document from Really Important Company (RIC) that sends me statements every now and then. I put the whole 3 duplex pages in my ScanSnap and press a button. Pages shoot out. My PDF reader opens the document in a new window, and I press three keys to start my geek sequence. After that all I type is the filename, and the document is magically filed into the RIC folder on Dropbox (or sometimes a notebook in Evernote) and the subfolder 2013.
Paperlessness now involves bonuses such as handwriting recognition. Bloggers and tech writers have penned much on the topic, so search out the experts and take what you want. Total geekery is not required, but some geekery probably is.
Evernote (http://evernote.com) can end a lifetime of pulling crumpled receipts and business cards out of the bottom of a bag in despair (oh, you don't do that?). Now it even has a special business card scan function for smartphones. It is available on Mac and Windows, as well as smartphones and the Web, and it has a usable free plan. Its fabulousness cannot be overstated.
Dropbox (http://getdropbox.com) syncs documents across computers and smartphones. Get the free layer, and after you're totally addicted to it, you'll end up with the paid plan, and it'll be worth every penny.
The ScanSnap (I went from least to most expensive on purpose) is a real bite out of a budget, so look, it's near Christmas. Fujitsu makes several models, including tiny portable ones. I have an old S300M that I've had for at least 5 years, and it's still working great. Trust me: if you think, "I don't need to scan enough to need a sheet feeder," you're wrong. Using a flatbed scanner to scan reams of paper throughout the years will make you batty. Even one long document would make me jettison the whole paper-free idea. I suppose there are other good sheet feeders, but the ScanSnap is so hassle free I just recommend it to everyone.
Imagine being able to just run all your mail through a ScanSnap and know that if you really need to know when you paid your Visa bill last month and what was on it or what your insurance said it would pay for that accident, you can pull it up on your smartphone at Panera if you need to. Pretty handy. Cutting down on paper clutter is a decent go-to for a New Years resolution, too.
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