Preparing to be Paper-Free: First Steps
UPDATE: I first wrote & published this piece on my personal site. It’s been updated before reposting here.
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Confession: if you had ever looked inside any office I had between 2006 to roughly mid 2014, you would refuse to believe I could ever declare myself to be “paperless.”
Don’t get me wrong; I was organized, and tidy. All that paper had homes in labeled folders, alphabetized and many times, color coded. But it was paper, and it was A LOT.
When I went to the corporate sector in mid-2014, I also had to move. I had binders and binders of paper, a filing cabinet, etc. During the packing process, I realized that the majority of my paper collection could be electronic, and I rage packed everything while vowing I wouldn’t move it again.
Thus began my geeky ways, and I was a woman on a mission: no more paper.
I could sing the benefits of being paperless a thousand different ways, but for me, personally, it’s the lack of “stuff.” Sure, having everything I need just a few keystrokes or mouse clicks away is awesome. I’ve become more organized, and more productive. The environmental benefits are obvious. But the biggest perk for me was, and remains, having everything I need available whenever I need it without throwing my back out lifting it or having to go through files and choosing what I need to have on me for my next meeting.
That being said, as a former paper junkie, I know taking the leap isn’t an overnight process.
Is it a worthy process? Absolutely, and one I recommend to everyone, but it’s not necessarily a quick one.
Which is why, when people ask me how to go paperless, I always recommend starting with implementing a good system. This system will go into effect immediately for all the paper you’ll continue to have roll in, and is a good framework for “catching up.” This isn’t just how you’ll handle tasks, appointments, meeting notes, and so on, but also how you’ll store your documents.
There are tons of options out there as far as how you store your files. Personally, I love Evernote. But to each their own, so any (cloud-based) secure, portable system can work. You’ll want to do your research and decide what’s the best service for you. Here are some things to consider:
- Cost — whatever system you use, you’ll need to decide how much (if anything) you’re willing to pay, and what “extras” you’ll expect in exchange for your hard-earned money.
- Security — I don’t recommend storing anything willy-nilly without taking whatever steps available to you to secure your data. Make sure the service you select can secure your data appropriately.
- Ease of Use and Integrations — Does your chosen service play nice with others? This is especially important if you’re using multiple platforms (i.e. a PC at work, but company issued iPhone). Do you use (or plan/want to use) services like Zapier or IFTTT? Do you want strictly storage or the option to take notes? Is it important to you to have access on all your devices or just a computer?
In addition to the storage options, you’ll also need a way to get all your paper documents INTO said storage. There are a few options for this — more than likely, your printer has a scanner, too. Maybe you find an app on your phone. Maybe you take the plunge and find a fancy, portable scanner that you can use. Starting out, again, it’s up to what you have access to and/or are comfortable acquiring (update: I use the stock Notes app on my iPhone when on the go, and a Doxie scanner in the office. The Doxie scanner saves so much time, is so easy to use, and can fit in a purse. Highly recommend).
Wherever you land, use it.
When you receive anything in paper format, get it into electronic format as soon as possible. And as far as all that paper you already have? Go through it and decide what you will need to keep, and what you don’t. Start scanning your “to keep” pile (I took a weekend and scanned during some Netflix binge-watching, but you could just take a small stack and scan it after work during the evenings until done). Get your “toss” pile and scanned items out of the house as soon as you can. I boxed everything up, and then swung by a community shred event with some canned goods and had it all destroyed in one fell swoop.
Lastly, you’ll need to take a few steps to cut down on your incoming paper.
The less paper you have coming in, the better you and your system will work.
- Get set-up for paperless billing or electronic communication from any business or bank you patronize.
- Get yourself off mailing lists. You can’t totally avoid getting paper in the mail, but you can cut down on the volume significantly.
- Say it loud and say it proud: tell everyone you work with that you’re going paperless. When I worked as a manager, everyone knew I preferred electronic versions of everything and generally emailed everything instead of handing me paper copies. This was a big help in significantly cutting down my incoming paper.
- Don’t print anything, anymore. I mean it. The only time you should print is if you’re required to provide a hard copy. Maybe resumes for a job interview, important letters or contracts to mail, etc. Even signing a document doesn’t require printing and scanning anymore with apps like DocuSign.
- Toss incoming paper ASAP. Put each paper you touch through a quick trial — can this be scanned and stored? Do I need a hard copy? More than likely, you don’t. Instruction manuals are usually online. Meeting notes can be scanned. Nice emails from your boss can be saved as a .pdf and stored. If you’re absolutely not sure, scan it, and then hold onto it until you feel comfortable/sure you can shred it. As you continue in the paperless lifestyle, you’ll get comfortable much faster than when you first start out (and more ruthless as a result).
Leaving my paper-heavy ways behind drastically changed my life, how I operate, and opened my world to all the apps and services out there to make life easier.
Does it make your life stress-free? No. You still have to actually DEAL with the documents coming in. But going paperless makes it much easier to manage those documents.