In my first post in this series, I addressed stopping the paper from coming into your office or home by stopping the mail. But, what about the paper you already have? To get to a paperless world, you still need to address that area.
As a side note, in my previous post, I addressed getting rid of checks and using a service like Bill.com to help address invoices, bills and payments for your business. Between that post and this one, I was a guest speaker on a Bill.com webinar, specifically discussing going paperless. You can check it out here. You’ll have to provide some basic information to access it, but I think you will find it helpful.
Digital File Cabinet
So, you’ve stopped the paper from coming in your environment. But you still have all those file cabinets. It is overwhelming to think about scanning all that paperwork in. And then, how do you keep track of it?
First, do some research to determine how to save your files. Do you need to share them with someone else or will it just be you? How are you going to back them up so that if your computer gets fried you aren’t in big trouble?
If you don’t need to share them, you can save them to your hard drive. But, make sure you have a solid backup plan. I recommend CrashPlan. I use this program to backup my hard drive “to the cloud” every night while I sleep. It is very scalable. Whether you are using it just for your family’s devices or for multiple customer solutions on multiple servers, it is a very useful tool. You can decide how often you want to backup throughout the day as well if your environment requires hourly backups, or the like.
If you do need to share your files, Dropbox or Google Drive offer some ways to share files and both services have good backup and security. Again, they are scalable. So, you can get the “free” space or you can pay a monthly fee to upgrade to more space.
After you decide how to save your files, start thinking of the structure you want to use. You can actually structure your digital folders just like you would your file cabinet if you’d like. But you might find more useful folder/subfolder setups that are allowed on the computer. Since you have a search feature, it is easier to find things. That being said, having the plan of how to file in the first place is important. Build the structure with empty folders and move them around until you are happy before you start adding files.
What About Existing Paper?
To transition from paper file cabinets to digital, you next have to decide if you want to invest the time/effort into the paper you have. You might be surprised how much of the paper is either already in a digital file, or something that you don’t need. This is obviously a scale situation as well.
In my personal quest to go paperless, I made the decision that I didn’t want to digitize some items, like old tax returns. I simply held on to those items as long as was required by law. (Please note that you can request copies of your old returns from the IRS for a fee if you ever need the older ones. Please follow your CPA’s advice on what back up records to keep and for how long.) Once they “expired”, I shredded them. I also made the commitment at the same time that I wouldn’t store anything required for tax returns on paper anymore. So, every receipt I needed to save for taxes, is now scanned and stored in a folder for that year’s purpose. Additionally, everything is filed digitally and I keep a PDF of the return. It took several years, but I have now cycled out of paper IRS tax documents.
In a business setting, you might have to make the decision if it is worth hiring a temp or a company to scan everything, name the file and save it properly. Or, again, wait until the paper is obsolete. The company I worked for from 1996 through 1999 was on the leading edge of the paperless trend and did exactly that. A company came in and scanned all of the past files and we proceeded forward doing work digitally. Keep in mind the importance of security too. What’s on those documents might help you decide how to proceed.
The bottom line is to stop making paper now and start storing it in your digital folders. Getting the old stuff moved over can come later. Next time, we’ll talk about ways to sort through the old paper and decide what to move to a digital world.