The Complete Guide to Going Paperless


No, I won’t start with the hackneyed remarks like “you need to save environment”, “go green” and all. Let’s just forget the environment for a moment and think about ourselves. Going paperless actually makes you more productive.

Just think about the times when you spent hours trying to find that one super-important note in the huge pile of documents, notes, files and what not. Had that note been stored somewhere on your computer, it would have taken seconds to locate it, isn’t it.

This article explores various aspects of going paperless; why you need to do it, what tools could help you do that and the process to follow. People working at big corporations might not be able to go paperless completely, because companies have their own rules on use of resources. But, I suggest them to read it nevertheless.

So…Why Go Paperless?

Digital is omnipresent.
Digital technology has come a long way. You can store an entire movie in that small cellphone of yours. And the good thing is there are tools and apps that can sync your information across various devices. Your data is safe.

It reduces clutter.
A clean and clutter-free workspace not only looks good, but, also has a positive impact on the mind of the person who’ll work there. With no clutter around, you tend to be more focused towards your work and get more done.

Better data protection and security.
It’s hard to recover information from a piece of paper once it’s destroyed (unless you know people who work in forensic labs). But data can be recovered if your computer goes haywire. You could also store everything on the cloud and not worry about data loss ever.

It saves money.
You’d realize how much you are saving when you stop buying those files and A4 sheets.

It helps you go green.
Saving the environment isn’t bad either. When there’s so much talk about going green, why not try to contribute as much as you can towards preserving natural resources.

Okay, so now that you are convinced going paperless is the way ahead, lets talk about the main tools you’d need to begin with the process.

Tools That Will Help

Your computer.
Your computer is where it begins. You gotta transfer the data and organize it there. You should also decide what are the applications you’d need that’d replace your need for using paper.

Your mobile phone.
You’d use your cellphone to store important notes, contacts and other small bits of information, which you usually write in stickies.

Your iPad or iPod Touch.
Didn’t we tell you that you could also use your iPad to lower your carbon footprint? Make use of it in the process of going paperless.

An external drive for data backup.
Although there are online storage options available, it is important that you back it up on an external hard disk too.

A scanner.
A scanner would help you quickly transfer data from paper to PC, especially if you’ve got a huge number of files and documents.

A paper shredder.
Finally, you would need a shredder to dispose of the paper. Well, you could also do that manually, but in case you have access to a shredder, using that would be a better option.

How to Go Paperless

Set aside time.
Going paperless is easier said than done. You should set aside time, in fact, a day if possible to get this work done.

Choose and organize.
Now begins the cumbersome (and boring) part. You need to carefully divide the documents into useful and not necessary. You’d be surprised to find how much trash you’ve got once you start organizing the stuff.  You would also need to create different folders on your computer, and other devices so that the clutter isn’t transferred from your desk to your hard drive.

Start the upload and backup.
Done organizing? Great, now start the process of transferring data and making it go digital. Also, back it up on the external drive as you save it on your computer. No point delaying the backup.

Do a final check.
Go through the papers as well as the data on the computer/cellphone/iPad to see if they match and you haven’t missed anything. Also, check the non-essential list of items again to confirm that all of it is useless.

Shred what’s not needed.
Pat yourself on the back, you have successfully accomplished the herculean task of going paperless and de-cluttering your workspace. Now, just get rid of all the useless documents to give a sparkling clean look to your workspace! Make it look beautiful!

Feel free to share your tips, suggestions and how going paperless has helped you below.


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Abhijeet Mukherjee is the editor of Guiding Tech, a blog that publishes in-depth articles and tutorials on all things tech, including mobile news and tutorials. He's been into web working since 2008 and continues to enjoy each day of it. He loves to interact with people so hit him up on Twitter.

Discussion

  1. Rares on the 20th July

    It’s amazing to see how many people still use the DTF (Dead Tree Format) in the current context of our environmental genocide.

    Great article!

  2. Tom on the 20th July

    Going paperless is definitely a goal worth striving for. But, depending on where you live, you might be required to keep certain documents in their original paper format for a number of years.

    Most of my own papers are related to my business and I have to store that stuff for up to ten years. Tax authorities will not accept pure digital documents, I need to be able to produce the originals in case of an audit.

    So, at least for now, going paperless is unrealistic. Someday most or all communication may very well work purely digitally and signed PDFs or other data formats will be widely accepted. But until then I still need my IKEA expedit to hold all my folders 😉

  3. Ashley Hill on the 20th July

    I have almost everything digitally, however I do keep taxes on file, as well as contracts with clients. I usually have them signed online, but I like to keep a printed copy *just in case,* especially if something comes up.

    Being paperless is awesome, makes it easier to move and organize things (moving digital folders instead of real ones) and if someone needs a file, you can email it rather than mailing it and hoping you get it back.

    Does anyone have a good suggestion on keeping files online for clients to access? IE contracts, proposals, etc. Of course I’d only want the client to be able to get their files…

    • Kim, Portland, OR on the 20th July

      Evernote would be great for that. If you make a notebook for each client and then right click on the notebook, you can choose to share or collaborate with just them (using their email address). In my mind, like Erik notes below, Evernote is all you need to go paperless.

    • Kim Røen on the 20th July

      Dropbox and Evernote both have this capability :)

  4. raph82 on the 20th July

    What about drafts? I use them when I need to clear my mind: drawing relationships, summing up key reasoning points… It feels better to (pen)write it down than to type it, doesn’t it?
    I guess paper drafts could be replaced by a graphic tablet. How much paper is worth such a tablet, in money, CO2 and all?
    I think the best alternative is a white board, if you could hang it close to you: easy to write on, to clear, and limited clutter.

    • Abhijeet Mukherjee on the 20th July

      Yeah, a white board would make sense in that case. Good point.

  5. Erik Jansson on the 20th July

    While my workspace never was cluttered to begin with, I still try and be as paperless as possible.

    The only tool I use for the job is Evernote (evernote.com). I recommend it to anyone wanting to go paperless. What appeals to me about it is that it syncs perfectly across all my devices and it makes images (in this case scanned documents) completely searchable. Best thing since sliced bread.

    – Erik

  6. Joe Pekula on the 20th July

    Good article. I’m printing it out now for safe keeping. HAH!

    • Peter North on the 20th July

      Haha. That’ll show ’em.

    • Abhijeet Mukherjee on the 20th July

      LOL..thanks! :)

  7. Andy on the 20th July

    This article forgets to mention what really takes time in this process… because it’s not the initial transfer, but the change of habits. I would conservatively guestimate it to be on the other of 18-36 months from initiating such a radical change until it has become natural and your not spending a lot of time on trying to stay paperless.

    Good luck. It’s not something that should be taken lightly.

    Reducing paper, however, is!

    • Abhijeet Mukherjee on the 20th July

      Well, I thought change in habit is understood. Of course it’ll take time and I agree that for someone who has never tried, it’ll be difficult.

  8. WP Rockers on the 21st July

    I use Google apps for my domains and it’s saving me papers and time. Everything I do, like documents, proposal, emails, contacts, budgets etc. are using Google Apps.

    Everyone should use the standard version if they can’t afford the paid premium service. Thats the secret of my paperless life

  9. Shawn on the 21st July

    I am currently in the process of going paperless. Purchased a Neat desktop scanner. It automatically detects fields on my receipts like the date, the vendor and the amount to make them searchable in its database.

    Our tax agency in Canada now accepts digital versions of receipts in place of the original paper copies. It sure beats the 7 years of paper files!

  10. Barbara Hemphill on the 21st July

    I just read an article that BMW corporation has been trying to get its dealers to go paperless for 9 years, and it’s just now beginning to happen. Dealers were reluctant to try new things, and some of the documents they need, such as driver’s licenses and extended warranties are still not available electronically. That’s a perfect example of what our company sees everyday as we help people implement what we call Almost Paperless™. They feel blocked by what they can’t do, Instead of focusing on what they can do to go paperless and get started!

  11. Eivind on the 23rd July

    I wonder how it’s more environmentally friendly to scan all your paper and have it digital. Your still consuming the same amount of paper, plus the extra resources you use at your computer..
    And your’e not even recycling the paper..

    • Abhijeet Mukherjee on the 23rd July

      You are supposed to scan just once and then discard the paper. That’s how you go paperless. I didn’t mean using paper as well as computer ( and the scanner each time).

    • Douglas Lee on the 2nd March

      I agree. Going paperless has its advantages. Better organization, less clutter, etc.. However, scanning does not, in and of itself, reduce the use of paper.

      Don’t get me wrong, I am trying to go paperless myself for the convenience factor. But I realize scanning a document is not reducing paper consumption. Changing to paperless billing does.

  12. Kate on the 14th August

    Loved the paperless idea, but as most readers of this article also mentioned before me, tax agency wants all documents in the original paper format.
    I m a civil engineer and my work life is full of prints (mostly in oversized A0)
    Over the last 3 years, I try not to keep paper copies of drawings but print only the ones that is absolutely necessary… an a recycle a LOT!
    Hopefully, many clients nowadays prefer to take a look first at a pdf file through their mail and discuss their views through phone first… and print only the final project on paper (I prefer to do some extra calls, than to have useless meetings with clients that consume time – and paper).
    And I use my scanner a lot… digital copies can save u, if u accidentally spill coffee on your paper notes….

  13. Christopher on the 15th August

    I’ve been searching for a client friendly method to deliver and get sign off on contracts in a paperless fashion. Anyone out there have a resource for such things?

  14. Doug on the 17th August

    Great list.

    The only thing I would add to the list is a universal document viewing client.

    Our company, Snowbound Software, has been moving toward the ‘paperless office’ for some time as we are in the document management business and have created a web (AJAX document viewer) and an applet viewer, as well as software development kits.

    Keeping up with all of the various formats like AFP, PDF, TIFF and MO:DCA. is extremely important. Check out the “a href=”http://www.snowbound.com/viewer_configurations/viewercomparisonchart.html”>formats we support if you’re interested!

    Great post!

  15. Greg Lam on the 18th March

    I did a video interview with a paperless pro. You can check it out at http://www.smallbusinessdoer.com/how-to-go-paperless-with-a-digital-filing-system/

    He talks about figuring out a workflow, how to manage your documents, making searchable PDFs, naming your files well, and most important, backing it all up!

  16. Hugh Kimura on the 19th February

    I agree with the comments on Evernote. It is super easy to take pictures of my deposit slips and file them away before I get home. There are also a lot of interesting ways to recycle your shredding from composting to creating paper bricks that can be used for a fireplace.

  17. Eric Johnson on the 9th May

    For business solutions, including small/medium businesses, large corporations hospitals, labritories, higher education or manufacturing and more, an organization could use our RICAR software suite. It utilizes either an onsite server, hosted cloud service or both to help your company with all content listed in this article.

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