The paperless home office almost feels like the impossible to some people, to others it’s a dream come true. The key to the paperless office is to maintain your systems and tweak it as necessary. The key concepts are planning, a system, maintaining, and dealing with the oddballs.
#1 Planning a Paperless Home Office
Like any new project, starting with developing a plan based on your desired outcome. This is the first step to achieving your goal. Create a goal and set the date you want to get the paperless office in place.
Start off by thinking how to use your all in one copier or your Smartphone to snapshot all your documents. You may find parts of this process that are not as effective so you adjust the system as you go. For example, not all phone apps are the same the same as not all scanners are the same. Find one that works with you not against.
Once you start to identify the type of information you would like to have paperless, then start building the process. This will also adjust as you get moving.
While planning, think about how information comes to you, e.g.,
- Email printouts
- Physical mail
- Notes from meetings, school
- Your calendar
- Information that is unique to you
#2 The System for a Paperless Home Office
Once you start to identify what needs to be digitally organized, you can start to focus on what type of system will support your needs. Once you start putting the system in place, you will be on your way towards a paperless office.
Think about the system. Will your phone app allow you to combine scans of documents that are the same type? What format will the scan be in PDF, JPG, or can you pick?
If you are going the scanner route will your all in one home printer be able to accommodate all the sizes of paper, big small, handwritten notes, etc, that you would like to convert to digital?
Steps to Work Through to Create a Paperless Process.
Mail will take time to evaluate. As you receive mail, ask yourself whether or not it is possible that you can set up an arrangement for ongoing mail, i.e., bills, homeowner’s newsletters, even coupon mailers from your favorite retail store, to be sent to you via email?
It will take time as it’s not always so easy to just sign up and have it all physical mail diverted to email. A lot of the times you just need to set up an online account with the company. Be patient here, in the long run, it will be worth the effort.
Email and Computer Files
Even though they are essentially digital and paperless already, a system for the organization of your email and computer folders are critical to keeping you sane. Take the time to organize and create folders with a naming system. This will allow quick access to scanned files as well as emails all in one location.
This opens up the ability to digitally scan files vs digging out old boxes or through filing cabinets. This makes it much easier to locate the information you need when you need it.
Storage and Backup Storage
You may have limited storage space on your computer. Do you think this has been holding you back from the paperless office?
There are great options for synchronizing files to online Cloud-based storage solutions.
Free services are available like Google Drive, Dropbox, iCloud, SpiderOak, and Microsoft OneDrive to name a few. If you decide to keep information in the cloud, remember to back it up.
If you are one of those against cloud storage hey I get that. A large capacity hard drive backup can be purchased easily these days for under $100 – such an inexpensive price to protect your livelihood. That computer you thought had limited space, now has unlimited space. (up to the size drive you get)
#3 Get Started and Maintain a System
With the plan, process and system in place, just get started. The files have been identified and the tools needed to start are in place. Everything is ready for you to start going paperless.
Remeber, the paperless home office will only be as effective as the user. Make sure you add the paperless process to your daily to-do list or routine to keep you on track and organized with the new system.
Start with What is on the Desk
Assuming you now have a scanner or cell phone and app in hand, act as if you are filing papers into your normal filing system. Ask yourself before scanning, is this something that is actionable? Does this need the physical paper, or is it something that once filed digitally and it would be just as good in the digital format?
What Not to Scan What to Scan
An example of something you might not scan would be, the vehicle registration renewal from the DMV that you are required to have in your car at all times. This will not be helpful digitally and is necessary to stay in its physical format.
An example of something you might want to scan. You receive a receipt as confirmation your taxes were paid on your vehicle and your registration is on its way. Any confirmation of a bill being successfully paid is a great example of what to scan.
Ongoing Maintenance of Scanning
The maintenance becomes as basic as how you managed the filing of your physical papers. Be assured eventually, it will all be synchronized and almost second nature. One day it will take little to no time to keep current. It also gets easier as you’ll have less to convert once you keep up with the process.
Bonus to getting started and Maintaining your Paperless Home Office
First is the ease and accessibility once you have the system in place. For professionals who work at home, imagine how easy and productive it becomes when needing a file right away for a client or customer. The ability to tap a few keys to search vs digging through draws, boxes, or stacks of paper to find that file.
You can now find that digital file and share it with them via an online storage system or send as an attachment with email. All without effort, your system is in place.
Even if you’re not a working professional, you may want to access the files of the receipts or warranties for your car without climbing into the attic. The digital files will be available and you even can have access from your smartphone.
#4 The Oddballs How to Handle
This is where the creative people get really organized with the paperless home office. This topic is where the electronic world comes alive.
Notebooks Going Paperless
Notebooks are used for every project, sketch, idea, list, meeting, personal journal, you name it. Not only is this a lot of paper, we all forget or lose the notebook and end up buying another. Also, the frustration knowing the information is somewhere else but unable to find it when you really need it.
This is where apps come in handy. There are apps that hold notebooks for you digitally, you can either dictate or type in your notes once the system is set up. All those old notebooks scattered around your house, you know the ones you can still find, can be uploaded.
Based on your needs, you’ll need to research which app is best for you. For starters, favorites include Asana, Basecamp, Evernote. For the more visual person, there are apps like Casual.
Just Google “productivity apps” and you’ll be sure to find one that works for you.
Calendar Going Paperless
Use an app like Google Calendar. There are others, of course, just find one you can work with. Find one that allows you to share. Now when you set an appointment it can automatically notify everyone on your shared list.
Also, calendars like Google Calendar not only remind you but can email you about upcoming events scheduled. You have the option to set up multiple reminders notices. This comes in very handy for appointments with dates set far into the future.
For example, you can set a one-week reminder that you have a dentist appointment coming up. You can then get a 2nd reminder the day before the appointment about that same dentist appointment.
Receipts Going Paperless
Receipts can become cumbersome and frustrating. This is never truer when you need to refer to them but can’t find them. Then later you always find out it was stuck in a pocket or squished in your wallet.
Those odd sized pesky pieces of paper can be handled several ways. If the retailer offers to send it to you via email, jackpot, these are the best retailers. More retailers are going this direction which is great for us.
You can also use a scanner specific for receipts, although these days most scanners can handle the different sizes. Some are even super savvy and will organize your receipts to help with business or tax expenses by categories.
Create a receipts folder on your hard drive. Break it up into subfolders like hardware, grocery, gas, restaurant etc. This will not only help to manage these receipts but also when it comes time for doing taxes.
For example, file a gas receipt under Finances 2017 > Receipts > then the file labeled gas. This is where you save the Costco Auto Fuel receipt. You get the idea.
Having folders set up will also be where those emails that have receipts get filed. Remeber to save those emails with receipts to your new folders. Otherwise, you may forget you DO have the receipt but didn’t realize it was still in your email inbox.
Going paperless in a home office and moving to the digital world brings lots of frustration to some people and lots of joy and convenience to others. Once you overcome any fears and learn about how much easier and organized your life can be, you will be happy you joined the paperless technology world. If you have been a techie all along and haven’t taken the time yet to get your systems in place, there’s no time like the present. No matter what level you’re at, just get started and begin reaping the rewards with more time, organization, and peace of mind.