Going paperless is something we’ve wanted to do for years but like most people, we just kept putting it off. Being able to live without unnecessary physical clutter is key to living a minimalist lifestyle.
With our recent move to a smaller flat, we had to look closely at how we could get rid of things to save on space. Looking at piles of old paperwork, I knew it was time to find a solution to our paper problem.
We’re proud to say that within four days, we were 100% paperless, and it felt AMAZING!
Now we can easily find documents we need from anywhere in the world and we have systems in place to continue being paperless on the go. It’s a beautiful thing, and we want to share the process with you so you can also achieve paper freedom.
By the end of this post you’ll know exactly how to go from stacks of paperwork to paperless within a few days. The process involves a little bit of technology, but we assure you, once you get the hang of it, you’ll get on a roll and it will be hard to turn back to your old file management system.
Let’s get into it.
Step 1 – Decide where you want to store your files
There are are few ways to approach this.
First you need to decide where you’re going to store your documents. Are you going to use cloud-based storage such as Dropbox, Google Drive, One Drive or iCloud Drive, or are you going to use a hard drive on your computer or externally?
Here’s a quick breakdown of each option:
On the surface, storing files on your computer makes perfect sense. In fact you probably already have files on there for things like music, resumes, photo assignments. You can easily continue this trend and create additional folders for the rest of your documents.
However, this option is highly dependent on the storage capacity of your computer. Once your hard drive reaches full capacity, your computer will start slowing down. You also have to be at your computer to access your information which can be inconvenient if you’re out and your computer is at home. Thirdly, if something goes horribly wrong with your computer (touch wood), you risk losing all of your important documents. So it’s important that you regularly backup your files onto external storage. That brings us to the next option.
External storage comes in a variety of forms including, CDs, USB sticks and mobile phones. These are all great for when you need to transfer data from one device to another, however these devices have limited storage capacity. Well, for now anyway. A more appropriate option for going paperless is an external hard drive.
You can buy a 1 Terra Byte (TB) hard drive for around $80USD and this is more than enough storage for the average person. If you carry hundreds of large files, like videos, you may need to go for more capacity.
When setting up your system, you can scan files directly onto your external hard drive. You can then place your hard drive in a secure location and pull it out when you need to use it. It’s also portable, so you can travel with it and plug it into multiple devices. It’s separate from your computer, so if you get hit with a virus, your files will not be affected.
The main risk with external hard drives is in fact that you can easily lose it. Also, it may not be with you when you need it the most, which can be a little frustrating. Having said that, most of us have the patience to wait until we get back home.
Our last recommendation is cloud storage. You can use apps like dropbox and Google Drive to store your files in the cloud. It works similar to a computer or external storage—however you’ll be required to login, to access your information. The main benefit of cloud storage is that you can access it from anywhere, as long as you have an internet connection and access to the apps. Cloud storage apps are readily available on smartphones as well as tablets, which includes iOS and Android. This is great, as you can take your files with you on the go.
Another benefit of cloud storage is the ability to share information with others. For example, instead of sending your accountant a shoebox full of paperwork, you can simply give them access to your tax folder in Google Drive. This will make your accountants job easier which will in effect save you money in terms of billable hours.
We personally use Google Drive for our file management system because we like the convenience of being able to access our documents on the go.
Step 2 – How to organise your electronic files
How you setup your files is completely up to you, and what I’m about to show you is what works best for me.
I have four main folders which include multiple subfolders. My main folders are:
- Documents – this is where I store the bulk of my personal files including tax papers, receipts etc.
- Photos – this is where I store all of my personal photos and images.
- Guides & Resources – this is where I store books, resources and tools that I’d like to read later.
- Business – this is where I store all of my files which relate to business related activities.
Here’s a breakdown of my subfolders:
- Careers – resumes, job applications, cover letters etc
- Education – school assignments, subject outlines, transcripts, certificates
- Identification – passport, driver’s licence, citizenships, birth certificates
- Purchases – receipts and warranties
- Tax – receipts, work papers, payment summaries, tax returns, spreadsheets
- Other – other random documents that I want to refer back to
- Nights out
- Michael & Masha
- Guides & Resources
- Customer service
- Systems management
- Content marketing
- Growing a team
Some folders have another level of subfolders but overall, I like to have four main folders, as it keeps my dashboard nice and minimal 😉
Spend time thinking about how you want to organise your files. If you’re stuck for ideas, a good place to look is your existing paper filing system. Do you currently use folders with tabs? If so, you could recreate your tabs in your electronic filing system.
Another place to look at is your folders in your email inbox. Quite often we organise emails into different folders so we can easily access them when needed. You could use similar files names in your electronic filing system.
Step 3 – How to scan your documents using your smartphone
Mobile technology has revolutionised the way we live. Besides, making phone calls and using email, I’d say that scanning documents would be one of the most useful functions of a smartphone.
For a long time, I put off going paperless, as I thought I’d have to stand by the printer for hours on end scanning paperwork. It’s when I discovered that I could use my iPhone instead of my printer, is when I got motivated to finally get rid of my paper clutter. The ability to scan documents on the go was intriguing.
Think about when you purchase a new television. With a traditional scanner, you would take the warranty papers and receipt home, you would most likely put it in your box to “deal with later”. With a smartphone, you can quickly scan your purchase documents even before you get in the car to go home. Once it’s saved onto your cloud storage system, you can shred the physical copies and essentially forget about it. Pretty good, huh?
There are a few ways to scan documents using your smartphone or tablet device. I’m not going to go into all of the options here, but you should know that even though you can take photos of documents using your phone camera, you might find it hard to resize the document for easy reading.
We use a special app called Scanner Pro. It’s available on iPhone and iPad for US$3.97. There are alternative apps for Android, just search for scanners in the Play Store. Check out this quick 60 second video on how Scanner Pro works.
The thing we love about Scanner Pro is the ability to effortlessly scan documents of differently shaped and sized documents by taking a photo. The software auto-detects the size of the document before shooting. You can also quickly name your documents and have it automatically upload to your cloud storage system.
Update – the pre-installed notes app on iOS 11 can now scan documents.
Step 4 – Allocate your files
Once you’ve scanned all of your documents into your cloud storage system, it’s just a matter of allocating your files into the relevant folders you set up in Step 2.
Step 5 – Go paperless!
This is the fun part. After your scanning session, you’ll likely have a decent stack of paperwork. It’s easy to get lazy and throw your documents straight into the recycling bin. I know, because I’m guilty of this. However, when dealing with bank statements, tax papers, identification and other important documents, it’s crucial that you take the time to shred your paper before recycling.
If you don’t have a shredder, see if you can go to your local stationary store, school, or workplace and use theirs. If worse comes to worse, rip up your documents using your hands.
Your process for going paperless
Have you got your paperwork under control or are you taking the necessary steps to get there? If so, share your experiences in the comments below.