My Paperless Plan

That’s it. My home office is going paperless. I bought a Fujitsu ScanSnap and have already scanned in my business cards and debate flows, and I’m on my way to a clutter free desk.

Paper Mess

I’m a publisher. Paper has been very good to me. I own an extremely nice and expensive printer. You’d think I would be a stubborn goat and resist the coming paperless trend. But not this publisher. I’m all in.

A few people have come into my life who have persuaded me that paperless is the way to go:

  1. Michael Hyatt said in a recent online video, “Paper doesn’t survive long in my office.” He blogs about his paperless life and recently had a guest blog about the zen-like freedom of it. I had the privilege of visiting his office through one of his online presentations. I have grown to envy his cleanliness and productivity.
  2. Ken Davis wrote an hilarious rebuttal to Michael Hyatt’s post. He, like me, has an affinity toward paper, but at the same time has a quirky admiration for the idea of a paperless life. I told Ken I bought a scanner, and he wants to hear how it goes.
  3. Dan Hayes, together with his wife, Vanessa, run a podcast called Simple Life Together. I met Dan at Michael and Ken’s Platform Conference in February. I’ve been listening to their podcasts and admiring their simple and fun attitude to simplifying life.

So I’m in. Already rolling along nicely. I suppose there are many advantages to a paperless office.

For me, I see one: the ability to retrieve. Once my paper files are digitized and stored, I am much better able to retrieve them with simple searches on my computer. No more wondering where something is stuffed away. A simple search should bring it up.

It’ll take a lot of work, but I believe it will be worth it. This takes a plan. You’re welcome to join me in this. Here it is.

1. Pull a file.

Yesterday I pulled our natural gas file. You probably have a file like this in your file cabinet. I never think about it much. I get the bill in the mail, open it, log into my online banking (I’ve abandoned check-writing long ago, didn’t you?), pay the bill, throw away the junk in the letter, and file the paid bill away marked as “paid.”

In my gas bill file, I had over a hundred bills stacked up in a row. I’ve been stuffing the file since 2000 when we moved to Colorado. Who knows, perhaps someday I’ll need a record of my $50 gas bill from ten years ago. (Don’t laugh at me!) The file was about 1-1/2 inches thick.

2. Digitize the paper files.

I have a nice scanner-copier for my business, so it’s easy for me. I stacked my gas bills up in the side feeder, pressed a few buttons, and scanned 112 pages of bills. This converted everything to a 52 MB PDF file. Eat your heart out. Owning a publishing company has its perks, and a scanner-copier that scans 55 pages per minute is sweet.

Finding a scanner-copier that works as fast as mine may be difficult, but they are becoming popular. (Michael Hyatt posted about this here.) Besides, there are services that provide this for people. Your local copy store will digitize files for you and burn a CD of data just as you want.

3. Store the files.

This is where a specific program comes in: Evernote. If you don’t have Evernote, you need to get it. There is a free version that runs just as nicely as the premium version. Here is a podcast that explains it better than I have ever heard. Give Evernote a try.

I’m drawing a line in the sand of my life. Pre-2013 was my “papered” life. From now on, I’m living a “paperless” life. When paper enters my office, I immediately store the paper into Evernote in a retrievable file system. I won’t go into the details of how I organize my files, but all-in-all it resembles my file cabinet folders.

Except with this handy-dandy feature: I can search with the search box. No more thumbing through files. The premium version of Evernote even scans all your documents and makes even hand-written notes searchable. Evernote is an incredible tool to keep all your files neat and tidy.

4. Shred, baby, shred.

I have a Bulldog Shredder able to gobble up 25 pages at a time. It’s a lot of fun, and my kids run into the office when they hear the Bulldog revving up. They know how to safely shred Daddy’s documents into the magical shredding machine. It’s good home-office bonding time with the kids.

Shredding is necessary. If you don’t own a shredder, consider getting one. The same copy service you got to scan your documents probably has a shredding service, too. Don’t just throw your bills in the garbage. They hold personal information that you wouldn’t want Guido the Landfill Guy to get a hold of.

5. Figure out the paperless route.

Evernote is great to get the paper to the digital, but many companies are trying to make it even easier. It just so happened that my gas bill had an invitation to go paperless. Right there, on the front of my bill, right next to an image of a tree to shame me into thinking I would be “saving” the environment if I “saved” the gas company money to opt out of an mailed letter every month. (There’s an ironic joke there somewhere: a natural gas company encouraging me to be good to the environment.) I’ve ignored the invitation for years, perhaps just like you. I read the fine print and learned that my gas company could (1) draw my total directly from my bank account every month on the day it’s due and (2) send me an email bill to replace my paper bill.

I followed the steps in a few short minutes, and now I won’t ever receive a paper bill again. Since the money draws from my account on the day it’s due, I will actually save some money because I’ll keep it for as long as I can before the bill is due. And I won’t have to scan the bill into my Evernote, either. When I get my first bill next month via email, I’ll be sure to set up an email filter so I won’t have to give it a second of my thought.

To think, I spent about 10 minutes every month to (1) retrieve and open my bill, (2) log into my bank, (3) type in the exact amount I owed, (4) press send, (5) waste time considering the junk advertising that comes with the bill before throwing it away, and (6) find my file in my file cabinet to file the paper bill away. I did some quick math. Over 10 years, I spent a total of 20 hours paying my gas bill. In 2020, I think I’ll take a 1/2 week vacation to celebrate the time saved.

6. Move to the next file.

Evernote allows 1 GB of memory to be stored every month (the free version allows 2MB). I’ve been scanning like a mad dog. My goal is that by year’s end, all my files will be digitally filed away and ready to retrieve. I’ll donate my file cabinets to the Good Will soon. My files will be safely stored on my server and in the Cloud. It’s all good.

How about you? Are you going paperless?
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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • I have been thinking about making the move too. Is the ScanSnap the one that refer to that scans 55 pages per minute? I’ve heard a lot of good things about the ScanSnap.

    I love Evernote too, but struggle with when to create a new note versus a new folder. Are your gas bill scans one note, or one folder with a note for each bill (which seems a bit overwhelming).

    Enjoyed the post and like you I’ve been thinking about since seeing Michael Hyatt’s video. Congrats on making the move!

    • My ScanSnap is the S1500M. I like its speed, its dual-side reader, and its top feeder. Its admin interface isn’t something to get giddy over, but it does what I need it to do: scan quickly.

      The Gas Bills are one note stored in my Paperless Bills folder. I leave it to the OCR in case I ever need to retrieve a bill. I’m leaning on the search functionality to organize tedious things like records of bills. I’m more organized with writings, business notes and contracts.

      • Thanks Chris. Good luck with the paperless office future.

  • Ahhhh! Freedom from paper! The trees will sing your praises!

    Once someone gets all their stored paperwork digitized, they logically move on to mastering new paperless way with current and future documents. In the end, you save so much on printer ink, tax time is exponentially easier, and information retrieval is a snap…just like you mentioned!

    Great info, as always, Chris! YOU are the paperless master!

    • Thanks, Dan! Your idea of going printerless has me thinking, too. Wouldn’t that be something. One step at a time.

  • Jennifer Matlock

    Just one observation: You are also a homeschool dad. Do we get a follow-up post on how you’re going to help your wife become a paperless homeschooler? I could really use post like that!

    • “The Paperless Homeschooler” — Now THAT’S an idea. I’ll chalk it up.