Column: How to reduce paper use at home, in office

Q: Any suggestions on going paperless at home?

We’ve been hearing the promise of the “paperless office” for over 30 years, but very few of us have taken the time that it takes to make the transition. The good news is that going paperless at home is a lot less complex than doing so in a business.

Going completely paperless isn’t realistic, but going less-paper is entirely feasible with today’s various options.

Getting started

One of the easiest ways to cut down on the amount of paper that gets sent to you is to opt for electronic billing and statements whenever a company offers it.

While there may be certain situations where you do want to have paper copies sent to you, start looking at every paper bill or statement you’re currently getting to figure out which ones can become electronic from the source.

Are you disciplined enough?

The next question you need to ask yourself: Are you willing to adopt the behaviors required to be successful in converting all your paper documents into electronic copies?

You’ll have to completely change your “workflow” as it pertains to all the paper that comes into your household. You’ll also have to go through the learning curve on an electronic storing-and-filing system so you can find items when you need them down the road.

A good scanner is critical

You’ll need an appropriate scanning device that makes converting and filing your documents efficient or else you’ll never do it.

Cheap flatbed scanners that require you to manually place each page on the scanner won’t do the trick; you’ll need a device with a decent document feeder.

You’ll also want one that can scan both sides of the document (duplex scanning), and wireless is a nice option for flexibility in where you can use it.

Fujitsu has long been a leader in high-quality scanners that will hold up to the workload that going paperless will demand, but less-expensive options are available from companies like Brother, Epson, Neat and Doxie.

Creating your workflow

The best way to stay on top of this new task is to have a physical inbox next to your scanner where all your important papers get staged for scanning.

The single most important decision you’ll have to make is which electronic filing system you’ll use.

If you don’t create a solid filing, naming and tagging system, you’ll end up with a mountain of scanned documents that will be nearly impossible to search through.

Most document scanners have direct support to automatically send documents to both Dropbox and Evernote; others like Doxie and Neat offer their own integrated filing software.

Evernote provides a lot of flexibility for managing the documents and because it automatically converts everything to a searchable standard, it makes finding documents based on keywords much easier down the road.

Detailed advice

If nothing that I’ve outlined so far has scared you off, there are some excellent resources that are much more detailed from Abby Lawson, Refind Rooms and Document Snap.


Ken Colburn is founder and CEO of Data Doctors Computer Services. Ask any tech question on Facebook or Twitter.

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