- I put any actionable items on my ToDo list or Calendar,
- Then I shred it (or just recycle it if not sensitive).
- I scan it to a PDF format,
- Check that it is a good, readable scan,
- Name the file descriptively, with the scanning date,
- Decide where to file the PDF data on my disk drive,
- Put any actionable items from it on my ToDo list or Calendar,
- Then I shred the paper.
This may seem like a long list, but it's usually much faster and easier than finding a hanging folder, writing on a tab, squeezing it into an overflowing file drawer, etc.
The advantages of this paperless system are many, including:
- I can find PDFs much more quickly than I ever could paper documents
- I can search for them using file manager search tools by date or description.
- I can attach and send them by email to anyone very quickly
- I can copy saved text passages or images onto other documents
- I have eliminated all but one small file drawer (for embossed certificates, etc.)
- I use very little paper or ink
- I spend very little on postage
I eliminated most of my old paper files by hiring an aide to scan all of my old documents to PDFs. It was admittedly a months-long project for my aide and me (in my spare time) to go through these files, decide what to save, and name and file them electronically; but now I have a Zen-like feeling of unburdened relief and satisfaction. The big file cabinets are gone and I can find things again!
Of course, if you are going to scan and eliminate the physical manifestations of all of your important documents, you must have a fail-safe back-up system. Here is what I do: I have a large (5TB) external drive with software that automatically and continuously backs up everything I download or create on my desktop. I also use a Cloud-based, online back-up system that does the backup of everything in the background. Because of my limited bandwidth, the Cloud service took several months for the initial backup, but now takes only a few minutes per day to register the new files and changes. So if my office burns down, I still can retrieve the documents. In addition, I have a laptop computer synchronized with my desktop, with copies of my important documents. Thus I am triply protected - actually much safer than a paper filing system.
In addition to written documents, I have scanned and eliminated most of my old photographs. My new photos and videos are already digital! I look at old photos much more often now that I can pull them up quickly on a high-resolution display rather than pull out a dusty old photo album that is coming apart or set up an old optical slide projector, and I can send them to friends and family instantly. I also buy eBooks rather than paper-bound editions. I then have my books anywhere to read on my smart phone, eReader device, or computer. I don't miss dog-eared pages and broken bindings at all.
I understand that many of you readers may be in a profession or organization that still insists on paper documents. But that is no reason to prevent you from going paperless at home. Also, I have many friends that still print computer files on paper just to read them. These people are mostly in my own generation - the last generation that did not know a personal computer in high school or even in college. They don't feel comfortable without the good old feeling of printed cellulite between their fingers.
To these people I say - get over it and get on-line!