Generally speaking, managing paper is nonproductive. It’s time-consuming and open to error, even with the best filing system in place. What’s more, storing paper copies takes up valuable space. Despite these facts, I often encounter headwinds when I suggest my clients go paperless. I believe this is driven by an offshoot of the hoarding mentality. It’s a perceived need to hang on to something, often driven by a fear of losing that which they may need in the future. I also believe many of us are hesitant to wade into the paperless waters simply given lack of knowledge on what is available in the paperless world. So today I want to walk through some paperless tips and tricks.
Keep in mind, if all-in isn’t your style, you can pick these up piecemeal. I’m willing to bet success and comfort with one, will fortify your desire to proceed with another. Small steps work.
I Understand, It’s Important Paperwork
Important paperwork is often the hardest to transition to the digital realm. Think: financial, insurance and medical. The great thing is, most companies in these fields have already stepped up to the plate, serving up smart tools we can access with just a few clicks on a keyboard. To get the benefits, we just need to familiarize ourselves with them.
Smart Portals & Payment Platforms
Many companies offer portals that support payments and provide valuable accountholder detail, including past payment activity, account totals and other important data. This eliminates the need to file this information ourselves. Here are some examples:
- Online bill paying saves time and eliminates error. When available to you, take advantage of automatic bill paying. Set up payment to a credit card or through bankdraft. Depending on your situation, you may choose to forego notice of an invoice, knowing you can log in to check past payments. If you do want to receive invoices, avoid snail mail and opt for email. Set up a smart folder within your email platform to capture the emails.
- Investment and bank statements are often bulky. Virtually all banks now provide your current and historical data within a secure portal, which is available to you around the clock. If you want to review your statements monthly with a trigger, opt for email notification, then view the information digitally. Wondering about your balance or spending trends? You’ll find that in the portal, in easy-to-read formats and filters, i.e. intuitive graphs and detailed pie charts, custimizable sub-categories and more. When tax time comes, use the portal to retrieve what you need. Send the files digitally, via the bank’s platform, directly over to your CPA.
- Many banking platforms support payment directly to retailers. If you have a merchant account, spend a few minutes linking it to your banking account so you have comprehensive payment information in one location.
- Many of the large medical insurance companies now integrate directly with medical billing platforms. So, not only can you find your insurance settlement online, but you can often pay outstanding invoices directly within the portal.
The Digital Filing System
A digital filing system is the structural foundation for your paperless realm. This is where you store your information and where you go to retrieve it. You want it to be organized in a way that makes it easy to find what you need. The first step in setting up your digital filing system is determining where you want to house your data.
Platform for Housing Your Information
I’m a fan of cloud-based digital filing. Not only does it provide you safety against hard drive failure, it also offers virtual access, no matter your location or device. This is a game-changer if you work virtually from various locations. Some people do choose to store their files on their hard drive but then back the information up to the cloud for redundancy.
You can find many reliable cloud-based storage solutions today. Most will meet your needs with basic, free-of-charge options. As you consider your best solution, think about the ways in which you work. Also, consider with whom you share information.
Here are a few of my favorite cloud-based storage solutions:
- Google docs is an excellent cloud-based document storage solution. It is widely accessible and familiar. Furthermore, you can password protect documents and share files via email and text.
- Collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams and Slack, support cloud-based group information sharing via document storage and innovative communication platforms.
- Evernote is an intuitive cloud-based system that supports document storage and article clipping from the internet. You can store items in folders. Information sharing is simple via email or by granting access to specific documents or folders. Collaboration-friendly, multiple users can access and edit, if desired, individual documents or entire folders. This is one of my favorite digital tools.
Structuring Your Digital Files
As you begin to think about the structure for your digital filing system, just as you would in the paper world, consider the ways in which you work and what it is you manage. The goal is to find what you need quickly. Use folders to categorize your information, perhaps by topic or date.
Subfolders are a great way to pare down related information and keep volume manageable. For example, you might have one folder labeled HOME. Within this, you might have: WARRANTIES, FURNITURE PURCHASES, CONSTRUCTION/RENOVATION, etc. Or, you might have a FAMILY folder and then, within, have subfolders for each family member. Within your business, it might make sense to have a CLIENT folder with subfolders for each client. There is no right or wrong way to set up your system. It will be unique to your needs.
Converting Paper to Paperless
There may be times when you have something only in paper form you wish to hold onto. If you convert the paper copy to digital, it can be saved virtually. Apps like Notes on the iPhone and Evernote have a user friendly scan feature. Open the app, choose the camera icon, and you’ll see the scan option pop up. Once captured via the camera, the document can be saved appropriately within your digital filing system.
If you foresee a lot of scanning, check out the Fujitsu Scan Snap S1300i. Small and functional, it scans 12 double-sided pages per minute. Scanned documents can be converted to PDF, searchable PDF, JPEG, Word (editable), and Excel (editable). Best of all, this scanner is about the size of a three-hole punch. It won’t take up valuable desk real estate.
The Working Folder: a Temporary Home for Paper
There will be times when paper is unavoidable. This is where a physical “working file” comes in. Consider this your short-term home for things like medical receipts you need to reconcile or bills you are disputing. Once you’ve taken action on the paper, shred it, knowing you can find payment history online. If you foresee a need to revisit the information on the paper copy, scan it and file it appropriately.
More Specifics on the Medical
Before I close, I want to dive a little deeper into the medical topic. Having quick and easy access to your (or a loved one’s) medical information is critical, especially in emergency situations. If you are incapacitated, someone else may be relying on your medical information filing system to save your life. If you land in the ER out of town, you won’t have the luxury of pulling files from paper storage at home.
Consider these possible need scenarios:
- Confirming the brand or type of medical device you have, or a loved one has
- Conveying the location of arterial stents
- Determining the date of a past medical procedure
- Confirming a past diagnosis
- Locating a past physician
Set up a digital medical file to house official diagnosis paperwork, prescriptions and other comprehensive medical information. Records of routine office visits are generally not necessary, but bloodwork may be. Scan hard copies into your medical file and pull down any official data from your insurance portal to put in this electronic file. Grant file access to an emergency contact.
I love Evernote for medical information storage. You can create a folder with cloud-based shared access. By granting access to a family member or trusted friend, you can ensure you and your emergency contact(s) have access to information a doctor might need via a simple app on a mobile phone.
Bring More Paperless Into Your World
Paperless is efficient and time-saving. Highly accessible, especially when cloud-based, it is also user-friendly. Not only is going paperless productive, it can be lifesaving, as when it comes to medical information management. I encourage you to set the goal of bringing more paperless into your world today.
Sara Genrich is a Productivity Consultant, an Evernote Expert and the creator of the Organizing@Work for Success Workshop. She’s committed to providing real-life solutions so her clients have time to focus on the things that really matter.