And how it saved me from drowning in files…
I’ve told a few people that I am aiming to have a paperless office, inspired by another entrepreneur I met a few years ago who told me about her goal to do the same. I saw the benefits as two-fold, one, less paper is my small contribution to the environment, and second, surely the idea of less paper floating around my office would mean a tidier workspace. And for bonus points, punching holes in bits of paper and filing them is one of my least favourite things to do, so I would be free of that job forever!
So I began to think about how to go about it. I decided to draw a line in the sand and decided to not bother trying to eliminate any paperwork from previous dates. I figured for me, scanning three ton of documents from the last umpteen years retrospectively was not a good use of my time. Instead, I bought some pretty (pink) archive boxes and dumped my files and some un-filed paperwork in there, hoping like hell I never had to go digging in there for anything. (My hopes were not fulfilled, I have had to go in the top box twice so far, but for a 9 month period, on the scheme of things, not a huge inconvenience.)
So first thing I did was go through all of my accounts with places like Telstra, my bank accounts, Synergy, etc and switch to receiving bills by email, in most cases it was a matter of logging on and checking that option online. Then I got thinking, like I bet others do, oh my gosh what if the email goes missing or my emails go down? So I set about ensuring I had a backup of everything, which I could get to at any time.
To explain, I have my own domain name (equinee.com.au) so my email is to do with that domain. So what I did was set up a gmail account and email address so I had a second, gmail email address. I then went into the c-panel of my email hosting account for equinee.com.au and told it to send a copy of every single email I received, to my gmail account. Voila, instant, up to date backup… Handy for more than just heading towards a paperless office to be honest.
The next thing I did was set up a folder on my dropbox account. For those that don’t already use dropbox, it is just one of the options for ‘cloud based storage’. Think of it as a filing cabinet in the sky. It stores a copy of everything you put on dropbox locally but also ‘in the cloud’ so for instance, I could come to your house, use your computer to log into my dropbox account, and access absolutely all of my files. For that matter, I have the app on my phone, and also back up all photos I take onto dropbox. But that’s more information for another time (I feel a ‘backing up 101’ blog coming on). My dropbox account has a folder called ‘filing’ and in that folder is a heap of sub folders, vehicles, training, office supplies, advertising, utilities, etc etc. Anything that was emailed to me got saved into the relevant folder on dropbox.
I can hear my brother in law right now saying I am crazy for trusting dropbox, he is a computer geek himself with a computer business, and he is far from trusting of things like dropbox. Perhaps knowing he would go to town on my method and pick loud holes in my trusting it, I also do a regular ‘drag and drop’ backup of the important things onto an external hard drive that I plug into my computer for backup, then store that out of sight (in case thieves bother to come out into the sticks, to the end of a nowhere road, get past my iron security gate, then get past my mastiff x that sounds 10 foot tall when he barks and try and steal my laptop).
And just a note, dropbox happens to be my choice of cloud storage, it is not the only one, there are quite a few options, so look into what suits you personally.
So anyway, I sat back and thought how clever I was, clearing up the paper in my office. But the mail kept coming! Notes came home from school almost daily (I work from home, so home things get blended into my office), band notes, scouts, local community things, letterbox drop ads that interested me. That led me to realising I had to make some changes to the way I handled mail and other paperwork that I could not refuse entry to the office. A few years ago, I used to leave mail unopened for days, sometimes weeks at a time, possibly because at the time I was concerned it was a bill that required more funds than my bank account held at the time, or perhaps because I knew it meant another piece of paper I had to deal with, and I was already overwhelmed.
I began opening the mail the day it arrived and DEALING WITH IT STRAIGHT AWAY. So, to start with, that meant I needed to allow the time I needed to deal with mail, I would usually allow around 15 minutes, and if anything came that needed more time than that, I would instead allocate time to deal with that at a later time (which is a really good time management practice). So I open the mail, and if it is a bill, I pay it straight away. Never mind due dates, get in front enough that when the bills come you can deal with it immediately. But as we are talking about the paperless office here not so much budgeting, I will skim past that idea and say that dealing with it straight away includes taking a scanned image of the bill or paperwork with my mobile phone. And school (etc) notes would get filled in, or important things noted somewhere, or dealt with in some way rather than leaving them floating around until the day before they actually demanded action.
So once the paperwork has been dealt with, it needs to be scanned and filed. I have an android phone, and I went through about 4 apps before I found one I liked, it is called CamScanner. Taking photos just using your camera often results in blurry, unusable images, so go find yourself a scanning app that you like. In CamScanner, it scans the page, asks me if there is another page to add, I can name the file in there, and then it allows me to ‘share’ the end result. Make sure your file names make sense, and include perhaps a month and year. No point going to all that effort then not being able to identify what you filed at a later date.
The next thing was receipts for things I bought in person, for example, I go to Officeworks a bit (a bit too much I think, who else loves a good browse around Officeworks, hope I am not a lone freak there?) and they give you a till receipt when you buy something… Old method – fold it up, put it in purse, wait 4 weeks until purse is too fat, pull receipts out, make a pile of work vs personal, throw out personal, intend to file work, move work pile around office multiple times until office looks like a receipt machine threw up in it… New method, I keep the receipt handy, and the moment I get back in my car, I put the receipt on my knees, scan it straight away, file it straight away and then throw it away straight away. Takes less than 2 minutes to go through that process, a price I am prepared to pay in my quest for a paperless office.
Now here is where I point out that my quest is still a work in progress. I admit two things. 1. I still use a paper diary. I know, old school, but I really like my diary. And if I was my own client, I would point out that running a paper diary PLUS an electronic diary is double handling and just daft… And if you were one of my good friends who I talk to about this from time to time, you would point out how easy it is to find things on my phone if I just kept everything on there. However, perhaps it is my age, my vision, my whatever, I am a little slower on my phone than many I just never got the hang of two thumbs typing on a phone. (In my defence, I can touch type at 75 WPM, so give me a laptop/keyboard any day over my phone – yes I am perhaps showing my age, sigh…) I am about to get a new phone and I am thinking one of those phones with a bigger screen and a pen tool to use might speed me up and make me a bit more likely to use it more. Please, get the picture of a nana writing this blog, I am nothing of the sort, check out my pic on my profile if you must, nothing nana about me, it’s just I am a bit special with being super fast on a phone. Second thing to admit. 2. I still have a hard copy note pad. I have two actually. I have a bit of a thing for cool pens, my sparkly unicorn pen, or the pink one that has coloured lights that flash when I write, or I have one that looks like a fishing lure (I have no idea where that came from, I hate fishing?) so in turn I buy nice looking notepads for my to do lists. I am also a very active person and I write things down as I talk to clients on the phone, to remind me of what we spoke about, to follow something up, all kinds of things.
My friend that inspired me to pursue this paperless vision told me that her staff all had a Microsoft Surface Pro which they use instead of notebooks, they can use the pen tool and write on the screen just like a normal notebook. Makes a lot of sense, as I do sometimes have to try and find a note I wrote myself in a hurry, not sure which notebook it went into. I did look into them a while back, they didn’t suit me for a few other reasons, but perhaps next time I am upgrading technology I will look into the options there. I wasn’t as passionate about going paperless then as I am now.
So the last thing I started to do was consider what I was printing out at home. I have a flash printer and the toner is horror expensive, so as well as saving the environment, I am saving a lot of money. I now look at the attachments that I get by email for instance, and consider if I can just note down the points I need instead of printing out a whole page just for a few small details.
There are some handy benefits to filing things online. For example, I recently bought a car. In the discussion about a trade in and business loan, I needed to provide a number of things to the car dealer in order for the transaction to occur. He gave me a list of things and said could I just email him a copy or pop in with a hard copy for him to photocopy, and was gobsmacked when I was able to sit in his office, and inside of 5 minutes, locate every document he wanted from my phone and email it to him from my phone. Impressive? I didn’t think so, but apparently I was the first client he had ever had to be able to do that!
It’s worth bearing in mind there will always be a few things you really need in hard copy, or are not practical to scan. For example, the 55 pages involved in refinancing a home-loan, not worth the time to scan each page for example, so you may still have a file for things like that, but I have gone from having about 12 files on my shelf, to a collection of all kinds of inspiring things, pictures, and books. It makes my office a nicer place to be.
If you have any great ideas for a paperless office, post your comment below!
Edit to add, update, I realised my phone contract was due this week, so I have just taken the plunge and ordered the newest Samsung Note phone. When it arrives, I have committed to moving away from my paper diary and just using that for my scheduling, wish me luck!