Two of the worlds great evils are papers and cables.

There was definitely a naivety in having paperless dream a few years ago taking over a small family business – especially in an industry as heavily regulated as healthcare is. Catching up on years worth of papers that crop up and are kept ‘just in case’ is not an interesting feat. Yet I can certainly say, after years of trying different file management techniques, organising and re-organising, scanning and shredding, the goal seems far more attainable. We deal with far less paper and have processes in place to keep reducing this.

Of course, it doesn’t come without pros and cons as with everything, and it is something I researched extensively. Simple google searches can make you paranoid as to data security. There’s a question of how much money and time it does save in the long run. Yet whether it is running a business or taking control of your own papers and lifestyle, I couldn’t do without it – all things considered.

Why go Paperless? Pros and cons

The main reason I would put forward is to have a sense of control. You have more of an idea of where things are without having to search through folders. Using technology such as OCR recognition (allowing you to search text within scanned documents) there is a bigger range of what you can search. Using cloud-based technology there is also easier access – being able to find things on the go wherever you are and you never know when that might come in handy. In the long run, things are far easier to organise – and I probably now have enough old stationery left behind to open a stationery shop.

Of course, as with anything, there are pitfalls. Many a time dreams are sold without telling you of the shortcomings. What happens if the data gets lost and you no longer have the original? What about security risks and does the data then become more vulnerable? These are all founded concerns and so going paperless does need careful consideration and planning.

 

stackofpapers.jpg

What goes Paperless? 

To shred or not to shred, that is the question.

The answer is not everything, and this is a judgement call. For some documents, you may want to or need to keep the original anyway. It really depends for what purpose you are going paperless. Yet there shouldn’t be that many. Whether business or personal – always check and have an audit trail of checking with the relevant body. Are original documents needed? Is an electronic form acceptable? You may be surprised as to many of the items you swore you had to keep a physical copy of until death.

Especially for particularly sensitive or confidential data, if you dont have secure enough processes in place or there is no real need for it to be scanned, don’t do it. If it is better filed, file it.

How to go paperless?

The key thing is that it is a process that takes time and thought. If you go straight in scanning and taking photos without considering it, you can end up with more of a mess than you started with. Even if you want to try it by taking it a particular ‘module’ at a time – getting more of the process right in the first time will make it far more manageable and efficient later. It is far easier to re-organise files and folders that are in some way organised in the first place. It really is not a one-size-fits-all approach, though certain considerations may be analysed in similar ways.

Consider:

  • First and foremost, why and is it worth it? See the for and against and what it will help you achieve. If it is worth it…
  • Costs? There are a range of tools out there. Is OCR technology going to be useful for you or not needed? If they are – do you have existing tech that can accommodate this (such as whether pre-installed smartphone apps are sufficient? Do you already spend a lot on stationery supplies and will there be any ongoing costs to consider?)
  • Time. Will it save time in the long run, or will it cause more of an administrative burden?
  • Access. Who will need or have access? Will it be cross-platform/ cloud-based and if so – are the systems friendly for various operating systems (such as Windows and iOS if applicable)

This is less of a how-to, more things I have not looked back on since making the transition. I personally experimented with many different filing systems, apps, gadgets and systems – some worked better than others. Currently, I use

  • Cloud-based systems – Dropbox and iCloud. The amount of cloud options, and affordable options can give you a headache. Many offer free trials and various features – a headache out of the scope of this piece!
  • Apps – I experimented with various apps. Evernote comes well recommended but didn’t quite work out from my use. I currently use ‘Scanbot‘ as an app for on the go scanning using the phones camera. I do find this has been useful yet its OCR feature hasnt been great for me. I will probably also look for a specific receipt scanning app as well in future.
  • Main Scanner: Fujitsu ScanSnap S1300i. I bought this years ago when making the conscious decision to go paperless, and given its cost, I was apprehensive to its use. Yet given the range of options and features – its simplicity in use is what makes it brilliant. This has worked wonders in reducing considerable paper space. The OCR feature on it is excellent as well, allowing me to search terms within a scanned document on my macbook without needing to remember what exactly I named the file.
  • Hard-drive backup: I currently use an Apple Time Capsule because I wanted something as seamless as possible to create backups with my main day to day work (which tends to be on my macbook). This will really depend on whether you are as data-paranoid as I am as to whether you feel cloud-based will suffice.

Once the wheels are in motion – the task is to try to reduce the incoming paper. This admittedly is a hassle – to contact the corresponder and try to transition from receiving paper-copies to emails.

When to go paperless?

As much as I swear by it, going paperless (or in my case – part paperless) is a process that takes time. Without starting with some sort of plan or system, you can end up in more of a mess than before you’d started. Perhaps when starting you may prefer to keep both paper copies and the scans until you become more confident.

There is a lot to consider,  and I understand I have only scratched the surface to save completing a dissertation. I’m always curious to hear about other experiences and particular apps or systems you swear by, so please feel free to get in touch! Anything that reduces administrative burden and bureaucracy is a welcome addition!