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How to Go Paperless: Bury the Paper Before it Buries You

How to Go Paperless: Bury the Paper Before it Buries You
Paper Stack

The paperless office concept has been around since the 1960s or ‘70s, much like the flying car. For many people, this has been little more then a myth. How can we get rid of the paper while our offices are filled with photocopiers and fax machines and the postal carriers and couriers keep bringing in reams of the stuff daily? What about the need to keep receipts for accounting and tax purposes? And what about the contracts and other legal documents? It is hard, but getting easier to do every day.

Well, the short answer is that in a normal office environment today, we can’t really do it 100%, certainly not in one simple step without burning down the building. But there are some simple steps that we can take toward the goal of not having to constantly manage piles of paper at home or the office. A few decisive steps applied over enough time can dramatically reduce if not eliminate the paper.

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Before going through the specific steps, we need to consider there being two kinds of paper documents: those we need to retain for the longer term (let’s call them records) and those that are transient in nature (call them working files). Different approaches work for these two basic kinds of papers or documents. The nature of your office and work has a great deal to do with which type of paper you can reduce or eliminate the most easily. A legal, accounting or medical office will likely have a harder time making its records paperless than an ad agency or political campaign office would. Decide which of the paper reduction steps you take and in what order you take them based on what you do and the importance of the various records and working files.

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Ten steps toward converting your office to a paperless one:

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  1. Begin with the end in mind. Be clear on your objectives so that you can target your conversion most effectively. For example, if efficiency is a more important objective than environmental, don’t try cutting your paper volume in half by recycling paper through the copiers to print on the backside. Double-sided copying easily jams the machine and often confuses whoever gets handed stuff printed on both sides. We found increasing the efficiency of the records management system much more important than reducing the number of working papers. By targeting the records management, the working papers reductions naturally followed.
  2. Decide on a date for a switch from paper-based to paperless for everything going forward. Chose a date far enough ahead that everyone can work toward. Not everything needs to be switched at one time. Don’t worry about converting old records until you have time to get around to doing something about converting them. Many of them can probably be kept without any changes and discarded once they get to a certain age.
  3. Establish an electronic records retention system and get comfortable using it before becoming committed to it. We didn’t go out and get an expensive or complicated system installed then make a hard conversion. What we did early on was to create a filenaming system that automatically sorts itself chronologically in most file directories. Just like the filename for this article which begins 20071106_1600… This is simply the metric system of year, month, day and time to the nearest minute or hour based on a 24 hour clock. If we save a version of this file on one person’s laptop then email it to the office, it gets filed automatically by whomever receives it. Revisions are easily handled by simply superimposing a new date/time at the beginning of the filename. We started doing this long before the switch date.
  4. Place a filename on every document worth keeping. In our office, if a document does not have a filename, it gets named or tossed out. This is true whether it is a paper or electronic document.
  5. Retain a paper file as the primary record for anything before the switch and the electronic record as the primary record for anything after the switch date. This is not a complicated thing. In our office, like most offices, there is often more then one copy of the important things around. We got into the habit of knowing where the record was then tossing out or deleting duplicates once done with them, especially for the paper duplicates. We get comfortable knowing that anything prior to January 1, 2005 worth having a record of has a paper version someplace and everything afterward can be found on a server.
  6. Inform your clients and suppliers of your paperless orientation. Come out of the closet and let everyone know because most people find it great. This does not mean you should beat up a client who wants you to send hardcopy proofs or a signed original instead of an electronic version. We tend to give clients whatever they want. However, we do beat up our suppliers. Our lawyers were some of the toughest holdouts but they eventually learned how to send everything electronically and scan documents that had to have signatures on them.
  7. Keep your technology and systems simple and compatible with what most people use. The great news is that PCs and MACs use file systems that no longer conflict with each other. There are still problems with using different types of graphics and multi-media formats but these are diminishing. If we stick to the basic formats, most people can deal with them. Be careful about using fringy formats, especially for records that need to be retained long term.
  8. Check and upgrade your older files from time to time to make sure they remain usable. CDs or tapes are a problem. They deteriorate and some of the earlier formats are no longer supported. We keep our records in live formats. Maintaining a backup server is no harder or more expensive than keeping an inventory of off-line storage media. Paper records deteriorate too if printed on acid paper or stored in a bad environment.
  9. Adopt an “If in doubt, throw it out” policy. We tend to be a bit quicker than most to toss out stuff we are not sure of. The odds are that since we only tend to ever look at maybe 1% of the records we store, there is a high probability the stuff we are deciding whether or not to keep is not worth keeping.
  10. Recognize and reward those who help meet the objectives. Whether someone becomes able to electronically edit or deliver documents on the fly or is finally replacing an old Remington manual typewriter with a computer, take the effort to show how this produces positive impacts, whether on the bottom line or the environment.

These were some basic steps we used and recommend that can help you make the shift. We reduced our paper consumption about 95% over the past five years. If you have already made shifts toward a paperless office and have some other ideas, please let us know by posting a comment. Or let us know if you had any problems in trying to create a paperless office.

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Last Updated on March 13, 2019

How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

Have you gotten into a rut before? Or are you in a rut right now?

You know you’re in a rut when you run out of ideas and inspiration. I personally see a rut as a productivity vacuum. It might very well be a reason why you aren’t getting results. Even as you spend more time on your work, you can’t seem to get anything constructive done. While I’m normally productive, I get into occasional ruts (especially when I’ve been working back-to-back without rest). During those times, I can spend an entire day in front of the computer and get nothing done. It can be quite frustrating.

Over time, I have tried and found several methods that are helpful to pull me out of a rut. If you experience ruts too, whether as a working professional, a writer, a blogger, a student or other work, you will find these useful. Here are 12 of my personal tips to get out of ruts:

1. Work on the small tasks.

When you are in a rut, tackle it by starting small. Clear away your smaller tasks which have been piling up. Reply to your emails, organize your documents, declutter your work space, and reply to private messages.

Whenever I finish doing that, I generate a positive momentum which I bring forward to my work.

2. Take a break from your work desk.

Get yourself away from your desk and go take a walk. Go to the washroom, walk around the office, go out and get a snack.

Your mind is too bogged down and needs some airing. Sometimes I get new ideas right after I walk away from my computer.

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3. Upgrade yourself

Take the down time to upgrade yourself. Go to a seminar. Read up on new materials (#7). Pick up a new language. Or any of the 42 ways here to improve yourself.

The modern computer uses different typefaces because Steve Jobs dropped in on a calligraphy class back in college. How’s that for inspiration?

4. Talk to a friend.

Talk to someone and get your mind off work for a while.

Talk about anything, from casual chatting to a deep conversation about something you really care about. You will be surprised at how the short encounter can be rejuvenating in its own way.

5. Forget about trying to be perfect.

If you are in a rut, the last thing you want to do is step on your own toes with perfectionist tendencies.

Just start small. Do what you can, at your own pace. Let yourself make mistakes.

Soon, a little trickle of inspiration will come. And then it’ll build up with more trickles. Before you know it, you have a whole stream of ideas.

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6. Paint a vision to work towards.

If you are continuously getting in a rut with your work, maybe there’s no vision inspiring you to move forward.

Think about why you are doing this, and what you are doing it for. What is the end vision in mind?

Make it as vivid as possible. Make sure it’s a vision that inspires you and use that to trigger you to action.

7. Read a book (or blog).

The things we read are like food to our brain. If you are out of ideas, it’s time to feed your brain with great materials.

Here’s a list of 40 books you can start off with. Stock your browser with only the feeds of high quality blogs, such as Lifehack.org, DumbLittleMan, Seth Godin’s Blog, Tim Ferris’ Blog, Zen Habits or The Personal Excellence Blog.

Check out the best selling books; those are generally packed with great wisdom.

8. Have a quick nap.

If you are at home, take a quick nap for about 20-30 minutes. This clears up your mind and gives you a quick boost. Nothing quite like starting off on a fresh start after catching up on sleep.

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9. Remember why you are doing this.

Sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do, and after a while we become jaded. A quick refresher on why you even started on this project will help.

What were you thinking when you thought of doing this? Retrace your thoughts back to that moment. Recall why you are doing this. Then reconnect with your muse.

10. Find some competition.

Nothing quite like healthy competition to spur us forward. If you are out of ideas, then check up on what people are doing in your space.

Colleagues at work, competitors in the industry, competitors’ products and websites, networking conventions.. you get the drill.

11. Go exercise.

Since you are not making headway at work, might as well spend the time shaping yourself up.

Sometimes we work so much that we neglect our health and fitness. Go jog, swim, cycle, whichever exercise you prefer.

As you improve your physical health, your mental health will improve, too. The different facets of ourselves are all interlinked.

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Here’re 15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It).

12. Take a good break.

Ruts are usually signs that you have been working too long and too hard. It’s time to get a break.

Beyond the quick tips above, arrange for a 1-day or 2-days of break from your work. Don’t check your (work) emails or do anything work-related. Relax and do your favorite activities. You will return to your work recharged and ready to start.

Contrary to popular belief, the world will not end from taking a break from your work. In fact, you will be much more ready to make an impact after proper rest. My best ideas and inspiration always hit me whenever I’m away from my work.

Take a look at this to learn the importance of rest: The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

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Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via unsplash.com

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