In this article I’m going to share how I setup a paperless office for all of my receipts, bills, documents and everything else that usually clutters up your desk.
There are several things you’ll need to setup a paperless office in 2015.
#1 – A High Quality Receipt / Document Scanner
The first thing you’re going to need is a high-quality, high-speed receipt / document scanner.
Most people today have all-in-one printer / scanner / copier combo that they got on sale for $50 – $100, but that is not going to cut it.
As an average person we go through way too many receipts and documents to waste your time with an all-in-one printer/scanner that is just going to frustrate you and make you quit and go back to a paper system.
If you’re serious about setting up a paperless office, you have to invest in some proper tools that are going to make the job simple, easy, fast and convenient – otherwise you just won’t do it.
So what’s the solution?
After a lot of research I bought the Fujitsu Scansnap IX500 Scanner for the following reasons:
- It’s fast! Really, really fast
- It can scan receipts, business cards, as well as regular sized paper and documents
- It scans BOTH sides at the same time
- It can scan receipts that are really, really long (unlike a flatbed scanner)
- It has a microprocessor that helps with processing the image/scan
This scanner is not cheap. It will cost you around $400- $500, but it’s worth every penny.
I’ve had mine for about a year now and I just love it.
It makes the process of scanning papers and receipts very quick an painless.
Also, as an added benefit, the way the scanner is designed, when you fold up the lid and bottom tray the scanner doesn’t take up a lot of real estate on your desk and it’s fully protected from dust!
#2 – Software to Convert Scanned Documents / Receipts Into PDF Files
The next thing you want to make sure your paperless office does is convert all your scanned documents into PDF files.
This is where MOST so called “paperless office scanners” and “systems” out there fall flat on their face.
They sell you on the idea that their system is best, but what they do is they try to store all of your documents in a proprietary format that can only be read by THEIR software.
This is the way that they sucker you in with low priced scanner/software combos that only cost a few hundred dollars.
Don’t fall for it.
If you go for one of those systems that doesn’t directly scan right into a PDF file, you will regret it later as your software becomes bloated, slow and unmanageable.
Also if the company you purchase the scanner / software from ever goes out of business you could be left stuck with no way to retrieve any of your files.
The Adobe PDF format has been around for decades and it’s a PROVEN file format that is a standard on all computer platforms and you want to make sure that is what your scanner / software stores your files as.
Luckily for us, the Fujitsu Scansnap scanner comes with a free software that does just that.
All you have to do is place a document or receipt in the scanner, press the blue button, and it automatically scans the document on both sides, very quickly and it automatically loads up the software allowing you to save the document in PDF format.
#3 – File Organization / Management Software
Once you have a system for converting your documents and receipts into PDF files you will also need a way to keep everything easily organized, categorized and easily retrievable.
Most scanners out there come with free software that claims to do this, but from my research and testing I have found that most of them really suck at this part of the paperless office system.
Even the software that comes with the Fujitsu Scansnap is mediocre at best at handling this part of the process.
What I have found to work MUCH better is a software called FileCenter from Lucion Technologies.
With FileCenter you can easily manage and organize your files, automatically do OCR, join and split PDF files, and integrate with various Cloud Services if you so choose to.
It’s a software with MANY features, bells and whistles, but the truth is that you don’t really need to worry about bells and whistles as you mostly won’t use them.
What you really need is a robust, simple and effective software that can handle the process of organizing your PDF files in a way that makes logical sense – and FileCenter does just that.
The software allows you to create “Cabinets” which basically act just like physical filing cabinets, except that these are digital filing cabinets with unlimited storage space.
So for example you could create one “Cabinet” for your “Personal” files, one for your “Business” or “Work”, etc.
Then, within each of the cabinets you can create any number of “Drawers” which are just like the drawers in a real filing cabinet.
Then, within each of the drawers you create “Folders” which would of course represent a folder, and then within each folder you can have any number of actual files / documents etc.
This means you have three levels of hierarchy within the system which is plenty enough for all of your needs without getting too crazy and confusing.
You can also create sub-folders within folders if you want so that basically means the hierarchy of files can be expanded even further if you wish.
#4 – A Backup Solution
The final thing you’ll need is a backup solution for your files so that you rest easy knowing that your files are safe.
There are two different routes you can go with here.
Firstly, you can backup all of your files to an external hard drive on a regular basis which keeps all of your files safe in case of a computer failure or theft.
Of course if your backup drive is not stored in a safe location it can be damaged in a fire or stolen in the case of a break-in.
Of course in the case of a fire, your physical files would have been destroyed as well, so it’s kind of a mute point, but if you do want to make sure your files are secure you could create an off-site backup for your files, or subscribe to one of the cloud services out there.
FileCenter Pro allows you to sync your files with Could server services such as Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft SkyDrive, SugarSync etc., so if you want to use a cloud service you can do that as well.
How you decide to backup your files is completely up to you, but just make sure you back them up!
Paperless Office Flow Diagram
This is a flow diagram which summarizes what my paperless office system looks like.
Additional Tips for the Perfect Paperless Office System
#1 – Dealing With Digital Receipts
One of the realities of today is that not all companies offer receipts, invoices and bills on paper anymore. You will find that many of the companies you deal with are now switching to a paperless system as well.
Unfortunately, as convenient as it may be for them to NOT have to mail you a receipt or invoice, when it comes time to send your files to an accountant or to look up an old bill it’s not always easy to get access to your files.
Some companies only keep bills around for a certain number of months and then delete them.
So what’s the solution?
Well, that’s where this system really shines. See, most of the companies that offer paperless systems also save their documents in a PDF format, or they email you their receipts.
The trick is to SAVE those PDF files that they have on their websites OR the email receipt that they mail you to a PDF file and to file it into your “INBOX” in FileCenter.
This is what I do.
When I get digital receipts or emails I’ll just click the SAVE button and quickly save the file as a PDF and put it into my INBOX folder for FileCenter. Then, later on when I’m ready to do some digital filing I’ll organize the files accordingly, placing them in the right cabinet/drawer/folder.
#2 – Afraid You’ll Lose Your Digital Backups?
One of the reasons I personally procrastinated switching to a paperless office system was because I never fully trusted digital files.
I’m sure we’ve all had one of those incidents where you accidentally erased some files on your hard drive that you didn’t back up, or lost the photos on your cell phone, or had a hard-drive malfunction that caused you to lose important data.
This was something I was a bit worried about, even though I know a good backup system can usually save the day.
So what did I do?
What I decided to do, and what you may want to consider as well is to NOT throw away your paper files after you scan them.
I know that this might sound a bit weird since I’m talking about going to a paperless office system, but hear me out here.
What I do is I simply get some bankers boxes, and when I take physical paper documents that come across my desk, I scan them into my paperless office, and I chuck them all into ONE bankers box labeled “2015” or whatever year it is now.
This is a very quick and painless process. The beauty of this system is that I don’t have to organize any of these files in physical form, they are just chucked into a box that I should hypothetically never have to ever open again.
BUT, in the case of a complete computer meltdown or a lack of digital backup, in the worst case scenario, I would STILL have access to the physical versions of my files.
This helps me to sleep at night. 🙂
For me this was a great compromise that allowed me to do all my “filing” and “organizing” in the digital realm, while at the same time knowing that in the event of a digital catastrophe I still DO have the actual physical files as a backup of my backup.
After a few years, when I no longer need the physical files I can just shred the files in the banker’s box.