Whether you own a business, run an office, are an entrepreneur or manage a household, going paperless can reduce clutter and improve efficiency. Although it is nearly impossible to go completely ‘paperless’, you can benefit greatly by digitizing much of your paperwork. This will reduce the amount of physical paper you keep.
Benefits to reducing physical papers include increasing productivity, reducing time spent on paper management, and having a system that is easily accessible to you and your team. This article focuses on creating a system of digital document workflow.
Having a basic document workflow is the first step in properly establishing a reduction in papers. This simple workflow is described below.
Reception includes receiving of both physical and electronic documents. Reduce the number of documents that enter your office by unsubscribing to emails and physical subscriptions. Eliminating the unnecessary saves time from having to manage useless papers. Recycle unnecessary physical documents and unneeded emails immediately. The remaining documents move to or stay in the Inbox.
Have an inbox where documents are placed when they come in. This is where the documents reside until they are addressed. You should have a physical inbox and an email inbox for each person involved.
Once the document is addressed (read, paid, acted on, forwarded), it will be captured and moved the place it will be stored. How and when you move documents to file is up to you. You can save them for a limited period of time (day, week, month) and then have the documents filed.
Capture the information from the documents. Physical papers are scanned to electronic files, typically to a PDF (portable document file). Emails and electronic documents are also converted to PDFs. I find it helpful to go through and scan/create PDFs in small batches before filing. Letting the pile get too large can get overwhelming. This can also cause confusion if there are documents that need to be retrieved, but have not yet been filed properly.
How to Capture Documents
You can capture documents in many different ways. A mobile device or a document scanner work well for this.
Document scanners work great for processing larger quantities of documents, and converting them to PDF files and searchable PDF files. Consider a scanner that can handle many documents at one time, and has the capability to capture both sides of a two-sided document. Neat and ScanSnap are couple tools that work great for this. You can also outsource your scanning if you have a large number of documents and are short on time. Using a multi-function printer-copier-scanner can prove to be frustratingly slow, as it may allow only one side of a document to be scanned at a time.
From your phone or tablet, you can capture business cards, receipts, track mileage, and have documents signed on-site. There are also apps that can scan a business card and add the information right to your contacts and connect you on LinkedIn. I discuss a few of these resources below.
CamCard is great for capturing, saving and exchanging business cards
Evernote is great for managing all types of digital papers
MileBug mileage tracker app uses phone GPS and can export mileage to Excel
Expensify captures receipts and forms expense reports
Shoeboxed captures and manages receipts and mileage
Quickbooks is a full service accounting software that can invoice, track receipts, manage payroll and prepare financial reports
DocuSign and HelloSign allow you to receive full legal signatures from your mobile device and send them to email or your cloud-based storage
To effectively create useable file system, the file structure and naming convention of each file needs to be consistent and easy to follow. Create a file structure and naming convention that makes sense to you.
You will create an electronic file folder structure similar to a physical file cabinet. Think about how you will search for the file when you need to reference the document. Keep the file structure simple. Don’t have too many layers of folders that could over complicate things, or be too challenging to use. You will want to keep the file folders simple and shallow. For example, Insurance folder can store home owner’s insurance and automobile insurance. The way you name the file will expose more details to the content of the documents.
File Naming Convention
Create a consistent file naming convention (how you label your files) that is easy to follow, and coordinates with how you would look for the file. If you work with a team, have the team decide together on the best naming convention. That way it makes sense to everyone and everyone is willing to use the consistent naming convention.
It is good to include the date, subject or file folder title, client name, client code or number, and other words to help you recognize the contents of the document. I like to start with the date so the files are nicely organized by date first. The subject or file folder name would come second. Remember, they will be placed in a folder that contains the main subject.
For example, in a “Contractor” folder you might have a file titled like:
“04012019 Contractor Top Shelf Invoice.pdf “. This could be your April invoice from Top Shelf Home organizing that you received on April 12, 2019.
In your “Insurance” folder you might have a file titled similarly to:
“01012019 Insurance Automobile Jan thru April.pdf” This could be your automobile insurance for the first half of 2019 that was effective January 1, 2019.
Where to Store Files
There are a few places you can store your documents; the cloud, your computer, external hard drive and automatic backup service. Select at least two locations such as your computer and the cloud, so when the inevitable happens your files are backed up. Remember fires, floods and theft, and consider an off-site back up method.
Cloud storage examples include Dropbox, Evernote, and Google Drive.
Computer storage includes Windows folders, Finder on Mac OS. There are also additional software products available for purchase that can streamline your files.
External hard drives are available for backing up your files. These drives are capable of storing very large files and lots of them for a reasonable price. You can also back your files up on simpler external ‘jump’ drives, which are more portable for storing backed up data offsite.
When implementing your file system, start with current documents. Get your system in place and bugs worked out. Once your system is up and running, begin to work through our backlog. It will go much quicker than you think.
Start your paperless journey with a plan. Jumping in without a good structure in place will lead to frustration and likely failure. The team at Top Shelf is happy to help you create your plan and guide you through the process. Get in touch with Jayme when you are ready to take the next step.
1. Save Money
Giving experiences does not have to cost a lot of money or put you into debt. An experience can be as simple as an afternoon in the park, inviting someone into your house for a homemade dinner or going for a hike together. No one wants you to go broke purchasing material gifts for them.
2. Make Memories
The memories created when you spend time one-on-one with friends or family are kept forever. The anticipation alone of an experience can bring much more joy than a material gift. They are not tangible like a bottle of wine or a set of decorative towels that will soon be used up or packed away into storage.
3. Quality Time
Time with a loved one brings you closer and allows you to focus on the relationship you hold dear. Friendship is spending time together listening, learning and helping. Memberships, lessons and outings together are great quality time.
4. Less Stuff
Material gifts soon find their way into storage or are left to feel more like clutter. Toys are left on the floor to be tripped over and pieces lost. Eventually, a material gift can add stress and burden to the recipient.
Still not sold on the idea of giving an experience instead of a material gift?
Start slow. Consider a fun photo frame to give with the experience so a photo of them enjoying the experience can be placed in the frame. Create a memory book of the past year’s activities, outings and experiences. Give a puzzle or game that you can play with your friends and family. These options still give you the opportunity to spend time and create memories together.
Have fun and enjoy making memories. If organizing and planning are overwhelming, a professional organizer can help. See if Top Shelf Home Organizing can help you on your journey. Contact Jayme to schedule a consult or chat about organizing.
Unmanaged paperwork around your home and office can be quite stressful. Searching for important documents may seem hopeless. Interest charges and late fees can pile up quickly on misplaced bills. Deadlines are easily overlooked. Getting on top of your papers and developing a good paper management system will reduce your stress.
Choose a Convenient Location
Where you manage your paperwork should be convenient. Going to a secluded area of your home may not encourage you to manage your paperwork. If it is not an area you enjoy being in, you won’t go there.
The workspace should have ample surface area, basic office supplies (envelopes, pens, address label), computer and printer, paper recycle bin and paper shredder.
Remove the Unnecessary, Immediately
Sort your mail as soon as it comes in with a recycle bin and shredder within in arm’s reach. Junk mail should be recycled immediately. Refer to the document retention guideline for guidance on what documents to keep and for how long.
Do Initial Sorting
Create a temporary, simple filing system for the initial sorting of your paperwork. This file system could include files labeled:
File – for files to be filed
Pay – for bills to be paid
To Do – for items that require attention within the next month
Read – for documents that will required your dedicated attention
Regularly go through and Pay, Sort and File
Set up a weekly time to go through the temporary files. Coordinate your bill paying with your pay dates. File papers from the ‘file’ file. Review your ‘to do’ file for items needing attention within the next week. Take some time read through the files from your ‘read’ file.
Choose Physical or Electronic Files
Decide if you prefer physical or electronic files. It’s nearly impossible to completely do one or the other, but designating one or the other as your filing system will help to manage your paperwork.
It is important to always be aware of what papers, documents and receipts enter your home. Receipts can be sent via email or not retained at all. Be selective of what documents are collected at trade shows, conventions and seminars. Only accept the documents that are relevant to you. Be mindful of the mailing lists, marketing emails and promotional lists you sign up for.
Once your paperwork system is set up, plan to set aside time every week to maintain and manage your paperwork. Staying on top of your system will reduce stress and ensure you keep on top of your work and bills.
If setting up a paperwork management system is overwhelming for you, a professional organizer can help. Contact Jayme with Top Shelf Home Organizing for a consultation to see how we can help.
Are your filing drawers overflowing? Do you have several stacks of paper documents with no idea as to which you need and which belong in the trash? Are you overly concerned that the IRS will come knocking at your door and you won’t have something you need? Your stress is over. This checklist on how long to keep all your financial and other important documents will help guide you!
Documents to Keep Forever
- Income tax returns
- CPA audit reports
- Deeds, mortgages and bills of sale
- Legal documents (wills, living wills, power of attorney designation, medical and burial instructions, beneficiary documents)
- Vital records (birth, death, marriage, divorce, adoption)
- Investment trade confirmations and statements that indicate buying and selling, retirement and pension records, year-end statement for investments
- Trust documents
- Receipts for warranties
- Automobile titles
- Current insurance policies
- Medical records
- Education records
- Important correspondence
- Property records (keep until sale of property)
- Car records (keep until sale of car)
- Insurance policies (keep for life of policy)
Documents to Keep for 7 Years
The IRS may go back 7 years to audit your tax returns for errors or incorrectly claimed deductions – so it’s important that you keep all tax-related documents for that length of time.
- Bank records
- W-2 and 1099 forms
- Receipts for tax purposes
- Personnel and payroll records
- Cancelled checks
- Disability records
- Unemployment benefit records
- Settled accident claims
- Mortgages, deeds, leases on sold property
- Records on sold stocks and bonds
Documents to Keep for 1 Year
It’s rare that anyone is going to want to see an electric bill or credit card statement dating back more than a year. But you may choose to keep the following NON-TAX-RELATED papers:
- Checkbook ledgers
- Paycheck stubs (keep until reconciled with W-2)
- Monthly financial statements
- Monthly mortgage statements
- Credit card statements
- Utility records
- Medical bills (in case of insurance disputes)
Documents to Keep Less Than 1 Year
There are always those papers that don’t fit into any of these categories. Retain these records according to the following guidelines:
- Credit card receipts (keep until reconciled on your credit card statement)
- ATM and deposit slips (keep until reconciled on your bank statement)
- Bills (keep until the payment verified on the next bill)
Now, it’s time to simplify!
Now that you know the guidelines on how long to keep all of your documents, it’s time to get organized. Start cleaning out those file cabinets or sorting through those paper stacks that are taking up space and causing you stress.
*NOTE: This checklist is a guideline. Please be sure to consult your accountant and/or the IRS for the most up-to-date rules.
If you don’t have the time to get your business and personal documents organized, Top Shelf Home Organizing would love to help. Call Jayme: 262-373-9416.