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.