If you're making the move to a paperless home office, experts recommend taking the process one step at a time. If you try to make too many changes at once, you're likely to feel overwhelmed and stall on going paperless. Recognize that it's an ongoing process that'll require paperless solutions and a document management system. But it won't happen all at once. Consider these questions as you plan to go paperless:
- What paper can you recycle because you just don't need it any more? Old magazines, outdated marketing materials, extensive notes for completed projects, files from former clients and work samples from 15 years ago probably can leave your home office forever. Once they're gone, review the paper that's left to make sure you still need it. If not, send it to the recycling bin or shredder. Move temporary paper, like the notes you took while on the phone, out the door as quickly as possible, too. Photographer: Dusko Miljanic | Agency: Dreamstime To eliminate paper pile-ups, sign up for online banking.
- What paper can you shift to paperless with the click of a button via the Internet? You can eliminate checks, utility and credit bills, and bank and investment statements by using your computer to get statements and pay bills electronically. Move as many of these functions as you can to electronic. Be careful, however, to continue to monitor accounts as often as you did on paper to avoid surprises.
- What paper can you handle electronically? Prepare and file invoices on your computer and send them via e-mail or electronic fax. Use personal finance or accounting software to handle your business's finances electronically. Make meeting arrangements and confirmations online. And think how badly you need materials on paper before you print them out.
- How can you convert incoming paper to digital? Scan and store business cards, client information, diagrams and proposals as electronic files, such as PDFs. If your client agrees, sign paper contracts, scan them and send them back via electronic fax. You'll need to decide what to do with paper records that already exist. How far back do you want to go in scanning these documents?
- How will you handle data management? You can eliminate paper, but you can't eliminate information. Without paper, you'll still need to store and find files, send out information, keep some information confidential and make sure you have more than one copy of important files. To accomplish this, you'll need a secure electronic file system, an easy filing procedure, a regular back-up process, and the software and hardware to make all of this happen.
Next, let's look at technology that can make your home office more paperless.