We’ve all been there: Keeping and storing documents that we deemed important throughout the years only to walk into the home office space one day and see a mountain of papers staring back. This can be magnified ten-fold if you work from home. The good news is there is an easy solution that will save you time, money, storage space, and clutter.

Going paperless is not only better for the environment, but it can make you more productive. In this digital age, it is not only easy to create a paperless home office but it also offers you a personalized and efficient solution to tackling important documents.

Creating a paperless home office is a two-part process. The first part is building your paperless system, while the second is all about how you maintain your paperless office. Putting in the time up front and investing in the right tools is absolutely essential to creating an efficient paperless home office.

Tools

To start, gather your paperless tools. A quality scanner can go a long way in turning your home office into a paperless office. While many home printers have a scanner function, there are scanner options available that will send your scanned documents directly to your computer for easy filing. Another great feature of quality scanners is the ability to make documents searchable.

Simply configure your scanner software to use optical character recognition (OCR) to automatically turn every scanned document into a searchable PDF, which allows you to find documents by searching for words they contain.

When setting up your toolbox, it is important to make sure that you have the correct computer cables needed to connect all of your devices to your computer. This will ensure that all of your devices can “talk” to one another. With the addition of multiple cables, it is a good idea to purchase cable management solutions to avoid a tangled mess.

In addition to scanners, cables, and cable management systems, other items you will want to consider purchasing are a shredder, an external hard drive, and document storage software. More on how these tools will help later.

System

Now that you have your tools, it is time to set up a system. It is helpful to have a scan, discard, and file system. Start with one section of your office and evaluate every document. Does it contain important information that you will need to reference later? Then place it in the scan pile. If the document is something you won’t need in the future, then it goes straight into the discard pile.

If the document is an important document where the original needs to be kept, then it can go into the file section. Documents such as birth certificates, titles, deeds, marriage certificates, etc., usually will fall into the file section. It is smart to scan them, as well, but most likely you will need the originals in addition to a digital copy. It is a good idea to store these items in a safe, fireproof box just in case. It is important to be as ruthless as you can when setting up your system. Take the time to evaluate every document and, if you don’t need it, it should go.

Before scanning your documents, create an organized digital filing system. Create an online filing system as you would for paper in a filing cabinet. Build folders in a way that makes the most sense to you and be very meticulous. Putting in the work from the start to build an organized digital filing system will save you time in the future. Name each document as specifically as you can, as this will help when searching for the document in the future.

If you need more room, there are many digital storage solutions available. Simply upload your documents to one of these services, and you can access it from any computer or even on your mobile devices through the app.

Setup

Now you’re ready to scan the documents and file them on your computer. Keep in mind, this is a process, and it will take time, though putting in the work up front will help ensure an organized paperless system in the future. Once you’ve scanned your documents, double check that they are on your computer, and then either shred or recycle the papers. It is smart to get into the habit of shredding documents that contain sensitive information, such as your social security number.

Now that all the initial documents are there, take the time to back your computer up onto an external hard drive. This will save you from a disaster in the future if something happened to your computer.

This is just the start

The good news is you’re now done with the first part! But building a paperless home office is only one side of the equation. Get into the habit of storing documents digitally. It is helpful to stop the paper before it begins. Many banks, utility companies, credit card companies, etc., all provide paperless statements. When you access your account, make sure you sign up for the paperless billing option. If you do need to access a statement and keep it on file, simply download the digital statement and file it away on your computer. Use the “print to file” option to save electronic documents from outside, like e-mails or online statements, to their correct electronic files when needed.

Options

Use services such as Google Docs to easily share files with others. You can work simultaneously with colleagues on a document or spreadsheet and even “chat” with others viewing the document. The file is automatically saved and, if you need to download the file, you can do so with the click of a button.

Going paperless saves you time, money, clutter, and stress. Easily find important documents and share them with others. It’s important to take the time to properly set up your system and, once completed, get into the habit of stopping paper before it starts and storing needed documents digitally.

Don’t forget to regularly back up your files to an external hard drive and, once a year, complete a digital file cleaning. Trash any that you no longer need, move files that are going to storage to an external storage device, and set up new files for the upcoming year. Following these simple steps will lead you to a happy and organized home office.

 

About the guest author: Chuck is an IT professional and US Army Vet with a B.S. in Information Technology and  several certifications under his belt. He’s been blogging for Firefold.com for several years.

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