Three Hurdles to Overcome

6 min read

by EMILY HOAPILI

power to be paperless

With COVID-19 essentially shutting down the entire world, most of us had to relocate our working spaces to our homes.  That may have involved carting boxes to and fro, or finding you don’t have access to documents you need because they were never scanned and are still on your desk.  Meaning?

Now is as good a time as any to go paperless.

Besides the obvious environmental benefits (saving trees and fun stuff like that), a paperless life can make you more efficient:  Less time filing and rooting through binders and folders, and more time working towards world domination.  It saves money:  Paper may grow on trees, but it ain’t free.  I would even venture to say its good for your health.  Gone are the days where you were at risk of throwing your back out moving filing cabinets or overflowing boxes.

So yes, a paperless life is a better life.  Getting there, though, isn’t an overnight process.  Particularly if you’re not prepared.  Before you can rightly claim your paperless badge of honor, you must clear three hurdles.

Note – this post applies to “finished documents.” While these principles may certainly apply to the files you’re working on (i.e. Word documents), we need to address what happens to those files when they’re done.  

Another note – if you plan on going paperless at work, be double sure your set-up complies with any rules your employer throws at you.  

Hurdle #1 – Using Too Many Platforms

Ideally, your files should all end up as one big happy family in ONE place.  Any more, and you’re wasting time going to look for it or stopping to think where it would be.

This may be a cloud based system (i.e. Dropbox or Google Drive), a note-taking system with storage capabilities (i.e. Evernote or OneNote), or a good ol’ fashioned hard-drive.  The platform you use has to work for you.  And while some platforms may appeal to you, they won’t ever work for you.  To identify your needs, ask yourself:

  1. Is the platform free, freemium, or subscription?  
    Most services advertise as free.  They may very well be free, IF you stay under storage limits or aren’t in need of extra features.  Before signing up, check that the free versions will meet your needs, and if you are willing to pay the costs to upgrade.
  2. Is the platform secure?
    With cloud storage – unless you are uploading directly onto your own server or domain — someone else can control your data.  You need to read the fine print to determine how your data is controlled, transmitted, and stored.   If there is a security breach, how does the platform handle it?  Also — look for services that have two-factor authentication and can have access revoked remotely.
  3. Does the platform play nice with others?
    Will your platform work across your devices?  Does it have offline capabilities when the Wi-Fi sucks?  Will it work with automation services like IFTTT and Zapier?

Hurdle #2 – No File Organization

This is a good time to take stock of how you organize your digital files.  If you’re one of those rare people who can store documents all willy-nilly and still find them on your first attempt, you may do okay sticking to that (I’ll never understand you and I may even be envious that you can, but that’s neither here nor there).

Without a strong system, you’re not going to save any time — one of the biggest benefits of paperless life.

If you don’t know where to start…

We’ve written a post about Evernote and why we love it.  We also shared a simple system to start with.  You can expand on this to meet your needs.  And find a good platform to use.  What a deal.

The absolute best piece of advice we can give you as it relates to digital organization is to NAME YOUR FILES.  If you’re looking for which of your employees was assigned to a new project, which file do you think has that information?

  1. “Meeting 2″
  2. “may meeting”
  3. “05.09.2020 Team Meeting Notes”

Hurdle #3 – No Commitment

You may have a sweet set-up, but if you’re not changing how incoming paper is handled, you’re setting yourself up to fail.

Cut it off at the source.

  • Repeat after me:  “Can you email that to me?”  Decline paper at every opportunity.  If you can’t decline it, scan it.  Even if you end up taking notes on a meeting agenda, scan it after the meeting and toss it.
  • Get set-up for paperless billing or electronic communication from any business or bank you patronize.
  • Get yourself off mailing lists.
  • Decline receipts when possible, and ask for electronic receipts (pro-tip:  you can get CVS receipts emailed, and send those sweet coupons to your ExtraCare card.  I have personally saved six forests doing this).
  • Don’t print anything, anymore.  I mean it.  If something needs a signature, you can look at apps like DocuSign.  Bookmark online instruction manuals.  For articles or emails you want to keep, save them as a .pdf.

Scan, scan, scan.

Scan everything.  You can do this with a phone app, an actual desktop model, or even a portable scanner (we love this one).
After we scan, we shred.  If you don’t have a shredder, look for community events that offer free shredding.  Also, check with your local government services.  Some offer free shredding services to residents.

After we scan, we shred.

Go Marie Kondo and toss it.  If you’ve scanned it and it’s not a document you’d need at the DMV or to show the IRS, you can probably toss it.  If you’re not sure, Washington State has a decent FAQ on what to shred to prevent identity theft.


Even when you commit, paper can still creep back in.  Periodically, you should review where paper is getting through and take a few minutes to plug the leak.  You’ll need to regularly review your digital files to be sure they are staying organized.

As Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Investing some time and doing this right will turn you into a paperless warrior in no time.

The trees, and your back, will thank you.