Transitioning from paper to digital information is a good way to go paperless, but also to be able to access your files from anywhere in the world and share them with other people. Here are the few steps you should be taking if you’re considering going paperless as well as a few tips to organise the digital information so you can find it when you need it.
Step 1: Subscribe to electronic statements and invoices
Banks, credit cards companies, frequent flyer programs as well as phone, mobile phone, internet, and utility companies typically offer an electronic option for statements and invoices. Choose to receive an email to inform you when your statement or bill is available for viewing and download.
Download the file onto your computer so that it is easily accessible when you need it. Skip this step only if you are clear on how long you will be able to retrieve this information on their site and if it is in line with the duration you retain such documents. For example, if you need to keep your bank statements for 5 years, but your bank only grants you access to them for two years, you are better off downloading them.
Most of the user manuals for domestic appliances, electronic devices, etc. are now available online. Check the manufacturer’s website when you buy a new item. Download the user manual on your computer if it is available and get rid of the paper version.
Step 2: Scan NEW papers that enter your life and that you need to keep for future reference
Invest in a scanner or multi-purpose printer, or download an application on your phone, to scan any new papers that you need to keep for future reference such as medical reports, school report cards, etc. File them onto your computer and let go of the original wherever possible.
Similarly, scan the name cards you are given, or manually input the contact details into your contact database. Alternatively, ask yourself whether you could just connect with the person on a social media platform such as LinkedIn or Facebook based on the nature of your relationship. Then get rid of the card.
Step 3: Deal with your backlog
Tackle your existing paper files only after the first 2 steps, once you are comfortable you have a good system in place for the new incoming papers.
Digitising paper can be a long and tedious process so make sure the papers you are planning to digitise are worth keeping. Even if they are, you may want to hang onto the paper version until you would typically get rid of them instead of spending time digitising them.
With all that’s said, keeping a digital version of important records and documents, such as your identity card, passport, birth certificate, marriage certificate, driver’s license, bank account and credit card numbers, etc, can prove very useful in case of loss or if you have to frequently share the information. Obviously, you need to keep the paper version of these documents.
Step 4: Set up a robust filing system
Going paperless does not mean you should compromise on your filing system. In fact, you might need to be even more vigilant as you are very likely to maintain a paper filing system in parallel as it is impossible to completely get rid of all paper.
File the information by category e.g., Finance, Health, Education, Work, etc., and sub-category where needed e.g., Finance into bank accounts, credit card accounts, investments, etc.
Use a consistent filing structure across your paper and digital filing systems to make it easier to find the information you need. Having a master index summarising your filing system structure and files as well as whether the information is kept in a hard or soft copy can also help.
Establish a clear naming convention so that the file name is self-explanatory. Take the time to rename the files you download based on your naming convention. I like to start my filenames with the date in a YYYYMMDD format so that the files are sorted chronologically which saves me a lot of time when I do my annual decluttering exercise as I’m able to discard the 12 oldest months very easily.
Store or copy your files on the cloud so you can access them from anywhere. This is particularly handy when you travel and need to access important information. I was once asked for additional documents for a visa application that had not been communicated to me before I showed up for the appointment at the embassy. I was able to retrieve them from the cloud on my phone and email them to the embassy on the spot. This saved our all family a trip back to the embassy and the stress of having to get another appointment on time before our trip.
Step 5: Maintain your filing system
Even though digital files are less visible than paper files, it should not exempt you from doing a regular purge so that files do not accumulate, making it easier for you to find the information you need.
It is critical you back up your files regularly, maybe once a month, or at least once a quarter. You can use an external drive for this. Allocate a time in your schedule for this task so that you don’t forget and put your system at risk.
Now if despite those tips you find technology to be too cumbersome or too stressful for you, I’d recommend you stick to a paper version.
If you want to learn more about how to go paperless, register your interest for the next intake of my course on how to tame your paper clutter at home.