How I do paperless

How I do paperless

Summary: ZDNet columnist Denise Amrich shares a bit about how her paperless process works, in hopes that it may inspire you to find creative ways to reduce an overwhelming paper presence in your offices and lives.

TOPICS: SMBs, Security

Productivity boost and ease of sharing

Items that require action are added to my Toodledo To Do List, which I can access from anywhere on my phone. If I have a few spare minutes while I'm out and about (maybe while waiting for a friend to arrive for a planned activity), I can deal with one or two of those items remotely.

To me, paperlessness isn't about cutting paper completely out of my life, it's about being in right relationship with paper.

Once things are scanned and on my server, I can get to them from my desktop, my laptop, my tablets, my media center, and my phone. Everything syncs with my Evernote, so everything is with me at all times. That is a level of connectivity to my data that is scifi movie level and represents a huge boost to productivity.

If someone asks me for a document at a business meeting, I don't have to dig it up and remember to do it later. I can email it to them right from my phone, in real time.

Saving space

There's a great document scanning and shredding service near me that will shred 200 pounds of paper for $25. After file cleaning (removing staples) and scanning (for which I hired a temp), 400 pounds of paper were shredded and baled by a giant machine, and taken by forklift to a recycling facility.

They let me watch the whole process to satisfy my concerns about security. It was a geeky blast! Look in your area to see if bulk shredding is available. It's fun, and it's so worth it not to have to slave over your own office shredder (and possibly burn out its motor).

Our company's warehouse is slowly emptying of old file boxes after they've been either cleaned and scanned, or dumped after their legal archiving period expires.

One positive side benefit of digital document archiving is that, moving forward, we can store more than seven years of paperwork voluntarily because it's easy. Unless you're trying to hide something, why bother flushing it? Digital data storage is cheap.


Many people are worried about hacking, identity theft, and government snooping. That is a real concern. If you don't trust the cloud, you can do double onsite backups behind an excellent firewall, and maybe keep offsite backups on hard drives in a safety deposit box. Larger companies can use offsite archiving services like Iron Mountain and the like.

My main security concerns involve making sure I don't lose my data to fire, flood, hardware failure, and the like. The Library of Alexandria was burned, but the whole thing would have probably fit on one Ankh-shaped thumb drive. If it were discovered in the desert or coastal ocean, and we could figure out what it was (and had a way to read the file formats), we'd probably still have a way to access all that lost knowledge.


So much has been said about the importance of avoiding deforestation and paper waste that I don't have too much to add here, and I assume I'd be preaching to the choir anyway. One thing I will say is that as we each move into our own right relationship with paper and reduce paper waste and overwhelm, the macrocosm will reflect the microcosm and the world will be a better place.


I wish you well on your paperless adventures.

I'd like to conclude by hilighting a very meaningful discussion board comment by one of our readers, M. Wager. I'll just quote it from his post, because I couldn't possibly say it better:

"Access to the written word, to works of art, to information of all kinds is accessible to almost anyone anywhere. The cost of this ubiquitous access is, of course, the need for technology.

But the human race is so much better off for having this access available to a large — and rapidly expanding — segment of the human family.

If all the electricity all over the world were suddenly gone, access to that information could be lost but one must balance that risk against the benefit of having all of human knowledge accessible to the great bulk of humanity."

Please share your tips and techniques in the TalkBacks below so we can all get better at reducing paper.

Topics: SMBs, Security


Denise Amrich is a Registered Nurse, the health care advisor for the U.S. Strategic Perspective Institute, and a mentor for the Virtual Campus at Florida's Brevard Community College.

Nothing in this article is meant to be a substitute for medical advice, and shouldn't be considered as such. If you are in need of medical help, please see your doctor.

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  • I don't need to go paperless

    paper is simply a tool used in print communication media. In some cases, it does not serve as well, and in many other cases it serves better.

    Why do I need to go paperless? I see no compelling need. I don't have to worry about the battery going dead on my newspaper. My coding programming language books can show me the code in Courier typeface, instead of scrunched up and Serif on a tiny word wrapping tablet window.

    While the author has good examples on how to waste less time on office form processing, not all paper is forms. Sometimes paper is that draft that someone sent you, and digesting it as a printed doc outside in the sunshine is the best way to absorb its contents. People should be less dogmatic about trend following, and just do what works for them. For me, that does include paper.
  • I've Scanned Most of My Personal Paper Files

    I like the idea of going "near paperless". Having scanned most of my documents, I feel they are now even more easily accessible (half the battle is designing a good electronic filing / search system upfront.

    But when it comes to details -- such as reconciling numbers among different statements -- I still think it's easier with paper than tabbing back and forth on the computer screen.
  • Why keep paper?

    I keep no papers whatsoever in the long term. I scan (or download and save) anything important. I don't keep monthly bills like credit card statements, utility bills, etc because you can get them all online. I do keep tax things in a folder, but after I fil emy taxes, I scan those in and get rid of them. All my tax returns, legal documents, etc are scanned in.

    For bill paying, I have found that taking the 30 seconds to pay the bill when I open it (or get it in email) is easier than keeping them all to one day a month. Then I immediately shred the bill. No losing track of it or misplacing it or chance of saving it.