It Costs to be a Pack-Rat
I have a Franklin-Covey Planning System on my desk. I just love the leather binder and feel inspired when I see all my appointments and to-dos on vibrant pages. The leather binder still looks new and I use a medium-soft black pen to prioritize lists. I've used this system for 10 years, and, it works for me.
Other than my planner, though, my desk has grown void of mail, bills, receipts (from both local and online shopping), customer correspondence and weekly reports. I'm down to one, small file drawer of original documents. Last year, I went digital on nearly everything, and the benefits outweigh my desire to be a pack-rat.
For the most part, I print nearly everything to searchable PDFs, and occasionally OCR documents I may need to later edit for re-printing. A Visioneer Road Warrior is my "rolling" scanner of choice, as it has zero start-up time and scans and saves a page within seconds.
Every receipt, bill (any I can't download offline) and letter gets scanned, the original shredded. I backup all documents to separate drives and locations for both security and "insurance" purposes.
All my appointments, though written in my planner, also get sent to my Palm - I so desperately need those alarms to keep me on track!
I spend a great deal of time learning about people's companies - not only how their online store functions, but how their entire office is setup. This helps me understand their actual requirements and identify key needs for automation and cost savings. I'm actually surprised at how many businesses, especially small ones on very tight budgets, use printers, reams of paper and boxes bought at retail costs. Especially when all the tools to automate and keep track of inventory, sales and cost analysis are usually right at their fingertips.
It's not just about being "greener" - it's really about saving your customers money.
Here's a few tips to get you started on your own Paper-less office:
Go with paper-free billing. If you're concerned about missing those all-important "payment due" messages, create an email account used solely for bills (credit cards, services, utilities, etc.) and mark on your calendar to check that account at least once a week. Use Outlook? You can drag and drop emails into the calendar and schedule a reminder.
Print to PDF. It's so simple. And, if it's good enough for the IRS, it's good enough for me. BONUS: No more hunting around for a misfiled receipt or document because many systems will print and scan-to searchable PDFs.
Stop printing every order record only to file it away. There's a copy of the order on the server, in your email client, and your merchant company also has a record of the charge. All your accounting software needs is daily totals, and most shopping carts include some sort of export or reporting utility to tell you sales amounts and totals.
File meticulously. Take a few seconds to file each digital file or document to an appropriate folder/subfolder so it's even easier to find things. Plus, if you get audited, you can direct the agent right to the files he or she needs.
Use Internet faxing. I've been using this for the past two years and it's so much better. No more printing of unsolicited faxes and most services store both incoming and outgoing faxes so you can look them up later from anywhere.
For statements you must receive by mail, scan them. And if they don't include an "original" signature, shred them.
Include any short, special offers/ads right on the packing slip. The packing slip is the most oft read insert in a shipment, so you'll save money and gain better chances of recipients actually reading your message.
Run spell-checks first. When writing letters and sales copy that you need to print, run a spelling and grammar check first. I know this sounds really kindergarten-y but just think about how many print outs wind up in the trash due to this common mistake. If you have others who can proof-read for you, all the better.
Check for more than typos, too. Last year a research company mistakenly included my office number on their letterhead. My phones were ringing off the hook and they wound up having to destroy thousands of printed documents.
Always ask yourself: Do I really need a hard copy? Most often, the answer is no. Also analyze the time it would take to locate the paperwork opposed to just running a search on the computer.
DEFINITE DOs: Definitely check your digital files before scrapping originals. Definitely SHRED originals for security reasons. Definitely recycle what you can. And definitely backup your computer systems. (I use password-protected pocket hard drives and swap them out at the bank each week).
DEFINITE DON'Ts: Don't print on the back of other printed documents - fibers from other types of coatings or inks can damage the printer. Don't re-use paper to converse with customers (i.e. don't cut an old letter in half to use the blank portion) - it's just tacky. Don't forget to check online services and email for important messages regarding your accounts. And don't be afraid to tell your customers that your taking steps to save them money. (Plenty of people don't care about going green, so the cost savings statement appeals to a wider demographic.)
In 2009 I saved more than $200 on printing paper, and more than $400 on other, less-needed paper-like products. I still use my planner and I still subscribe to a few key magazines (I just can't read "everything" on the web), and dropped others that I simply didn't appreciate as much. In total I saved nearly $1,000, and the weight of the recycle bin each week is getting lighter and lighter.
Going Paper-less doesn't need to be about inconvenience. In fact, it should be more convenient than most current practices. It's really about automation, being able to find things on the fly, saving money, and, in my case - something I really, REALLY needed - a cleaner office.
Hi Pamela! To certain extent idea of paper-less office is really good. It could help to save both time and money.