One of the things I’ve done to simplify my workspace (and home life) is to go as paperless as possible.

What used to be a ton of folders and trays and drawers is now reduced to bits on my computer (and backed up on the Internet). I can easily find things by searching, access what I need anywhere in the world, and it no longer clutters up my space.

If you’re interested in going paperless, I’ll share how I transitioned from paper to digital.

Getting Started

Going paperless is a slow process, and you shouldn’t expect to do it overnight. If you have a huge amount of papers, just do it in little bits, slowly, and you’ll get there.

Here are some things you can do immediately:

  1. Assess your papers. What kind of papers do you have? Where are they? How much do you have to digitize? Consider both work and home papers. What absolutely needs to be in paper form (like a birth certificate) and what can be digitized (tax documents)? Take a few minutes to look over what you have.
  2. Switch your bills to paperless. If you’re getting utility and credit card bills (among others), you can usually go online, log into their website (create a login if you don’t have one yet), and opt for paperless bill. This means they email you the bill instead of mailing it to you. It saves a lot of headache and paper. Better yet, opt for auto-pay, so you don’t have to worry about bills anymore.
  3. Ask for other things to be sent digitally. If you still have colleagues or clients sending you stuff via paper, ask for the digital versions instead. It takes a little time to ask people to switch, but it’s worth it because it reduces your need to scan things. There’s almost always a digital version of a document, because they’re almost always created with a computer.
  4. Get a scanner. OK, this isn’t always cheap, so if you can’t afford it yet, just start saving, or find a way to borrow someone else’s scanner. I bought the Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500M years ago, which is a dedicated document scanner. It changed my life — it scans a stack of documents (both sides) very quickly, and then allows you to quickly save it into your favorite destinations. My scanner is a bit out of date, though — you might check out one of these.
  5. Start digitizing incoming papers. When you get mail or other papers come into your home or office, digitize them immediately. With the ScanSnap, it can be done in seconds, so make it a habit of digitizing things as soon as possible.
  6. Start doing your old papers in small chunks. Take a stack of documents, quickly scan them, then save them into the appropriate folders (more on this below). Do this for about 5-10 minutes, then do more tomorrow. Eventually you’ll get there.

That’s how to get started — let’s look at different kinds of documents.

Kinds of Papers

There are lots of kinds of papers, and I can’t cover them all, but here are some ideas:

I’m sure I’m missing a whole bunch of types of papers, but I think you get the idea.

The Digital System

Because everything is digital, it’s important to make sure everything is backed up. I simply use Dropbox — then everything is on my laptop, desktop computer, and backed up on Dropbox’s servers (and they keep several copies themselves). So if you save everything into your Dropbox folder, you don’t need to worry about backing up (at least in my experience — I’ve been doing this for years without a problem). You can also access your Dropbox when traveling, from anywhere with an Internet connection.

Here are the folders I have in Dropbox:

That’s about it. Your needs will obviously be different, but I thought I’d share what I do.