Guide to going paperless

Why not save a tree and your recycling bin by going paperless?
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01 .Paper cuts


As more businesses embrace electronic records, and technology and fast, ubiquitous internet connect every corner of our lives, the inevitability of going "paperless" starts to draw closer. 

And that's without mentioning the pressing need to conserve precious resources such as trees, find ways to lower CO2 emissions and manage our ever-growing digital footprint.

With this in mind, CHOICE has created a guide to going paperless, to explain the process and help you by providing a practical, informative plan, including:

Is paper more secure than electronic?

If you’re going to embrace the paperless life, you may feel uneasy as you start to dispose of pieces of paper and begin filing your e-documents. If you’re cautious, you can save receipts and important letters in paper form, while recycling other documents. But shopping receipts, for example, can easily fade or be lost and having an electronic copy can help preserve receipts for a warranty claim.

Because computers can crash and files can be lost forever, it’s imperative that you back up all of your paperless documents on an external hard drive and even make additional copies on DVD that can be stored safely offsite.

When it comes to storing documents in the cloud, it’s a slightly different matter because they’ll be stored on servers located overseas. For this reason, it’s probably safer to use one of the more popular cloud storage services, rather than a new or unknown provider because they should be less likely to have security breaches or to go out of business.

Cloud vs computer storage

When you start going paperless you’re going to be confronted by one significant question – where do you want to store your files? It’s either going to be on your computer or attached storage drive, or via the internet with one of the numerous cloud storage services.

  • If you have security concerns or you don’t need access to the files over the internet, then you can simply create folders on your computer and save them locally.
  • If you prefer to have access to documents via a computer or tablet, then cloud storage might be your preference. Most also have apps that allow you to send notes, documents and web clippings from your smartphone and tablet:

Evernote is an online web clipping and file storage service that has free and premium accounts. It’s gained a loyal user base because it’s simple to use and has many useful features. Some people store all their paperless files in Evernote using a paid account that also offers optical character recognition (OCR) for searching, password-protected notes and ample storage space for a large cache of files.

Dropbox is an online file storage service that has free accounts with 2GB of storage space and paid accounts. You upload and download files through a browser and access them online or locally on your computer if you download the Dropbox application to your computer.<

SugarSync will store and sync files, share folders with other users and allow to access files and documents from a browser, smartphone or tablet.

iCloud is the Apple backup and storage service for documents as well as contacts, emails, music, apps and photos.

Google Drive will store Google Docs files and via a browser and there are also smartphone and tablets apps. 

Microsoft SkyDrive works on PCs and Macs, and there are also apps for Windows Phone, Android and iOS mobile devices.


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To make a successful transition to paperless, you’ll need to create a workflow that is

  • straightforward,
  • doesn’t require too much time, and
  • has steps that can be easily repeated each time you need to scan or save a document.

Here, CHOICE has created five steps to going paperless.

Going paperless in five steps

1. SORT: Sorting your mail over your recycling bin is the first step in going paperless.

  • Throw out any and all bits of paper, junk mail and anything else that you don’t need. Don’t store them in a folder, stacked up on the bench or pinned to the fridge.
  • If it’s important, put it in a pile to be scanned, otherwise discard it and there will be less paper to sort through later when you want to scan your documents.

2. E-BILLS: The next thing to do is make a list of all the bills, receipts, invoices, statements and other correspondence you receive from telcos, utility companies, banks and other providers. Ring them up or go to their website and register for electronic correspondence. This will save you time scanning documents that could otherwise be sent via email.

3. SCAN: You’re not going to get far on your paperless conversion without a scanner. Luckily, any multifunction scanner will get you scanning and binning your paper straight away.

  • If you’ll be doing a high volume of scanning and you want the ease of scanning multiple documents of different sizes, double-sided and straight to PDF, then you will probably need to buy a dedicated document scanner. This will make the job fast and efficient and you can then scan anything else that is taking up valuable space in your filing cabinet including product manuals and family history documents.
  • Some people also use their smartphone and/or tablet to take photos of receipts and other documents instead of scanning and then saving it to the computer. A newish smartphone will have a high-resolution camera that is suitable for capturing documents in this way. See box below for apps and instructions to do this.

4. SAVE: To save, you need a folder structure, document naming system and to use a file format such as PDF that can be opened and used on any platform.

  • Create a sensible, workable folder structure for all of your documents. You need to be able to find files when you want them and it has to be easy to save files as you go. E.g., you may want to have separate folders for tax receipts, house and utilities, phone and internet, children’s school and day care, credit card and banking as well as insurance and investments. You may need folders for family history documents, personal files, copies of awards or kids’ paintings as well as product manuals, technical sheets for household appliances and forms that are needed regularly.
  • Name the files so they can be searched easily on the computer and sorted into chronological order to make organising and finding  files simpler.

5. FIND/USE: Going paperless is as much about saving your documents as it is about opening, reading, printing and using your documents.

  • A desktop search using Windows Explorer, Spotlight (on a Mac) or a third-party program installed on your computer will help you find documents if you can’t locate them by manually going through your folders.
  • You'll also need an ongoing, automated backup program to keep your documents safe.
  • It can also be useful to archive your paperless folders regularly, using good-quality gold DVDs. Make two sets and keep one copy in a locked, protected place away from your house in case of burglary, fire or another disaster that could damage your computer.


Photo to PDF with your phone/tablet

If you think that you’ll only need to do a small amount of document scanning, then you might want to use your smartphone or tablet. You can take a photo of a note, letter, receipt, for example, and use a dedicated app to process the image into a PDF file and then email it to yourself. There are also some apps that will scan documents with OCR to save the text. Here are a few that you can try.

JotNot Scanner Pro (iOS): Capture multi-page documents and also link to online storage services, such as Dropbox and Evernote, so you can store in the cloud or save to your computer.

Scanner Pro (iOS): It can scan multiple pages to one document and save as PDF. Files can be sent to Dropbox, Evernote and Google Docs, but this also offers iCloud integration.

Handy Scanner Pro (Android): Scan documents as well as white boards and business cards and save as either a PDF or JPG file. This links to Gmail, Dropbox and Google Docs.

Document Scanner (Android): Scan multiple pages then create folders to which pages can be added later. PDFs can be sent to Dropbox, Google Docs, Evernote and It’s possible to add OCR by sending PDFs to Google Docs or Evernote.

When you start to go paperless, sooner or later you’ll probably find yourself wanting to use a dedicated document scanner. It’s much quicker and easier to tear through scanning many pages of paper than using a flatbed scanner or a multifunction printer. It also makes scanning double-sided documents a breeze.

Before you start scanning pages, create folders on your computer’s hard drive so these are ready to go when you are. Next, collect a pile of paper that needs scanning, sit down - and start dispensing with paper.

Folder set up

Step 1 In Windows Explorer, open the My Documents folder. Click on Make a New Folder to start creating your folder structure for saving your documents into. You’ll need to repeat this step for as many folders as you think you’ll need.

Step 2 Right-click on the folder and select Rename to give the folder a new name. You might want to start with house and car documents, and you can also create sub-folders for individual items including car, health, life, house insurances.

Step 3 You can then continue creating as many different folders as you think you will need for your paperless documents. Give some thought to the way you want to structure your files. For example, it makes sense to place financial documents in their own folder. Be sure to keep receipts and other tax documents organised by financial year as it will make it easier to sort through it all at tax time.

File names

Pick a file name convention and stick to it. Use naming systems that will be easy to remember and that cover the different types of documents that you’ll be saving. Avoid too many characters or strict punctuation. The file name should give some clue to what the file contains to aid your search when you need to find a document at a later date.

If you use the year and month your files will automatically be organised for you. Then you can choose a category and a more specific name for that particular receipt, statement or document. A suggestion for a simple, effective file naming convention is as follows:

Year – Month – Category – Document Name.pdf

2013 – 01 – itunes receipt – pages app.pdf

Document scanning step-by-step

Step 1 Plug the scanner into the power. Install the software onto the computer from the enclosed CD. Do this before plugging the scanner into the computer. Click Run ScanSnap.exe and follow the prompts from the install wizard to install the scanning software.


Step 2 Plug the device into the USB slot on the computer, and open the cover. If there is an extendable document holder, pull this up. Adjust the width size guide and place document/s into the tray ready for scanning. If there are multiple pages, place the first page at the front and subsequent pages after this so they scan in order. The document/s should then be set face down and top first. Press the scan button on the scanner to begin.


Step 3 The scanner software will open with a number of options for saving the document. Choose a destination source depending on what you want to do with the file. In this case, we’re saving the file into a folder. You can scan to email, or for uploading to Google Docs, Word, PowerPoint, for Mobile and so on. Note that you may need to be set up to activate some of these options; for example, you will need to enter a Gmail account, connect to an email program or have Windows installed on the computer to use these options.


Step 4 In the File name box, give the file a name, and then in the Save in box, select the destination folder by clicking on the Browse button. When this is all done, click Save. The scanner will automatically scan both sides of a double-sided document so this file will have multiple pages as each side of the original page becomes a separate page. Repeat this process to scan more documents.




Computer automation with Hazel and Belvedere

Going paperless means scanning a lot of documents, which, in turn, means creating a lot of files, saving them and moving them between folders so they’re stored in the right location. If you find that you’re repeating the same task over and over again every day, you might want to consider an automation program that will do some of the saving, copying and moving files.

There are a couple of programs that can help with these tasks. Belvedere for PC and Hazel for Mac are similar automation programs. You create rules carrying out certain actions on files based on the file name, the extension or type of file, size, age, location and so on.


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