Ever since the 1 and 0 of the first email exchange hit the web, people have envisioned a paperless future where documents live on computers and every inbox is virtual. With today's ultra-slim tablets, cloud storage networks and mobile apps, going paperless is more feasible than ever.
To bring the idea of a paperless office (or home office) to life, you'll need to familiarize yourself with some of the kits and apps available. You will also need to spend time developing processes for existing and incoming documents that need to be processed.
If you're going to do everything paperless, then you have to do something with the mountains of paperwork you already have. There are dozens of flatbed scanners to choose from, and you can even have one built into your printer (opens in a new tab). But the Doxie Go (US$199, €169, around AU$218) is also worth checking out. This portable and rechargeable scanner can work with or without a PC at hand and will allow you to quickly scan your documents.
The Doxie Go can scan documents without a computer.
The software included with Doxie Go is also useful, allowing you to assemble pages, export files to PDF, and upload your scans to a cloud storage service like Evernote or Dropbox.
Fujitsu's ScanSnap line models serve a similar purpose and can handle larger batches of documents at once if you're willing to pay more. You can pick up last year's iX500 model for around €370 (US$495, AU$524) online.
Fujitsu's iX500 can handle multiple sheets at once
The widely recognized PDF format should be the format of choice for your documents, especially if you can get OCR (optical character recognition) software that can catalog the text within pages. By cataloging and naming your documents as they arrive, you can avoid a bottleneck later on.
On your journey from document overload to paperless nirvana, it's important that you don't just replace physical clutter with digital clutter. Being able to organize and search through the documents you create is essential, so spend some time creating a system that works for you.
Evernote is capable of handling documents and images with aplomb
Evernote is the epitome of the paperless revolution, allowing you to collect all kinds of images, documents, and links into a global library of digital notebooks.
The beauty of Evernote is its limitless flexibility, which means you can use it in so many different ways. A basic account is free, but if you choose to upgrade to the premium plan for €3 per month ($5, AU$11), you get offline mode, collaboration tools, and the ability to search PDFs and other documents.
Evernote includes a labeling feature like Gmail, so you can set up a series of labels to keep your digital documents in order. Of course, you don't have to overcomplicate things if a simple set of Windows folders will do the job, but as always, make sure you have backups if you destroy the originals.
OneNote desktop version handles attachments and scans
Microsoft's Evernote rival, OneNote ($39.99, US$49.99, AU$59.99) works in a similar way, though attachment support is only available on the desktop version of the app.
For smaller businesses on the market, comprehensive document management systems like PaperPort Professional ($99,99, $199, AU$199,95) and FileCenter Pro ($199,95, around $121, AU$219 ) offer more advanced database features with automatic text scanning and conversion.
The evolution of the mobile phone to a miniature computer means that you already have a screen that is always with you. But for viewing larger documents on the go, the latest iPad Air (starting at $399, US$499, AU$598) is hard to beat. Apple has done an impressive job of reducing the weight and increasing the thinness of the iPad, and we previously described it as "the closest thing to perfection in a tablet".
No matter what tablet or mobile phone you have with you, there are plenty of ready-to-use apps to make your documents available anytime, anywhere. There's Dropbox, Google Drive, Box, iCloud, OneDrive, and the aforementioned Evernote, to name a few.
All these applications are based on cloud storage systems, which means that your documents are not locked on a hard drive. These services sync files between devices and computers while maintaining a backup in the cloud. They can also be used to share documents on the web.
All of the aforementioned storage options have their uses, but Google Drive is the one that stands out right now. You get 15GB of free space, it works on virtually all platforms, and the editing tools are built-in. Drive also scores extra points because its Android app can scan documents through your phone or tablet's camera and turn them into searchable PDFs.
Google Drive app for Android can scan to PDF
No matter how your home or office is set up, you should now have a better idea of how you can reduce the amount of flying paper. We recommend working on a suitable system before you start buying hardware and downloading apps. Determine what you need to catalog, how you need to be able to access it, and how to organize it once it's digital. After that, you can choose a suitable combination of hardware and software.