My (almost) paperless office

In case anyone else wants to try the paperless – or very nearly paperless – experiment I mention in a couple of other blog posts, I thought I’d dedicate today’s blog to a quick summary of the technology that I’m using.  Everything is commercially available, although I’m going to make no guarantees that my plan will ultimately be successful – for that, time will tell.

The basic configuration is very simple:

  • a computer: pretty much any computer would do the trick.
  • a scanner: I’ve got an all-in-one device, but any scanner (with appropriate management software) which will deliver a PDF will work nicely.
  • a shredder: paranoia reigns, so if I’m getting rid of sensitive paperwork then I want it to be as far beyond recovery as possible using good cross-cut shredder.

On top of this, I’ve selected two cloud-based service providers for different purposes:

  • Evernote: this stores most of my scanned documents, clipped web pages etc. Excellent for searchable notes (and making PDFs searchable), not good for editable files. All files are replicated on my laptop, in the cloud, and on my phone.  (I’ve been using Evernote for about nine months – and now I’m going to make better use of it.)
  • Dropbox: for storing files I want to edit (eg Word, Excel) from multiple locations. Great as a ‘portable’ drive, not so good for clipping web pages etc. All files are replicated on my laptop, in the cloud, and on my phone.  (This is also my preferred area for sharing files with other people.)

Then I’ve added a couple of extra niceties to reduce the likelihood of catastrophic failure (or sleepless nights):

  • Backup device: makes an incremental backup of my laptop every hour.
  • External boot device: in case my hard drive fails – boot from the device and then restore from the Time Capsule.

That’s how I’m going to be doing it, and so far it seems to be working.  Of course, there is the question of security, and perhaps I’ll muse on that another time.

All of this technology is available to pretty much everyone with a computer – so I have to pose two questions:

  • why did it take me so long to decide to do this?
  • why isn’t everyone doing it?

Technology and paper

I am surrounded by technology.  My iPhone is more powerful than my first computer (and probably the next couple after that!), and the silent efficiency of broadband makes the whistles and boings of modems seem to belong to a bygone age.  And yet, I am still hanging onto mountains of paper in much the same way as I did before.

Why am I doing this? The credit card statements are all available online, as are my utility bills, tv licence and insurance certificates.  I have written four cheques in three years and yet I have diligently kept cheque book stubs from yesteryear.  It’s not that I don’t trust technology, but perhaps it is the nagging paranoia that a single failure could wipe out my entire filing system (even though I have a very effective backup regime).

Technology and trust must hold the key to the future, so I’m going to try an experiment for the next two weeks and see what happens:

  • I will shred all credit card and utility bills once they have been paid – copies exist online if I should need them.
  • if I receive something which I will need to keep or later reference then I will scan it and file it electronically, probably in the cloud where it will be backed up for me – and available on my laptop, my phone, or pretty much anywhere.  Once scanned I will shred the original.
  • I will keep any official documents which I will need to use later – driving licence, vehicle registration and so forth.

I’m sure other people do this all the time.  Will it – and I – be successful?