Paper takes a lot of space to store, and especially if you’re used to searching for documents on your computer, rifling through paper piles and digging into file cabinets can seem practically archaic! Many people have been asking me lately to help them go paperless – that is, reduce the amount of paper they have in their homes or offices. You’ll always have SOME paper – the mail will still come in the door, you’ll collect things while out in the world, and you’ll still print things from your computer.
Going paperless can help you reduce the amount of storage space your documents take up, and make it easier to process and find your documents later when you need them. There are four basic ways to help you get your paper documents digitized (that is, scanned and put onto your computer). Here’s the rundown, as well as who each type is right for:
Portable Scanners – If you travel frequently and want to get your documents scanned immediately, a portable scanner will let you do just that. Typically, these devices are small and light and come with software that will let you scan your documents as PDFs and/or into a proprietary database. Some have you scan one sheet or business card at a time, while higher-end (read: more expensive) models will let you insert 10 or 15 sheets. These are a good bet if you have a very small scanning volume or if you travel a lot – if you are mostly stationed at a desk, other options will be easier to use and will likely serve you better. Popular portable scanners are made by the Neat Company, Fujitsu, and Canon, and are typically in the $100-$200 range.
Desktop Scanners - If you’re desk-bound and have a lot of documents that you’ll want scanned on an ongoing basis, a dedicated high-speed desktop scanner may be a good choice. These are usually larger and heavier-duty than their portable counterparts, and can usually scan 25-50 pages at a time, which saves you from having to refill the scanner as frequently. These are a good choice if you have lots of scanning that you’ll be doing yourself on an ongoing basis. Keep in mind that you’ll need to find space in your office to accommodate these devices, which are typically the size of a small printer or fax machine. Common models are made by the same companies that make portable scanners – the Neat Company, Fujitsu, and Canon. These can get pretty expensive ($250-$500+), and they have a lot of moving parts, so if you buy one, it’s worth investing in an extended warranty if one is offered.
Multifunction Devices – If you are short on space in your office and have relatively light scanning needs, a multifunction device – one that is a printer, scanner, fax, and copier all-in-one – may be able to handle a variety of your office tasks. These can save a lot of space because they can replace up to four other separate devices, and they are usually relatively inexpensive ($150 or so for a decent model from HP, Lexmark, Canon, and other large manufacturers). These are a great choice if you have relatively light scanning needs, as they will get the job done, but very slowly – their scanning speeds tend take a lot longer than a dedicated desktop scanner. If you choose one, make sure to get a model that includes an automatic document feeder (ADF), as these will let you load multiple sheets for scanning or copying, rather than you having to put one sheet on the scanner glass at a time.
Scanning Services – If you know you won’t be dedicating time to doing scanning yourself on a regular basis but you still need and want your documents scanned, an offsite scanning service may be a good choice for you. When you sign up for one of these subscription-based services, you’ll receive a prepaid envelope that you fill with your documents and send off to the company once or twice a month. They will scan your docs and send them back to you or shred them at your request. Once scanned, you can view your documents online or download them back to your computer – it’s up to you. These are a great option if you aren’t planning on making a regular habit of scanning, as they handle the grunt work for you. Scanning services typically start around $15 a month and go up from there, depending on how much you need scanned. Popular scanning services are Shoeboxed for business cards and receipts and OfficeDrop for documents.
Going paperless can be a huge boost to your productivity. Choosing the right tool is essential to getting you started off on the right foot. What tools and techniques do you use to help you go paperless?