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Entrepreneurs: Remember the Promise of the Paperless Office?

The When computers first started hitting every desktop, “experts” predicted we’d all be using paperless offices by the end of the 20th century. Welcome to the 21st century, with paper more ubiquitous than ever.

I wrote in my last column about the new Amazon Kindle eBook reader [1] and said:

“We’ve all been anxiously waiting for the ‘paperless office’ prognostications to come true, yet this promise appears to be a delusion that’s more elusive than ever.”

But perhaps the paperless office is in sight. Yes, I’ve listened to those who continue to say that the paperless office is still a dream [2]. But I think the key here is to aim for, and work towards, progress in ridding yourself of paper, not perfection in achieving that ultimate goal. The right data management system can combine the practicality of paper with the speed of new information and technology.

As entrepreneurs and small business owners, we want to eliminate the amount of paper we use because it simply requires too much time (and money) to produce, organize, and reclaim. Doing so could just save your company a lot of money, and help you make more money as well.

With the current proliferation of information, we need to make information available to ourselves and others at the speed of today’s world.

Take a look at the way paper and files are being handled at your business.

If you’re like me, I’d be so bold as to suggest that what you find won’t make you happy.

You may have the most organized office in the world, yet the time that it takes to systematize your record-keeping and sustain this method of organization translates in to real dollars – hours that could be spent on R & D and marketing.

Do you employ a ‘piles’ system of filing, keeping things in neat heaps so that you know exactly where everything is? Think of the physical clutter this causes, as well as the guilt that you feel because you’re always feeling the need to ‘go through’ these piles — to ensure, at the very least, that you haven’t forgotten something.

If paper files are burying your office, “going paperless” might be a good option. But what, exactly, does going paperless mean for your business? It involves making the decision to do it and not turning back. It means getting all those files scanned into the computer, and training staff to use the digital files.

Now those papers that used to have to be shipped from one associate to another or from your business to a client or perspective client can be viewed wherever they’re needed. Your company can save many hours and endless dollars in productivity and efficiency alone.

The reality is that your office will always use paper. The term ‘paperless’ is too high of a standard to reach. Some people need to print things out to read them. You’ll print things to carry with you and show to other people. Not every presentation can be tailored to PowerPoint. You won’t be getting rid of those printers.

But you’ll be getting rid of the filing cabinets, or at least some of them, as you scan files into your computer and create new files on the computer, and the need to constantly organize those files.

Here are 4 things to consider when going paperless:

1. When scanning files, a dedicated document scanner [3] is vital.

2. When saving files, the best and most universally-accepted way is in PDF format, or portable document format. This is a stable format that keeps the file looking exactly as it looked on paper. It can be read online or printed, takes little space, and is easy to create with software available from Adobe [4].

3. If you’re digitizing your files, you’re going to need a hard drive dedicated to holding your new “file cabinet,” and a good data backup system. Technical professionals suggest having two portable hard drives. You back one up to the other each week, and take the backup to an offsite location such as a bank deposit box.

4. If you do not have your computers on a local area network (LAN), they will need to be hooked up so everyone can access the files. Setting up a wireless network costs about $25-50 per computer, plus $75-100 dollars for the “hub” or central router for four computers.

Most people have no trouble viewing digital files and maintaining them. What you and your employees may have trouble with is getting used to the new record-keeping and information management system. Get everyone on board in terms of the file protocols. How should the directories be labeled? How should files be named? It is essential that everyone use the same standards. Decide what those will be and print copies for everyone. Make a copy available on the company network.

Going paperless is a matter of choice: it’s a conscious lifestyle and a work style decision. It’s one that, when completely committed to, can increase your productivity, efficiency, and effectiveness, as well as reduce the amount of waste that each and every one of us produce.

Have you made the decision to go paperless?

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David Bohl on Lifestyle for EntrepreneursAbout the Author: Husband, Father, Friend, Lifestyle Coach, Author, Educator, and Entrepreneur, David B. Bohl is the creator of Slow Down FAST. For more info go to Slow Down Fast [5] and visit his blog at Slow Down Fast blog.