Clients, who are frustrated by all their paper, often ask me “What about scanning it all and going paperless?” I usually recommend “Let’s learn to walk before we can run.” Why waste time and money scanning in the paper that is worthless? I have never made the jump to 100% paperless myself, but recently I discovered I knew someone who has. I’m always learning surprising facts about my manager, Marlie Reid. One of those facts is that Marlie is 100% paperless. The irony is that Marlie is the paper management master in our company! I sat down recently with Marlie, to discover how she mastered paper-LESS.
Matt Baier: Are you 100% paperless?
Marlie Reid: I am 100% paperless except for tax returns and vital records such as birth certificates, passports, things of that nature.
How long have you been paperless?
And how old are you?
I am 25.
At what point did you decide you wanted to go paperless?
It was during the time that my mom was sick, in High School, she had a lot of responsibilities, a lot of bills and I had to take all of those things on. The paper just got overwhelming and I remember seeing her overwhelmed by all of it. I saw that it was a new thing: people were starting to go paperless; different utility companies were offering it. My mom was very big on knowing what date, every month, things needed to get paid and she technically did not need the piece of paper in front of her. I gave her the option and we decided to go paperless with any company that was doing it at the time, and it really reduced the paper we got in the mail and the things we had to open and file. We’d have a file on the computer for certain utilities and that was it.
How long did it take to go paperless and what stages did you go through to get there?
To go completely paperless took about two years. At first not every company was offering it but as the years went on more and more companies started offering it, everywhere you went they asked, “do you want to go paperless?” I was working at Target for a short period of time and even they were paperless with their taxes, their W-2s. You signed up for something saying you didn’t want to receive it in the mail and they would send it to you via email. So if I had stayed at Target I would have had no W-2s or anything, that would have been paperless too. They just email that to you and you do your tax return online and nothing ever comes in the mail. But it takes a while because it’s not done everywhere and companies like to advertise on the envelopes so they still try to send things once in a while. So you have to keep working on it to stay 100% paperless.
What about medical files and insurance statements? Do you scan them, what do you do with anything like that?
That was one of the things that take a while because technically they are not paperless. I don’t have a “Neat Receipts” or any of that but what I would do is scan the medical bills into the computer and I have a medical file. But, the new doctor I have actually will send you the receipt in email. It’s the number one thing I ask, even stores like Macy’s, I always ask if there’s a way to get this via my email. As long as you have neat folders on your computer that you can file them into, nothing ever gets lost and you also have to be strict about knowing your dates and when things are due. If you’re a visual person, that may not work for you. You have to be good with dates and calendars. I write everything down when it’s due. When you enter it on the computer, it’s all there.
So it pays to ask for paperless and it pays to have your digital files well organized. In fact, being 100% paperless kind of dependent on those things, right?
If it’s not organized then it will be the same thing as getting paper files. So you might as well keep getting those.
What are some of the benefits of being paperless?
I completely understand when someone says, “I have a lot paper!” It can be overwhelming, especially if you’re not one of those people who sit every day and opens your mail and neatly puts it away. I know I’m not. And I know a lot of people who are not. It accumulates to a stack of envelopes and sometimes I find it more overwhelming than anything else. There’s so much, it’s tedious. You feel like you need to read every sheet of paper. Believe it or not, seeing it on the computer makes it look less scary than it if was stacks of paper. I find paperless to be very easy.
Is there anything you miss about having paper files?
Did you make any mistakes along the way? Tossed something you thought you had captured digitically but you didn’t?
I actually made one mistake before I went paperless, because I wanted to get rid of paper so much I would toss things that I actually needed. Being paperless actually helped me not to make mistakes because I would always have it. I would click it and find it. When I wasn’t paperless I would throw things out by accident because I was trying to get rid of paper, I thought I was done with it, but I really did need it.
When you say you scan things in do you use a traditional flatbed scanner?
Just a regular scanner.
I have to say I just got the Neat Desk scanner and I love it. I find it to be a huge time saver because I used to find scanning in the flatbed scanner to be a real pain. How long does it take you scan things in? Do you set aside a certain time for scanning, or collect a certain amount of paper, or do you do it as you go along?
I do it as I go along. The whole reason I went paperless was so it would be less overwhelming. I’m trying to get rid of the paper, so right then and there I get it, scan it into the computer, shred it, gone.
Don’t you find the amount of time it takes to scan something and get it to the right place on your computer takes longer than dropping it into a traditional file folder?
Not really. I have to admit other people might find it to be like that because they get receipts and stuff like that. I don’t really scan receipts except for medical and things of that nature. But I’m assuming that a business owner, someone who needs receipts for their taxes might feel like that. I have a friend that I’m helping to get paperless and she always needs her receipts for tax reasons. She finds it easy just doing it my way, as she goes along. But you’re right, it can be overwhelming for some people who think it’s easier to just drop it in a folder. It’s all about what you’re willing to do to get to a certain place.
Are your digital files backed up?
I used to have everything backed up on different flash drives, each flash drive was categorized. I investigated an external hard drive, so I actually have a double back up. [Note: you could also have your files backed up in “the cloud,” which could still keep them accessible in the event of a fire or flood.]
What are some practices that are required to stay paperless, that those of us who depend on paper might not think of?
It’s all about what you’re willing to do to stay paperless. If you find paperless to be “too much” then it’s not worth it. I don’t think it’s too much, I think it’s easier, but someone else might say “I like to see everything in front of me, I like to see it in files. You have to be willing, if it’s something that you can go paperless with, to scan it into the computer, I guess that’s the biggest work involved with it. If you’re not willing to do that then paperless may not be for you.
So going paperless doesn’t mean everything is suddenly automatic?
No, but I find it so much easier, if all you have to worry about are receipts, to scan in when everything else is there.
So you would say doing the scanning is the hardest part of going paperless?
Yes, that’s about it.
Do you think it helps being younger?
Yes. We all work with what we’re accustomed to and my generation is very technologically savvy and everything is computerized. Somebody who has been doing files for years will not just automatically like not seeing these files anymore. It definitely does help.
That would include me, but I am intrigued. Do you think it’s important to trust paperless before going paperless and, if so, can you recommend ways of doing that?
Yes, you have to trust it. At first I didn’t trust it, what if they forget to send you the email, what if I forget? But they’re trying to get paid too so they’re definitely going to keep you aware of when things are due.
It’s in their best interest to make it easy for you.
Exactly. They will do whatever it takes to make it easy for you. The same thing with banks. If your account gets overdrafted you find out immediately, whereas it would come in the mail two days later. Or anything, I just find things happen quicker. It’s not easy at first but once you learn to trust it, it’s the best thing ever.
What do I need to buy to go paperless?
There are things you might already have in your office or home office. Maybe the scanner, but most people have the “three in one.” These are normal things you have, you just make it work for you and help you to decrease the amount of paper.
Here’s a concern of mine. I like having paper out to remind me of things I need to make a point of doing. I am a visual person and that would be something I would have a hard time adjusting to. How are you reminded to do things without paper to tell you?
I don’t like annoying sounds so that’s how I do it. I have my phone make annoying sounds when it alerts me. Different things work for different people. It has to be a sound I want to get rid of. For the most part, I just naturally remember what I have to do but I like to back that up with a phone alert, an email alert and I set it so that it keeps alerting me until it’s done or it’s checked off. I have a friend who has a little pad and if she can’t cross things off, she doesn’t feel like she’s accomplished anything. So it doesn’t work for everyone. It’s just not that hard for me.
The alerts are great, they make sense for me. I’m thinking about things you want to make a point of doing and they aren’t tied to a clock. Like I wanted to be sure to get out a blog today, it doesn’t matter what time I do it. Where do you put that reminder, things that don’t tie to a calendar or timetable?
On my prior phone I had post-its. I would have post-its on the main screen it showed me different things I needed to do so every time I opened my phone that would be the first thing to pop up. That was definitely helpful. And every time I finished something I’d get rid of the post-it.
That is a visual thing but you do have to look at your screen. That is not a hardship these days, I am constantly compelled to look at my I-Phone screen and if I see a bunch of post-it notes I’m going to take care of those things.
Last question. We’ve had clients who’ve talked about wanting to scan everything and go paperless in the past. Do you think this would be a good service for Matt Baier Organizing going forward?
I think it would be. If that is something they truly want to do and we can help them do it, I think that would be an awesome service to provide. I think paperless is the most awesome thing ever created. Paper is the most overwhelming thing for me, so if you can get rid of it and go paperless, then go for it!
Let me know what you think of Marlie’s paperless experience and if you would like to embark on the path to paperless. Our paper management services may soon be joined by paper-LESS management!