We’ve all heard this buzzword before, but what does it actually mean? What would a truly paperless working environment look like? To figure these questions out for myself, I decided to try it out first-hand. After a relatively smooth transition, all aspects of my personal life are now handled digitally. I’d thought I would share my journey so far, including the benefits and the challenges I’ve faced.

 

Benefits

1. Anywhere access

First and foremost is the ability that I now have access my documents from anywhere in the world, as long as I have a device with an internet connection. I cannot emphasise just how much of a benefit to productivity this is. Recently, I’ve had to have several visits to the GP, specialist and radiological clinic due to a finger injury. As we all know, doctors and clinics love paperwork. By digitising ever bit of paperwork I received as soon as I received it, I was able to turn up to all my appointments without worrying about bringing anything along, except my phone, which I bring everywhere I go anyway.

2. Instant sharing

Secondly, it is easier than ever to share my documents with anyone I need to. If my relatives in overseas want to know when I’m coming to visit, I share them a link to my flight itineraries. If my health insurer wants to know the cost of my last dental visit, I email them the invoice then and there. And if my mechanic wants to know what model my car is, I can send him the original paperwork from the day I bought it.

3. Tree saving

Aside from the personal productivity benefit, there is obviously a huge environmental benefit from doing away with paper completely. All the ink, paper and energy saved from keeping everything digital may be small, but it does add up over time. And by being digital, you can force others to save on printing as well. My health insurer and mechanic are more likely to reply by emailing me back with their quotation as opposed to printing it out, since I emailed them my info in the first place.

 


Making the transition

For me the key, as it is anytime we wish to change our behaviour, is to make it become a habit.  How do we make something a habit? Well I set 2 criteria for myself.

  1. Stupidly easy
  2. Always accessible

The first aspect in going paperless is to decide on the process of digitization. The process will usually comprise of three stages:

(1) Digitising the document

How will you convert all your paper based documents into digital format?

The perfect solution that meets these is a smartphone scanning app. Most smartphones now have decent cameras with more than enough pixels to render a high quality image of a document. Paired with a decent scanning app, such as the excellent Evernote Scannable for an iPhone, or CamScanner for Android, the quality of the scanned document is more than adequate for almost any use.

(2) Storing the document

Where will you store all your digital documents?

To satisfy our values, the solution has to be cloud based. Whichever cloud storage provider you pick is really up to personal preference. Dropbox, Google Drive and OneDrive are the three most popular. If you’re really committed, I’d try all three (they’re free anyway) and see which you like. However, if you use a Windows PC, I’d recommend OneDrive as it has the best integration.

(3) Accessing the document

How will you access your digital documents?

Generally this is as easy as signing into your account on your storage provider’s website or smartphone app. Your choice of provider is again dependent on what works best for you. I use OneDrive, and this is as simple as signing in to the OneDrive website from any computer in the world. On a smartphone or tablet, there is the OneDrive app that I simply launch. And on my personal windows laptop, it is integrated into the My Documents folder like a regular, offline, folder.

 


Challenges

(1) Information security risk

This risk unfortunately comes hand in hand with the huge benefit of being able to access your documents from anywhere. By placing all your documents in one spot, accessible by anyone with an internet connection, you’ve made it very convenient for anyone who would want to get hold of your data. For me, personally, the biggest risk is that anyone who steals my phone, and figures out my screen unlock pattern, could theoretically access all my personal information — if they knew where to look.

(2) Loss of data

When you have paper documents, you have the comfort of having a physical copy which isn’t going to go anywhere, unless you lose or damage it. When you make a digital copy, suddenly your information only exists as electrical impulses in a server somewhere in India. I still hesitate when I’m about to throw away an important document, even after I know I’ve taken a photo and uploaded a copy of it to my cloud storage. Old habits die hard.

(3) The rest of society hasn’t quite caught on yet

Most businesses will claim they are ‘innovative’ and at the cutting edge of technology, but the reality is that the majority of them still rely on paper procedures to get things done. As a result, by being a fore-runner and going completely paperless, you will encounter some resistance. Whether it’s the receptionist who frowns at you when you say you’ve only got a copy of the referral letter but you can email it to her, or the host who won’t accept the image of the ticket you show him on your phone, you will just have to be patient and accept that the world moves slowly. Because we as humans hate to change.