The Real Paperless Office

Advances in technology move us closer to the ultimate dream – a paperless office. However, we are still far from completely eliminating paper in our daily lives. In this post we will explore the steps and equipment you can introduce into your routine to trim paper from your life.

Invest in a Quality Scanner

A flatbed scanner is great for those occasional documents and photographs that need to be scanned, but for your home-office you need a sheet-fed scanner. These scanners are more compact, are usually capable of feeding new documents automatically, and some models are even capable of scanning both sides of a page simultaneously. The Fujitsu ScanSnap range of speed scanners are one of the best available, and while they are not as cheap as other models, they offer the advantage of being very fast (up to 20 pages per minute) and are also able to detect page size and type.

The ScanSnap range includes Adobe Acrobat Standard, ABBYY FineReader OCR and other software. When looking at other models always look at what software is included, as OCR software (Optical Character Recognition) is essential.

Storage Space

External hard-drives with large amounts of storage space are very affordable, and with the settings recommended below, it is possible to store over 4,000 scanned pages on just 1GB of space. Alternatively you can also consider cloud storage options, such as those offered by Dropbox (referral link used) and Microsoft’s SkyDrive. The added benefit of cloud storage is that your documents are easily accessible to you, even if you aren’t in your office.

Pay for Your Software

The most essential piece of software for a near paperless office is OCR software, and while there are free options available, they often don’t perform all the functions you will need. If the software that comes with the scanner is not suitable, you could consider Adobe Acrobat Professional, Nuance PDF Converter or Nitro Pro. The software creates PDF documents that can be edited, and more importantly, has text that can be searched. Yay!!

Configuring the Software

You are not only looking at having a near paperless office, you also want it to require as little effort as possible, and to achieve this you need to configure a few things first.

Begin with the scanner management software and set the scanning resolution to 300-dpi. This delivers the best results and file size, anything lower will affect the quality of the scanned document, and anything higher results in much bigger file sizes. Next you want to select PDF as the file format, and also select where on your system the scanned documents should be saved. You want the scanned document to run through your OCR software after completion, so look for a setting that allows you to send the document to a specific program – if the scanner management software has this setting, choose the OCR program you have installed. Setting up these defaults saves you from having to make new selections each time you scan documents.

ScanSnap allows you to set automatic duplex (double-sided) scanning and color detection, and you can even configure the software to remove blank pages, correct skew images and rotate upside down or landscape pages. If you don’t have a ScanSnap scanner, read through the help section for the brand you have to see if you can adjust these settings too.

The final step is to set the scanning software to automatically send scanned documents to the OCR program so that they can be turned into searchable PDF documents. Depending on the OCR software you are using, you would be looking for settings that allow the program to recognize text using OCR, with English (US) as the primary OCR language, and then output this as a searchable image.

Once you have completed all these steps you then need to consider how you are going to approach scanning all your documents, old and new.

Two important measures you have to decide on and implement is a naming system or convention, and a filing system. Points to consider include type of document (order, receipt, invoice, correspondence), a description of the content and the date. What you eventually decide on will be what makes sense to you, and what you are able to work with.

You are obviously going to start scanning all new documents as they come in, but you probably want to also scan most of your existing documentation. Carefully consider each document before deciding to scan it, you might have very old documents that you don’t need anymore, even for reference. Destroy these rather than waste time, and space, scanning them, and then work on your strategy to digitize everything else. As each document is digitized you can destroy the hard copy – either by shredding or recycling, depending on the nature of the information in the document.

Work through everything in small batches; set a goal of scanning up to 50 old documents each day, and all new documents. This way you won’t feel too intimidated by the amount of work, and at the same time you create a habit of managing all new documentation. Once you have scanned everything, you will be quite surprised by how much space you have created, and how much clutter you have eliminated.

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