PAPER VS. ELECTRONIC: WHERE DO YOU STAND

by Tanisha Dunkley, Contributing Writer

Can you imagine your life with absolutely no paper-based documents? For many of us, this scenario sounds like something straight out of a science-fiction movie. However, for Andrew Neary, the decision to eliminate all paper-based business and personal documents and go completely “paperless” has been the key to an effective document management system.

A professional organizer and owner of OrganizingToronto, Neary has been leading a paperless lifestyle for the past eight years. He made the choice back in 2010 in order to establish a clutter and stress-free environment, and to serve as an example to his clients that it is possible to organize their life without holding on to papers.In fact, Neary has a very definitive stance on the use of paper-based documents.

“Paper is going out and it makes no sense for people to have paper anymore,” he contents, asserting that “the only people that really need to have any type of paper documents are lawyers and doctors.”

For everyone else, Neary says, having a paper flow is simply a burden that often results in pressure and anxiety when it comes to organizing and storing important documents. He believes that individuals and businesses can be taught a habitual changes to become successful without paper-based documents.

Scan It & Shred It! – To eliminate all paper flow, Neary scanned all of personal and business related paper-based documents and converted them to PDF files.“This file format is the foolproof way to save documents because PDFs will not go out of style,” says Neary, explaining that then saved the files to a hard drive and sent copies of each to his email account. Lastly, he made sure to shred and recycle all the paper-based materials. “If people are so overwhelmed by clutter and paper, then they really need to take a leap of faith and try a different method of organizing themselves in a way that does not involve the use of paper, Neary continues. “A lot can be reduced simply by taking things out of envelopes, taking what you need and getting rid of everything else.” –

To maintain his paperless regimen, Neary followed strict adherence to several crucial habits to ensure that he would no longer accumulate any more paper-based materials.

VISA Expenditures –Neary buys everything using his VISA credit card. He does this so that he has no paper based receipts from any of his purchases. Moreover, his VISA statements are all stored online and can be easily accessed when needed through his financial institution. :

Online Invoicing –To receive and submit statements for personal and business related services, Neary employs a mobile spreadsheet application called Numbers. An Apple software product, this application enables him to create and share invoices without the need for any paper-based documentation. All generated information is stored in an iCloud storage account from which Neary can directly print or email to himself or a desired client.:

Notes Application –For all other instances when Neary needs to jot down a note, he relies on the Notes application on his mobile phone to quickly write down his thoughts, draft out memos and other documents, and to store any text-based files that he may want to refer back to.:

E-Bills & Statements –Neary also takes advantage of every e-billing program offered by his service providers, which allows him to receive billing notifications and statements directly to his email account.:

“Many businesses and service providers now offer their customers online billing so there is really no need for anyone to have to receive paper-based statements. Technology is making a lot of this possible and providing us with a means to be more environmentally-friendly and keep the world clutter-free,” says Neary. So can technology and the online programs provided by businesses be trusted to manage all of our important documentation? Neary has absolute faith in his decisions.

“Technology is always going to change and by the time an application becomes obsolete, it is probably time to discard the files saved in that program anyway. If someone has a trust issue with a company managing their documents electronically, then they really should not be giving that company their business.”In with the new, but not necessarily out with the old! Still, although technology is bringing simplicity and ease to our document management woes, there are some who still have a sentimental connection toward paper-based documents. 

I don’t think paper will ever die! People are visual and like to have something tangible,” saidBrad Borg, Professional Organizer and owner of In & Out Organizing. It’s just like a book where some people would rather read a novel in hand instead of on a computer or a mobile device.” Borg insists that some paper-based materials warrant being kept in their original form and that there are some tried and true methods for organizing and managing these materials. “It’s really a matter of getting back to the old system of decluttering and organizing,” said Borg. He believes the process starts with taking time to sort through and separate essential paper- work from non-essential documents. Materials containing personal or busi- ness details that are no longer needed should always be cross-shredded to safe-guard against fraud or identity theft.

Borg contends that the biggest challenge for most people is figuring out a system of organizing that will work for their personal or business needs, noting, “a good rule of thumb is to file and organize documents the way that you need to access them. Think about how your mind works and how you tend to approach searching for files when you need them.”Having the proper filing and storage equipment is another important consideration. Borg prefers lateral file cabinets compared to vertical cabinets because they have better storage capacity, are safer and easier to maintain. As well, both the legal size and letter size files can be stored within the same drawer. Still, vertical file cabinets may be the better option for smaller spaces, al-though they can be too deep and bulky when in use. Consider vertical cabinets to archive files that don’t need to be accessed every day.

So what do you do with those miscellaneous paper-based items that have more sentimental importance than actually day-to-day relevance? Borg calls these his sweetheart documents which include things such as postcards, birthday cards, wedding invitations and pen pal or love letters.He organizes his sweetheart documents, sorts them chronologically by year and puts them in folders. These sweetheart files are always placed in front of all of the other folders inside his filing cabinet for quick and easy access. “Although the items are randomly organized by year, I am still able to find them easily when I need them. They are like a series of trophies that allow me to reminisce on all that I have done throughout the year.”

Business cards are another tricky subject when it comes to filing. Borg has a solution for this too. He uses an antique Dewey Decimal System cabinet with storage boxes to organize his business cards by subject or topic. “This comes in really handy especially when I am asked out of the blue to help someone find a specific contact like a mover, lawyer or a particular type of restaurant. I literally have a box of contacts at my fingertips.”

Salma Cali works as a Billing Coordinator for the Allstream office located in Markham and she believes that more and more businesses are discovering benefits to minimizing the use of paper-based business documents. “Record keeping is important both for business and for tax purposes and many companies are moving away from paper-based documents and are instead choosing to store their records online,” she explained. “At Allstream, we now have our invoices online where, if need- ed, customers can retrieve any electron- ic statement at their convenience.”

Cali said with the new online invoicing process, the company is still able to maintain and ensure safe and effective record keeping and all electronic invoices are retained for seven years for audit purposes. In fact, since her department switched over to electronic billing, the number of printed paper-based invoices has decreased from 300 to less than 50 per month. “Since most customers are now choosing to take advantage of the electronic billing option, there has been a positive shift in the department’s work- flow in that everything is moving quickly both for employees and customers.

We are no longer spending time printing and mailing invoices and customers don’t have to wait days to receive their statements.” Cali says the change has also been positive for the company’s bottom line: “Reducing expenses for things such as paper supply and printing equipment has created a lot of cost-savings for the business, and those improvements are clear indicators for us that we’ve made the right decision.”

Selecting a Filing System

All filing systems fall into three general classification categories: subject, numeric, and alpha- numeric.Subject Filing System – Organizes names or subjects by letters of the alphabet.  Numeric Filing System – Uses numbers or dates to arrange information.  Alphanumeric Filing System – Uses combinations of letters and numbers. To evaluate suitability of a filing system, the following should be considered: Is the system logical? Logic speeds learning, so staff members do not have to rely on memory alone. The method behind the system should be clear and reasonable.

Is the system practical? Does it do what you want it to do? Avoid academic and overly com- plex classifications. The system should be designed to use common terms known to all users of the system.Is the system simple? Simple means easy to learn. The system should be as straight-forward as possible, with little (or preferably no) room for interpretation.

Is the system functional? Does it relate to the function of the records it addresses? Classification terms should reflect the function of the records regardless of their operational location.

Is the system flexible? You should be able to expand it when needed. Additional or different classifications might be needed in the future, or your office may experience unforeseen growth or change. Your filing system should be able to accommodate growth and change.

Is the system standardized? Filing system terms should be standardized, because using different terms to describe the same record or subject will cause confusion. You should also have a written set of rules for all staff to follow, to avoid lost files, misfiles, and unplanned duplication of records and filing locations.

This Article was originally published in the Spring 2017 Issue of Office Today Magazine