Kyle T. Webster

Remodeler Shawn Nelson, president of Minneapolis–based New Spaces  has taken steps to move away from paper during client presentations, opting for iPads and email instead. Though Nelson says that his company is “anything but paperless,” he is interested in finding more ways to move toward digital business processes.

For many remodelers, paper that doesn’t find its way to the recycling bin ends up in packed-full filing cabinets. Professional organizer Monica Ricci, founder of Catalyst Organizing Solutions, in Atlanta, says that eliminating all paper from business dealings isn’t really achievable, but significantly reducing the presence of paper — and the amount of space dominated by filing cabinets — is easy. Here, she offers some tips for alleviating the love-hate relationship with your paper filing system.

1. Analyze thoughtfully. Think deliberately about which documents:

a. You must keep

b. Are important enough to keep

c. Are easily scanned and saved

d. Can be discarded altogether

“Be really clear about what information is important,” Ricci says. “This may take a phone call to your accountant or your business attorney.” Without a plan in place, Ricci says, people err on the side of saving everything, which impedes progress.

2. Set parameters. Determine how long you need to save documents and apply that date range to your filing cabinets. “Ask yourself, ‘What are the real-life odds of me needing to search for this paper again?’” Ricci says. She also recommends creating a “destroy-by” date to keep files from building back up.

3. Invest in technology. Ricci recommends using a scanner with optical character recognition (OCR), such as NeatDesk. “OCR is a critical piece of this technical solution,” she says. “There’s a big benefit to being able to find things quickly, particularly when something is misfiled. If you misfile something, OCR will go find it for you with a few keywords. It’s like having Google on your desktop.”

Recognizing that digital files still take up virtual space, NeatDesk representative Amanda Case suggests buying an external hard drive. “This saves space on your computer and is also a safety issue,” Case says. “Having a hard drive with all your important information that you can save someplace off-site in its entirety could protect the information from disasters in the office.”

Documents can also be scanned to any number of “cloud” servers, such as Evernote or Dropbox, which let users access their documents from almost anywhere and share them with clients or co-workers.

4. Scan only what you need. Don’t go overboard and convert every piece of paper to a PDF. “I advocate scanning from today forward,” Ricci says. “Think about how long it would take you to scan all your documents from the last five years. You’ll end up always having a backlog.” Instead, get rid of the old paper, scan the small percentage that’s valuable, and move forward with protocol.

“Scan as often as you need to, but not more so,” she adds. “When something like NeatDesk will process 50 pieces of paper at once, you can let the documents pile up for a while and scan them once a week.”

—Lauren Hunter, associate editor, REMODELING.

Click here to read a How-To article about paperless client meetings.