The Mythical Paperless Office Part 3

by Colin Berkshire

Colin here. OK, so here I am scanning all of the paper that crosses my desk, not bothering to rename the files from their scan numbers like “2012-04-01-001.” I don’t add tags or even sort them into folders, unless the document is so important that not finding it would break the law or get me fired.

I have lived in The Paperless Office for about four months now. (I started about 8 months ago.)

People ask me: But what happens when I get a lot of documents? Won’t it all break down? That’s a great question. And, I have an answer.

My office has an archive room. That archive room has documents that we have kept for various reasons. Sometimes we must keep documents by law. Sometimes they were part of our corporate history. Sometimes we just put them in the archive box instead of the trashcan for some dumb reason. The archive room has about 20,000 documents in it.

Eight months ago I got an Apple Mac. I also bought a scanner that lets you dump in a stack of documents and a scanner software package that OCRs documents as they are scanned, and that will just save them into the filing system.

Six months ago we just started scanning everything. We would pick a box, and scan in all of the documents. I wanted to see how far this “Scan & Toss” concept might go. And, I wanted to make certain that once there was 1,000 documents in the Apple that it wouldn’t choke. (I was all too familiar with Microsoft products that worked good until you put them under load.)

As we scanned, I told the clerk to put the scanned documents into three piles: One that had government documents, one that had documents that looked important, and one that had documents that looked like they were of no possible use to anybody. We found that the pile “Of no possible use to anybody” was 75% of all of the documents. Eventually we threw all of the “No use” documents away (after they were scanned.)

We scanned documents starting with the newest years and moved back in time. And, we did organize the scanned files by year. So all of the stuff from 2011 is in one folder and everything from 2010 in another. My thinking was that we could eventually just archive the really old stuff onto a hard drive and (hopefully) forget about it.

So now my computer has a copy of the filing room in it. The filing room is 75% empty. And, we can find anything. We have never had such fast access to stuff in the back room. It’s just amazing.

Midway through this I decided that I would do the same in my personal life. I hired a temp to come in and scan stuff at my home. (Yes, my home now is an Apple Mac home, too. Same story as the office.)

Tax returns, property tax statements, diplomas, birthday cards from 40 years ago. If it was a document in my disorganized archive boxes it got scanned.

Unlike the office, we made the decision to keep memorabilia like crayon-drawn birthday cards and tax returns. There is still something nice about touching a piece of paper from 40 years ago with crayon scrawl on it. And, we did a very limited amount of sorting of the scanned files: Tax & Government, Family, Work, Home Improvements, and Personal. So as a document was scanned, the scanned document was moved into those folder categories. (Later, some of those would be full and we did move the scanned documents into year-folders, too.) But we resisted the temptation to spend too much time primping these files.

Now my personal life is organized. I can pull up a tax return from 20 years ago. I can find that letter I write to my eye doctor 15 years ago. And, that insurance claim from last year? I have a copy of it at my fingertips.

Maybe I am unique, but I find that there is a lot of stress in life by not being able to find things. So I keep piles of paper. And, those become disorganized and eventually are just a mess. Meanwhile, when I need to find something I cannot. And, that causes me stress.

Now, I can find things. I can find old receipts.

I’ll give you an example that paid for my Apple:

The heat pump for my home broke down. I called the service company and it was bad news. It was the worst news: the compressor had failed and because of something about how it failed the heat exchanger was damaged. I needed a whole new heat pump at a cost of $7,800. Then, I remembered that i had purchased some sort of an extended warranty, I think, for that, maybe. Perhaps. I just don’t really remember.

I did a few searches using the Apple Spotlight and discovered the original purchase receipt for the heat pump. I printed that out. Now, I had the name of the company that had installed it, so I searched on that. I got a copy of their original proposal. And, then I found the jackpot; A copy of the extended warranty that I had purchased and forgotten about. (Don’t we all buy those warranties and then never use them because we forget about them or lose the paperwork?

I handed the service tech a copy of the original purchase receipt and the extended warranty (a 10-year extended warranty!) I asked if perhaps it was covered.

I am pretty sure he was as shocked as the extended warranty company. Here, I had all of the paperwork. The warranty company called to tell me that it was covered, they would buy a new heat pump and have installed. Free.

I asked them if this happened often that they had a warranty claim from 7~8 years ago. The lady said that she couldn’t remember of one. She then politely congratulated me on having all of the required paperwork and then asked: “Do you keep everything? Your house must be a mess!” I told her that I did keep everything, but that it was all scanned and in my computer. She said: “I will have to warn the management about that. This could change our entire business.”

So, that is how I got my free Apple computer. Or, rather, my free heat pump which paid for the Apple a few times over.

Helllooo Paperless!

I love it.


See Part 1

See Part 2