Being a Certified Professional Organizer, I actually enjoy working with paper – I know, I’m strange! Even so, I don’t want to spend too much time on it; like you, I have many other tasks on my to-do list. One of my big goals for 2010 is to reduce the amount of paper that I have to process. Here are a few ways to do it:
Don’t print emails. Really, what are you going to do with that email you just printed out? Save it, maybe? Well, it’s already on your computer or on a server, so it’s already saved. If you’re worried about losing it or it being deleted, create a backup archive on your computer or an external disk. Better yet, use an online backup service like Mozy and you won’t have to worry about backups, they’ll happen automatically. If you’re printing out an email to use as a reference for an upcoming trip or event, start a small file for the trip, and when it’s over, shred or recycle the whole thing.
Don’t print web pages. Many of us print web pages for later reference, but even with the best of intentions, we may never review these documents. By printing these out, we’ve used ink and paper, spent time waiting for the page to print, and now have a new piece of paper on our desk that we need to deal with – a document that we may never even use, or may be outdated by the time we get back to it! Instead of printing, try creating folders in your web browser by topic, and bookmark pages that you’d like to revisit at some future point. If you’re worried that the page may no longer be there later, try a web page capture tool like the free Evernote Web Clipper, which lets you capture and save entire web pages for review later – without printing them out.
Don’t print your faxes. And I mean don’t print the one you’re sending OR the one you’re receiving. “But Josh,” you say, “I need to print it out in order to send it, right?” In most cases, no. If you have a printer/scanner/fax multifunction device, or a fax/modem built into your computer, you can usually “print” directly to the fax function (check your owner’s manual). Doing this bypasses the actual printer and sends your document straight to the fax function, without ever using any paper. Additionally, it takes less time since the fax doesn’t have to scan your document, and the quality is better on the recipient’s end. As far as receiving faxes, try using an internet-based service like eFax where you can view incoming faxes on your computer before you decide whether it’s worth printing.
Scan paper documents. Once you’re done working with a document or a file, studies show that once it’s in a file drawer, it’s VERY unlikely that you’re going to use it again. If that’s the case for your documents, instead of filing, you might want to scan them instead. Tools like NeatDesk can scan up to 50 pages via an automatic document feeder, and can convert those documents into searchable PDFs. What I like about this is that so many of us are used to doing searches online, that it feels really natural to search for our own documents – but this can only be done once they’re on our computer in some way, either as an entire document or as an index. I personally think scanning and automatic conversion to PDF is the easiest method.