The unending effort by business managers and executives to "go paperless" is often looked at as a losing battle. In reality, however, there are at least three things that everyone can do in their daily work to reduce the amount of paper being created and stored in their daily workflow.
1) Consolidate the Inboxes! - There is no more important daily task list of the average professional than checking the number of inboxes that we have. The key to the paperless office, therefore, is to consolidate the number of inboxes that we have. Most of us have seven inboxes before we even give it a moment's thought - Office Email, Personal Email, Office Voicemail, Personal Voicemail, Office Paper Mail, Personal Paper Mail and Office Fax. When we add in the checking of the Personal Calendar and Office Calendar so we don't schedule an after-hours business meeting to conflict with the Kids' Soccer Game, we're already up to Nine different inboxes that we're monitoring on a daily basis.
Before we can even think of going "Paperless," we need to consolidate the number of inboxes. If you currently have More than two email addresses, consolidate. The truth is that most people don't need more than two email addresses, and great tools like Google Voice (from the efficiency-master - Google) can go a long way to helping consolidate the voicemail boxes.
2) Sign up for Online Billing & Banking - It's still amazing how many people don't choose the paperless billing options offered by their utilities and vendors. Not only is there an immediate benefit of being able to reduce the amount of incoming paper, but you'll help save the environment and reduce your risk of identity theft at the same time.
Many people are not aware of the risks associated with Paper Mail, but the numbers tell the story, and the truth is that most identity theft is done by Friends and Neighbors and most originates through paper mail. More information about the hard numbers can be found here: http://www.consumeraffairs.com/news04/2006/01/id_theft_survey.html , but suffice it to say that Online is the safer bet for the ID-minded customer.
3) Scan, Store & Retrieve - Paper is one of the most frequently used of the media types that we deal with on a regular basis, and it happens to be one of the most space consuming, inefficient ones. If legally possible, scanning documents can be a great alternative to maintaining hard copy records.
With the cost of desktop scanners dropping every day, and most offices having networked multi-function devices that allow for quick and easy capture of documents to network drives, scanning documents is both easier and more accessible than ever before. Take caution in the process, however, as relying only on OCR (or Optical Character Recognition) for retrieval is still not foolproof, and you'll likely want to tag your documents with some useful keywords to help you locate them when needed.
What are your best tips for going paperless? What are the biggest obstacles you've faced? Let us know in the comments!