Paperless office – can it be a reality? Part III

I’ve been beavering away over the Christmas break and you’ll see from the photographs below the results of my toil. Very nearly a yard of paper! And this is just the confidential stuff I need to arrange to shred or burn. My recycling pack is even larger!

Nearly a yard of confidential paper

Nearly a yard of confidential paper

I’ve managed to get rid of the paper, but whether I can realistically survive and run a business in a completely paperless way is another question. One that will only really be answered over the next few months.

The task of sorting and deciding what to scan and shred, what to destroy without scanning, and what was left that couldn’t be disposed of was, in the end, relatively easy. Just a matter of setting aside a couple of hours each morning (while the family had their Christmas lie-ins) and ploughing through file after file. Applying logic and an orderly electronic filing system on Dropbox took some thinking about, but once decisions had been made the task was quite straight forward. Definitely no need for a document management system at the moment.

The Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500 continues to be a speedy marvel. Having been used to the old flat bed scanners, to see a beast that will accept a hopper of 50+ sheets of paper of varying sizes and some of them duplex, rip through the task continues to be a source of wonder. The software, although very simple to use, could be less ‘buggy’. The default window they allow you to allocate a scan to a folder and give it a descriptions was quite small and difficult. Sometimes when the window opened it would give you a view of the last folder you had chosen, at other times it would go back to the top of the page, and on other occasions the whole folder tree had collapsed and it was necessary to open each one again. By stretching the window to provide a bigger work area the problems were mitigated, and the program remembered the new size from instance to instance, but its inconsistency and inability to set some preferences was a weakness. The application to insert a new folder in this window was also bugged in that it would randomly close part way through typing a new name giving you a partial name which you couldn’t correct within the window but had to open a separate Windows Explorer window to correct the error. †Nothing to make me think I made a wrong decision but something that Fujitsu might want to work on for future releases.

While scanning, I began to encounter paperwork I couldn’t scan and destroy:

  1. Obvious examples are original deeds, wills, and certificates that might be needed in their original form at some date in the future. There were not many examples of this, I scanned it anyway for DR purposes, and the remaining paper can be slotted into a very thin cardboard folder.
  2. I have a number of original files belonging to Clients or Clients of my Clients. They don’t belong to me and I have no right to destroy them, so they remain in the storage area until the retainer is completed and I can return the files to their proper owners.
  3. Similarly, forms and notes that I’ve prepared for signature and/or for perusing with Clients when I meet them next will have to remain. I could email the papers to the Client and ask them to print them ready for our meeting, but as I had already done the printing it seemed a waste of part of a rain forest so I decided to keep them until the meeting had taken place.
  4. I have a number of notebooks that I open for each client and in which I make handwritten notes during meetings to refer to later and as a bit of a backside covering exercise. †Habits of a lifetime I guess, and they save me from having to prepare detailed attendance notes after each meeting or telephone conversation. There is no doubt that I could rip the pages out and scan in each page or group of attendances separately, and I may still undertake that task in due course, but for the moment I’ve decided to keep the books as they are.

That led me to a new thought process. How am I going to take notes when with Clients for the future? I could continue with the paper notebooks, but I felt that would be a bit of a cop out for the project. So I began researching and playing with various note-taking apps for the iPad. After some experimentation, the app I found most flexible and user friendly for the purpose I had in mind was Note Taker HD for the iPad. It cost £2.99 but after extensive testing at home it seemed to work best for me. There were other apps with alternate features, such as conversion of handwriting to text, pressure sensitivity for calligraphy and art, but for the moment this seems best for me. The proof of the pudding will be when I sit down with a client for the first time and try to use it as a notebook which I will report on later.

Although the app would work with a finger tip as ‘pen’, I had a really small stylus that I had played with on the iPhone a few years back for the testing. It worked well, but I have now researched and ordered a stylus that looks like a standard pen and which I hope will feel more ergonomically right for the task. †Again, more on the user experience in future posts.

I have loaded what I believe are the relevant scanned documents for each of my Clients together with the standard reference works onto the iPad and so am ready to test with the first few meetings in the New Year. Fingers crossed.

I’ve now moved on to the personal paperwork that litters the house. More on that part of the project when I’ve pried it from the wife’s sweaty mits!