Monday night I attended my first local National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) chapter meeting. I am so glad my schedule allowed me to go. Brooks Duncan, the owner of Document Snap, came and gave the chapter a presentation on Paperless Document Organization (PDO – I will use this acronym a lot). I wanted to sit down and give you guys a few snippets of the presentation. I will be writing this blog post in two parts because there was so much information. Expect part 2 tomorrow!
The ultimate goal when going paperless is that you don’t want to replace a physical mess with a digital one. As a professional organizer, it is my job to assess what the client needs and provide advice that will help facilitate and alleviate the stress caused by paper clutter. But when you think about it, where do you start? Every client is different and has their own specific needs that are unique to them. No one system will work for everyone and that is totally ok.
Mr. Duncan’s recommendation for how to go about PDO is to do so at a high level. Which format is better for the user: document management software or file folder(s)? Document management software has many features from scanning receipts to pulling financial data out of those scanned receipts and exporting the data into another format for analysis (Excel, Quickbooks, etc.). A user can preview documents in addition to manipulating, merging, and splitting documents. It is a very sophisticated form of PDO and has easy access to vendor support.
With file folders, a user does not need any additional software. As a general rule, if you have a computer, you know how to save and store documents (of course there are outliers). Storing documents in a file folder can also make them very portable (uploading the files to an external hard drive or a removable USB drive). They are also searchable and are not stuck in a vendor proprietary system. Essentially, whether you go with document management software or file folders, it comes down to preference.
The next decision point: store documents locally or in “the cloud”? If a user stores their file locally (i.e. on their hard drive), they are in control and the files never leave the computer unless you do so. The user does not need the internet but, still needs their computer or some type of remote access. A downside to storing files locally is that it is subjected to backup failure.
When storing documents in the cloud, you have access to their documents anywhere as long as they have the internet. Storing documents in the cloud provide a viable sharing option (a user can create groups and accesses to share certain files with other users). Cloud applications allow you to not only store documents online but gives you the ability to sync the documents to their computer whenever they are edited.
Whether the user decides to store documents locally or in the cloud, the next thing is to have a consistent descriptive naming convention and folder structure. Both of these things will help them to find the documents later. Mr. Duncan recommended that when doing this, the individual should think of their future self. When saving the document, will you know what it is one or two years later? Think ahead to what words you would search later. Another recommendation was to add the date to the naming convention whether it is the first part of the document name or at the end of the document name. At work, my colleagues and I have to save files in a certain way. For example, if documentation of a meeting had been drafted, the file would be saved as “Company Meeting Minutes 20120403_(initials)” à entity, description, date, person who last manipulated the document. I have now adopted at least the first 3 components when naming most of my personal documents.
In regards to folder structure, the user needs to think about how they find their documents. Mr. Duncan told our group that when he works with clients, he typically finds that when they try and go paperless, they want to name documents at the most granular level. Mr. Duncan recommends a “shallow structure” – start at a high level and as you work through your documents, go in and add subfolders as needed. Some people prefer with bills or tax documents to segment their subfolders by year; some don’t. Some people like a deep folder structure; some don’t. The most important thing to remember is that everything is situational. As organizers, we have to help the client create a system that is intuitive and makes sense to them.
Part 2 will be published tomorrow and will cover document organization workflow and document software that can help you go paperless. Talk to ya later