Tech

Your Computer: The Filing Cabinet for Your Paperless Office

If you are like most people, you have lots of paper in your home or home office. Maybe you’re organized enough to have it in file folders, maybe not. But you can be free of all that paper and still save all the documents you need very easily. You can always print them whenever you need them.

First you need either a scanner or access to an e-fax. You probably know what a scanner does (it basically snaps a digital photo of a document or photo) but you may not have dealt with e-faxes. I subscribe to a service for my real estate business that provides me with a fax number. I have that number on my business cards and website and when people send me faxes, it doesn’t transmit to a physical fax machine in my office. Instead, it goes to the fax service and is instantly converted to a PDF document that is immediately emailed to me. Since I have a Blackberry, I can see the fax immediately. No matter where I am. There are several online services that provide e-fax numbers, some even for free, although they aren’t necessarily going to be local numbers. My service charges about $60 per year and it’s a great thing for my business. I have even shared the number with clients and friends and encouraged them all to use it when they need to receive a fax but don’t have a fax machine. The friend gives my fax number, then alerts me that their fax is coming. I forward it to their email as soon as it arrives. It works great.

With e-fax service, when I need a file converted to a PDF, all I really have to do is fax it to my e-fax number from any fax machine and I’ve got it. I can save it to the hard drive on my computer or I can always print it if I need to. Often, I don’t print out the faxes. I simply save them and can print them if I ever need them. The e-faxes are very helpful in my real estate business for copies of contracts when a sale is being negotiated. Having the contract right at hand wherever I go can be super handy if someone calls while I’m out and about with a question about one of the terms.

When it comes to saving the file, I have created folders on my hard drive that I save important files to. Folders on your computer are easily created, can later be reorganized, renamed and moved as needed. My tax receipts for this year, for instance, are saved in a folder known as:

My Documents/Receipt Files/2011

When I have a receipt that needs to be saved in that file, I either fax it to my e-fax number (at the office or the copy place, wherever I happen to be) and save it when it arrives or I scan it using my scanner here on my desk.

If it came over as an e-fax, it is already a PDF and it’s a simple matter of saving it once it arrives in my email. If it’s a scanned document, converting the scanned document to a PDF is also very easy. A good friend found a free software online called “Cute PDF.” This is a very handy program and works great! Once you’ve installed their free PDF creator software, your computer will now list a new printer on its list of printers. Whenever you want to create a PDF document, simply have that document on your screen ready to print (it could be anything from a picture copied from the scanner, a scanned copy of a receipt, or a page from the internet where I paid my dues for the real estate board or a document from Word or Excel), and click PRINT and select the printer called CUTE PDF. Instead of paper spewing out of my printer, the file save menu comes up. I select where to place the file and what to call it. And that’s it. I now have a saved PDF of that page. If I ever need a paper copy, I can always print it on the regular printer. I have that option at any time. But I’m not printing it to paper unless I really need to. For instance, if someone says they didn’t get my payment, I have the ability to quickly print out my receipt or even email it to them. And at tax time, I can easily send my accountant all the pertinent receipts attached to an email.

Periodically, I take a stack of restaurant and gas receipts, lay as many as will fit on the glass of the flatbed scanner and scan each one individually into Microsoft Word. (This involves previewing the scanner and then highlighting one receipt at a time and scanning it. You can scan any section of the scanner’s bed you choose). As each one is scanned, I “print” it to Cute PDF and save it appropriately. Then I go back and scan the next one.

Of course, there are mini scanners available for just this purpose but I personally can’t justify spending $99 for the smaller version or $399 for the larger one for something that I can do already.

If money is no object, certainly, this would be a nice way to go and the devices appear to be easy to use and can be ordered through http://store.neatco.com/ or purchased at many office supply outlets. But if you have a simple scanner and Cute PDF or something like it installed, you can create and maintain a paperless office all on your own. And it’s a heck of a lot easier to organize than a big filing cabinet and it takes up no space in your office!

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