Tackling Personal Paperwork – Part 4: Digital Paperwork

Is this the end of filing cabinets? Just think of the physical space saved by organizing personal paperwork into virtual cloud platforms and the convenience of accessing that information from anywhere. Information can be selectively shared with other individuals. Items may be stored directly on your laptop or via the cloud. If you still have tangible paperwork filed in your home it is possible to eliminate most of it. 

Popular platforms such as Microsoft 365 and Google Docs actually mirror the way we handle many of our daily paperwork tasks. They enable us to use and organize digital paperwork the same way we handle tangible documents. When we open an email we are actually mirroring the act of going to the mailbox and retrieving mail. We open a piece of mail, read the document and then choose an action. We either place it in the trash, respond to it, file it for storage or for future action, or do nothing which is essentially letting it remain in our pile of mail. 

Like mail, the same is true for document storage which mirrors a traditional filing cabinet. We can set up files to organize short and long term paperwork. Documents which come in via email or regular mail such as legal and financial paperwork such as tax returns, insurance policies, resumes, receipts and personal paperwork such as notes, budgets and pictures, can be stored and then easily retrieved or updated in the future. 


Here are some steps and tips to create your seamless digital paperwork process. 


Step 1 – Reduce unnecessary hard copies. The best way to reduce unnecessary paperwork is to remove yourself from lists so that unwanted catalogs and offers cease to arrive in your mailbox. Companies will be glad you did because they don’t want to spend money sending mail to uninterested parties. Some are available for free or for a nominal charge. Log into catalog choice.org, optoutpresecreen.com or dmachoice.org to stop receiving unwanted catalogs and credit card offers and other unwanted mail. To further reduce paper, toss your manuals by going to manualsonline.com and downloading manuals into a dedicated computer folder. Filethis.com is a service that will capture and file your monthly statements for up to 5 accounts so you can eliminate receiving hard copies or logging into multiple accounts to check your online statements. Lastly, you can arrange for email delivery rather than paper delivery of policies, statements, bills and receipts which can then be stored digitally by downloading and saving into your preset folder. For unwanted tangible paperwork which you do receive, be sure to shred it if it contains personal information. 


Now that you have eliminated as much tangible paperwork as possible, it’s time to set up a digital folder system. 


Step 2 – Plan ahead. Planning ahead is the easiest way to store and locate digital documents. If you have a system of folders set up in advance you can easily store documents in the right place when they are received. The secret is having an organized system already in place which matches your needs so that items can be easily stored, maintained and retrieved as they arrive. Your cloud storage system may contain folders titled “Insurance” with subfolders for home, life and auto or you may prefer a separate main folder titled “Home, Auto and Life” with contents including corresponding insurance policies and related documents. 

Step 3 – Create folders. For some, creating subfolders will enhance your storage system, for others simple top-line folders work best. For example, under your tax returns you can have subfolders titled by year or you can strategically title your returns chronologically so the exact one you are looking for is easily located within the main folder (2022 1 15). There is no right or wrong way as long as it works for you. Some find that creating a system that is too intricate can make things more difficult to locate later. 

Step 4 – Scanning and existing physical paper. It’s best to set up a system, begin moving forward right away, and then go back and scan past documents that still exist in paper form. There are several methods to scanning and the best choice depends on you and your project. There are scanning apps for use via phone, printers with scanning capabilities and dedicated scanners which are best for handling large amounts of documents. Many digital systems such as DropBox, Google, Microsoft 365, Box and Evernote have scanning apps which make it easy to save directly into their document storage system. 


Special Tips

Tip 1 – What to store. You may want to incorporate a backup system for your most important documents, saving them both digitally and physically. Refer to https://www.irs.gov/ for the timeframe required for saving tax documents and contact your financial institutions for the length of time needed to save financial documents. Receipts can be emailed directly to you from many stores or you can scan them and save them by store name or item name and date. 

Tip 2 – Establish and maintain a data security plan. Be sure to use a private Wi-Fi or personal hotspot when both downloading and storing personal documents in the cloud. Here are six data protections recommended by the United States government: irs.gov data security tips. Old computers and back-up hard drives contain sensitive data and deleting stored tax files will not remove them from your computer. You should wipe the drives of any electronic product you dispose of or sell, including tablets and mobile phones, to ensure you remove all personal data. This may require special disk utility software.

Tip 3 – Time management. Proper paper organization does take some time and thus proper time management is needed. To prevent paper from piling up and difficulty locating what you need, create space on your calendar to process paperwork daily, weekly and monthly depending on its urgency and length of time needed to complete. Use a paper or electronic calendar to block time and make it a ‘must do’ rather than ‘optional’ task. You will be glad you did when you need to quickly access needed information. 

Tip 4 – Enlist assistance. If necessary enlist a trusted coach to help you through the process of going paperless. Having encouragement, company or extra ideas is helpful. 


Block time on your calendar when you are at your best and before you know it you will have a routine! You will be more productive if you have a system in place to manage the flow of paperwork and reduce time spent when you need to retrieve it later.

You will always need a tangible filing system for documents where originals are required such as birth certificates, but you can stay organized and greatly reduce the need for a large hardcopy filing system. 


Contact us at info@idealorganizers for all of your organizing needs.