Going Paperless? Avoid these Common Mistakes


Guest post by Brooks Duncan.

So, you want to go paperless. Whatever your reasons for taking the plunge, why not let others make the mistakes so that you don’t have to?

Here are six of the most common mistakes that I see people make when trying to go paperless.

1. Not Having A Goal

What does “going paperless” even mean, anyway? If you don’t know where you want to get to, how will you know when you are there?

Having a clear idea of how you want your new paperless world to look will make it a lot easier (and less costly) to make decisions along the way.

By the way, a related mistake is thinking that going paperless means that 100% of the paper in your life will be eliminated. Unfortunately that is probably not going to happen. Going paperless simply means using (and keeping!) less paper and managing your information more effectively.

2. Not Having Your Team On Board

If you have staff, it can be tempting to declare “we are going paperless!” and expect them to start changing their routine.

If that works for you, great. However, you might have more success if you get them involved right from the planning stage. Ask them what changes they’d like to make and explain how it will make their jobs easier. If possible, have them “manage” parts of the process so they feel ownership.

3. Making Things Too Complicated

It is human nature to look for excuses to not do something we know we should be doing.

One of the biggest ways that you can sabotage yourself is to make a paperless workflow that is too complex or that takes too many manual steps.

If you do that, your resistance will kick in, and you (or your staff) will come up with a million perfectly logical reasons why the documents can’t be scanned and processed right now.

You need to make things dead simple and as automated as possible so that you have no excuses!

A big part of this is your choice of scanner. If you are trying to go paperless with a single-sided flatbed scanner, you’ll have (to quote Steve Jobs) a “bag of hurt.” At the very minimum, you need a scanner with an automated document feeder that can quickly scan a whole stack of paper. Sam has a great review of the Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500, which is a great choice.

4. Not Reducing Paper At The Source

Why are you scanning in statements that you could be downloading? Not only is it ecologically unfriendly, it is just a waste of time.

These days many of our banks, vendors, and other sources of paper offer a paperless option. Take a half hour out of a day and go through and sign up for them. Both the forests and your scanner will thank you.

By the way, you know those Yellow Pages books that come to your door that you throw straight into recycling? More and more areas are letting you opt out of receiving them. Look into that while you are at it.

5. Not Having Backups

So you’ve got your scanner set up and and you are scanning all your documents into PDF. Great job! Now what happens if your hard drive crashes?

I can’t stress enough how important having a backup process is when you are going paperless. Whether you have everything backed up to an external hard drive, have it backed up online, or (even better!) do both, it is critical to have your stuff backed up.

Do it now. I’ll be waiting right here until you’re done.

6. Letting Things Pile Up

Related to mistake #3 is letting things pile up. I know how it is. You have the documents and you know you should deal with them, but you’re busy so you throw them in “the pile”.

Then you do the same thing the next day, and the next. Eventually, when you finally decide to deal with it, the pile is overwhelming. Isn’t it time for lunch soon?

The next thing you know, your valiant attempt at going paperless has lead you right back to where you started. If you can’t process things right away, build it into your workflow (and schedule it!) to do small batches at regular intervals instead of letting everything pile up. You’ll be glad you did.

Those are six of the most common mistakes that I see when people try to go paperless. Do you have any others? Share in the comments below.

Brooks Duncan runs DocumentSnap, a website devoted to paperless tips and strategies. He helps people unclutter and de-stress by turning their piles of paper into an organized electronic system.


  1. Avatar Michael Farley Esq. says:

    I’m in the planning process for going to a less paper system at the office. I decided that the best way to start was to begin with scanning and filing at home with household bills and other documents, so I could learn about the pitfalls and problems on a smaller scale.

    So far so good.

  2. Hi Brooke,
    Another mistake or something that is overlooked is that when going paperless you should try to pick the area that will result in the greatest impact first. For example, if you are spending a lot of time filing statements or invoices, start scanning those first. As the improvement is demonstrated, you can expand the paperless process to other departments or processes.

  3. Sam Glover Sam G. says:

    Going paperless is like encrypting a hard drive: it’s easier just to do the whole thing. Scanning only one type of paper often takes more time in the sorting and filing than just scanning everything that comes in the door.

  4. @Michael That’s a really good suggestion starting at home first. Great idea.

    @Zaheer That’s a good suggestion going for some wins first, especially if you are trying to demonstrate benefits to other people. Sometimes its hard to believe other people don’t share our enthusiasm for this stuff. :)

    @Sam I love that “Going paperless is like encrypting a hard drive” line.. I’m going to rip it off someday!

  5. @ Sam In our experience implementing document management systems, many firms want to test the waters first with a pilot project. Once the system is implemented and working correctly, it is easy to scale it up to include the other departments or users. That’s why we target the processes that will demonstrate the greatest return, so it’s easy to justify expanding the system to cover the entire firm.

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