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The Single Biggest Mistake Almost Everyone Makes When They Decide to Go Paperless - And How to Easily Avoid It

Don't doom your paperless efforts by making this big mistake...

Over the years, thousands of business owners and professionals have asked our advice about going paperless. That's hardly surprising since we've help so many people go paperless successfully.

The weird thing is, though, that almost all of them (97 out of 100 if you want to get technical) start by asking the wrong question, which is:


"I've decided to go paperless, so what scanner should I buy?"

Or sometimes they ask: "I've decided to go paperless... is the scanner I already own up to the job?"

Plus, I can't count the number of times I've seen breathless blog entries or forum notes along the lines of, "Going paperless! Which scanner should I buy?" or "I just bought the XYZ Gee-Whiz scanner because I'm going paperless!"

This isn't too unusual, I suppose, because most authorities on the subject tell you to buy a scanner as the very first thing -- they claim it's absolutely necessary if you want to succeed.

But, they're wrong.

When you're trying to go paperless, a scanner should be far down the list of purchases. In fact, it's possible to go paperless without using a scanner at all. (In fact, Jim is a perfect example of this.)

In a future article, we'll talk about what questions you SHOULD be asking yourself. Today, we'll focus on the two reasons why asking these questions first is such a big mistake.

Reason #1: Out Rather Than In

Most people labor under the misconception that going paperless is all about INPUT rather than OUTPUT. That is, they focus on how they'll convert existing printed files to digital formats, rather than how they'll retrieve files once they're digital.

But that's backwards: in reality, focusing on retrieval rather than input is key.

This difference may not seem like a big deal, but it is, in fact, huge. It's often what makes or breaks your paperless success.

Reason #2: The 90% Rule

Here's another key to success that almost no one mentions: going paperless isn't an all-or-nothing process.

In our culture, we often feel that if we don't do something 100%, we're not doing it well.

But in the case of going paperless, that's crazy. We've found that going 90% paperless is the ideal for most people. It's what makes sense and is cost effective.

Further, you do NOT have to scan all your paper files right away. In fact, you almost definitely shouldn't. (I didn't.)

After all, how often do you need to RETRIEVE all that information?

The answer for 80+% of your existing information is probably never. So (for most applications), why are you going to waste your time scanning it and creating more digital clutter?

Let me give you an example. When I decided to make our financial transactions paperless in Jan. 2010, I opted to go 90% paperless for this application. I knew that we almost never retrieve our credit card receipts. So, it would be a total waste of time and money to scan these receipts for the handful of retrievals we did each year.

Baby steps...

Usually, you're better off first considering how you can eliminate some of the paper coming in.

As I mentioned, scanning can come later (and only if it makes sense).

This approach completely transforms the entire process of going paperless, and is a much better and more logical use of your time.

If you rush out and buy a scanner because you're eager to digitize your documents immediately, our experience shows your chances of success are GREATLY reduced.

Plus, who wants to spend their time as a scanner clerk???

My guess is that you, like I, certainly don't. :-)

Reason #3: Paper is Sometimes the Best Solution

For one example of why, check out this cartoon. ;-)