Today’s technology supports the concept of a paper-free world. Generally, a desktop scanner or digital camera, along with a few apps, are all the tools you need to digitise your life – resulting in less harm to the environment, less clutter and faster, easier access to the data you need.
We offer tips for going paperless, at the office and at home.
Send faxes online
In the past, documents like rental agreements, application forms and tax returns had to be filled in manually and either faxed or posted to the receiving party.
Today, it's more common to use email – but where faxes are still required, you can use any of a number of online fax services to send faxes via the internet.
Digitise your signature
If a document requires your signature, you can, for example, simply open a PDF file with Adobe Acrobat and fill in the required fields, and sign the document electronically.
Scan hard copies
If you have a scanner, it's quick and very easy to scan important documents – such as birth and marriage certificates, travel visas, temporary ID or passport documents and tax records – and save them to your computer.
From there, you can back them up to a network, the cloud and/or an external drive for safekeeping.
Increasingly, people use their phones to take quick scans of documents. If you have an iPhone, you can use an app like Scannable. If you have an Android phone with a high-quality camera, you can experiment with a scanning app like ScanBot.
Another option for scanning into PDF format is the Google Drive app. It’s free and intuitive, and automatically cleans up images.
Save to PDF
In the bad old days, it was typical to print files and email correspondence. These days, it's easier simply to save downloaded documents in any format as PDF files.
The PDF format is compatible with all computers and devices. No special software is required to open PDF files, and you can easily store them on your desktop, tablet or mobile phone.
If you’re using a Mac, you’ll find the Save as PDF option under the Print tab. Windows 10 also has a built-in PDF printer.
If you’re using Windows 7 or 8, go to the document printer, select Adobe Acrobat to PDF and save the file.
When you do need to keep hard copies...
There are certain documents you need to keep in paper form. Examples are the title deed of your home, car registration papers, founding documents for your company, your ID document, passport, and driver’s license and birth, marriage and death certificates.
These documents should be copied and stored in a secure place.
In addition, you need to keep tax records for a minimum period (typically five years). Businesses may also need to keep various other types of documentation, for legal and historical purposes.
Offsite document storage
Rather than allowing necessary paper documents to clutter up your home or office, you can opt to store them offsite.
Note that documents that contain personally identifiable information – that is, information that could reasonably be used to identify you or other individuals – must be properly secured, in keeping with laws designed to protect data privacy. In South Africa, this includes the Protection of Personal Information (POPI) Act.