The real reason you haven’t gone paperless isn’t about going paperless, it’s about trusting that information is available in new ways. You don’t trust the plastic box.
It is information. The same information that is in the file cabinet can be found in the plastic box. Someone even took the time to type the phone book onto the internet. There may be a few hand written thoughts and notes that are your original work that may not be in there – yet.
Once it is in there you won’t have to dust it – or cut yourself. Think of the money you will save on Band-aids. There will be entire generations of kids that will not experience a paper cut, if you go paperless. Never run out of the right color folder or label for that kind of info again. No more storing all the different styles of labels, and pens and folders and distinguishers. You will have more space for other stuff.
There is a lot of debate about how safe your information is if the internet crashes. The real truth is that the redundancies built in, if you have any kind of back up plan at all, will keep your knowledge much safer than it is from fire, flood, kids, critters and spilled coffee in your own house or office. In my case, items are on my hard drive, Dropbox, Time Machine and sometimes Evernote accounts. Some stuff I just leave to Google.
I know you are still skeptical so I worked out an easy way to start and then you can see how it goes. Trust but verify is a good way to be when a big change is happening.
Recreate the same structure as your physical system with in the box. Set up folders and subfolders that mirror your system. Then as you save as pdf instead of printing you have a place to send them. With the much improved search features of most computers you can even get away with not setting up folders, although I still think it is a good idea so you can keep things straight in your own head.
First, stop paper from entering your life in the first place. Stop printing! Save as pdf instead. If this is hard for you, turn off your printer and set it up across the room. Having to get up and turn it on and waiting for it to set up will give you pause to consider if it is necessary.
Second, start saying no to all the mail and flyers and handouts you won’t actually read. Also any magazines, newsletters and catalogs that can be unsubscribed from or not renewed will help eliminate the information overload. You would not have even known there was such a thing as a backyard Yeti if you hadn’t brought home the SkyMall catalog. While you are at it do the same thing to your email – it’s a good habit to develop to prevent information over load.
Third, match your paper collecting to current interests and short term research only. Interesting information about interesting things is faster to find with a Google search than to hunt through the piles of papers you saved for that one day you were going to… fill in the blank. What were you planning to do with the cell phone research you clipped in 2003?
Now, you can start storing the already accumulated papers in the plastic box. In other words, scan it in there. Begin with a few pieces that won’t matter so much while you get the hang of things and build trust, because you will be ripping and shredding and recycling as you scan.
As soon as you are ready, move on to the stuff that takes up a lot of room. Dump as much of it as possible before scanning as each scan can take several minutes and no one has that kind of time. Purge it with abandon. Still have trust issues, try looking up everything you think you need online and see how fast you can find it (or the same information in a different format). After about 15 you will trust.
It is better to have a really clear and purposeful archive of older paper than to worry about becoming totally paperless.
Work on scanning a bit at a time if you want to. It is much less overwhelming if you stop thinking of it as a should and see instead the opportunity to free up space in your mind.