3 pitfalls to avoid on your way to become paperless

We started our journey to become paperless more than a year ago. I can remember myself in front of the eleven binders, wondering with which one I should start. It felt like a never-ending task at the time.

We crossed the finish line some months ago, finally.

It could have been faster if I knew about these strategy tips back then.
I lost a lot of time. Which altered my motivation. Which in turn made me go slower. Vicious circle.

Retrospectively, I identified three pitfalls to avoid that could help anyone reach paperless-status in 90% less time than it took me.

Three pitfalls to avoid on your way to become paperless

1/ Make it a sprint, not a marathon
With some thousands of sheets to scan, I first tried to build a habit of "5 documents scanned per morning".
It worked for a few days, and then the calendar reminders started to stack in my inbox.
Instinctively I waited for the weekend to process these todos all at once.
It took me some months — and a week-end with no plans — until I spent two days in a row to scan everything.
For such a boring task, moreover a one shot, make it a sprint. Not a marathon.
My mistake was to consider it as a potential habit. But habit are here to stay. Not this todo.

2/ Batch per tasks, not per process
My process to digitalize paper is:

My first attempt to make it a habit was a batch of 5 times this process.

When I realized it would take ages, I found a way to trick myself: use my aversion to disorder as a motivator.
I batched the scanning per task: first, scan all files (step A) and store them in one single folder, with the Scannable default name. Every time I would need to find a document, I would have to open my Mac, and go through each file to find the one. This would drive me crazy; and that was the goal.
My second task batch was to rename all files properly (step C).
The last batch was to put scans in their folder (step B).

My mistake here was to not leverage industrialization processes that Henry Ford and others have identified some decades ago. Remember: when you're stuck on some task, never forget that there are 99.9% chances that someone else in the world already faced the same issue, and that he wrote about his solution!

3/ But what about important contracts?
At one point, I was stuck with one binder containing our home deed of sale and mortgage contract. I knew I needed to scan them but I couldn't imagine to throw away such important documents.
Would it mean I would never become paperless after all?!
There were also the official diplomas, current work contracts, and some more. All in different binders.
This fear of never reaching paperless-status stayed until I overcome it with a two-steps solution:

  • A/ Dedicate a binder for "must-keep" documents such as the official ones you can't get back easily — or at all
  • B/ Grant yourself the "Paperless" badge anyway, as what matters most is that you keep only the necessary 1% of your documents, throwing away the useless 99% — welcome into the Minimalism world!

Now we are free!

It feels so great to be paperless, so practical too. Now I have everything with me, everywhere, at anytime.
Got this administration service lady on the phone who asks you for an electricity bill as a proof of residence? Twenty seconds later, she gets a Dropbox link in a her mailbox. That's what I call handy technology!

No more fear like "what if my house burns" neither. I don't care anymore. We've got backups.

Last but not the least: this clutter-free feeling you experience with every new incoming (post) mail. Let's say it's a bill to have the most complete usecase:

  • 1/ Open the envelope — that you throw away
  • 2/ Pay the bill in less than thirty seconds thanks to your awesome e-banking mobile app
  • 3/ Write the payment date on it (it's just to avoid you to dive into your bank transactions history in case you need to know it someday)
  • 4/ Scan it
  • 5/ Name it
  • 6/ Choose the folder where to store it
  • 7/ Save it
  • 8/ Tear the bill
  • 9/ Throw it into the recycling bin
  • 10/ Enjoy this lighter state of mind!

You got to experiment this freedom, really. Moreover it's way faster to reach than FIRE, you don't have any excuse!

So, when do you start?

Note: for the early followers of the MP's blog, you'll have noticed that there is a lie in this article: I'm not completely paperless... Indeed, there is still this one big IKEA box with all our postcards and wedding/birthday/etc. invitations. And also recipes of my wife, but I gave up on this latter.
Anyway, I could not imagine to not share this important minimalism step with you. So let's call myself...administratively paperless!


"Your articles are great MP, but there are so many that I don't know where to start to achieve my financial freedom. What would you recommend?"

After 1 year of deep work, here is my answer condensed in a single work:

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