My paperless office

Since 2008, I try to live with a nearly paperless office. Sure, I get letters and invoices on paper, but I scan them all in and keep the digital copies as archive, while the paper copies are kept by my accountant.

I also shy away from automatic payments, and believe that to be in charge of your budget, you cannot have utility companies snipping away from your account on any random date, certainly if you only have a promise or not even a vague clue on how much that snipping would be.

But this requires a good filing system.

Scanning

Anyway. The daily cycle is that my wife empties the snail mailbox and dumps envelopes on my desk. I open every envelope, decide if its scan-worthy (invoices, obviously, but sometimes even normal letters. But anything official is a good reason to scan it), place it on the document feeder of the ugly MFC I have in a corner and forget about it.

Archiving

What I should do then (but procrastinate, and you shouldn’t) is fire up Adobe Acrobat and scan the papers in the document feeder double-sided at 150dpi and OCR them. Then, I catalogue each document.

I use Adobe Acrobat because it supports network scanners and can OCR documents. Scanning with Apple’s Preview gave me documents of 3 MB a page, while Acrobat spits out files of 300kb. And contents of the latter is searchable through Spotlight. Imagine trying to find an invoice based on how much I paid someone. I can.

As you can see, I have developed a basic folder structure which I replicate for every fiscal year. The “clients” and “suppliers” are the busiest folders, and I save each scanned document in the format “YYYYMMDD <client/supplier name> <Document number>”.pdf.

Finder automatically arranges files by name, so the files are ordered from january to december. If I need to find invoices of a certain supplier, I just search them using Spotlight. Same goes for invoice numbers.

I use the colored labels within the context menu of Finder to make clear which documents are paid (=green), not paid (= no color) or documents with issues (contested invoices, etc, in red).

Paying

Of course, be mindful of paying your invoices. This you can do on a weekly basis, just go through the documents which do not have a color and pay them. Or not.

The Accountant

He still likes paper versions of all my documents, so he gets the stack that builds up every month at the paper tray of the scanner.

What I cannot forget is print out my invoices. Sometimes, I’m not around my printer to do so, so I created a folder “to print” on my desktop where I drag files which I have filed and need to print for my accountant. This is something which is particularly important with suppliers and yourself if you are sending out electronic invoices.

E-invoicing

Honestly, I love sending PDF’s to my clients. Saves me a trip to the mailbox, buying stamps, … But I have found for myself that receiving electronic invoices can be a pain in the neck.

First of all, you risk like me to forget to print out these electronic invoices. So that means sending them by email to my accountant afterwards. Worse is if I forget to file them after receiving an email with an electronic invoice. Next time you will hear about it is through a (hopefully) paper reminder. I try to scan these reminders too if I don’t pay them right away, since history has proven that even these paper reminders can disappear into the void and my subconscious self.

It turned out that I was quite bad at filing these electronic invoices. The Shell e-invoicing I can handle because they come in batches and are easily downloaded and printed. You can perfectly forget about them for 3 months and then start filing away. But Belgian banks are nowadays offering e-invoicing through Zoomit, which in hindsight is a terror to use. You do get an email when you get a new document, but since the document is behind a pin-code you never bother filing the invoice after receiving the mail. At home you forget about it, and when you do remember, you notice you cannot download all unfiled invoices in a batch. And if you then manage to download them, you’ll notice the PDF’s are protected, so you cannot even copy the invoice number to use in your filing system.

Since then, I’ve cancelled all my e-invoicing. I need to have my invoices on paper anyways for my accountant, so why should I worry about printing my invoices, or having to pay reminder costs because an invoice was left open in Zoomit?

With that in mind, I might even start invoicing clients again by paper invoices.

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