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Moving from paper to paperless document management, I’ve learnt:

Use meaningful file names

Windows allows file names of up to 256 characters. Give documents meaningful names fully describing their contents. Add keywords if you think this will help.

Property fields

If you store Microsoft Word documents, use the property fields. You can get to these in Word 2007 by clicking the Microsoft Office Button , selecting Prepare and then Properties.

Date information is stored automatically when you create or save a document.

Use document folders

Some say modern PC search tools mean folders are no longer important. I disagree – sometimes you need an overview of related files.

Organise your documents into folders with relevant folder names. If it helps, nest them in sub folders. Use the same folder names to organise your email and browser favourites. I also use the same names for tagging.

Use email rules to automatically route messages to the right folder. Pretty soon you’ll develop a routine of always storing documents in the right place and you’ll know where to find things.

Master desktop search

Learn how to use your computer’s search tools. Windows, Mac OS and Linux all have good tools as standard.

If you move away from built-in search, the best tools for your needs depend on the applications you use. Some swear by alternatives such as Google Desktop Search and Copernic.

Google Desktop Search is bloated and slow, but adds your Gmail files to the database. Copernic is a good alternative and searches just about every file type you’ll meet. It doesn’t search Gmail and it’s not at its best when used with Vista and Outlook.

Microsoft Outlook

I no longer use Microsoft Outlook for day-to-day email, but the applications is a great document management tool. You can search for and view document files as well as email messages. Remember emails are often also important documents.

Additional keywords

Use a document’s properties to store extra keyword information and comments. This is particularly useful if you have scanned documents stored as an image.

2 thoughts on “What I’ve learnt from becoming paperless

  1. I’m terrible at looking after paper documents, so I try to get the computer to do it all.

    I keep all emails in archive folders, and I just keep documents in a normal folder hierarchy. Then I use Mac OS Spotlight (top right of desktop) to find everything. It’s effective and stunningly fast. To open the folder where I have filed something that Spotlight has found, I command-click the search result.


    • I’ve tried a similar approach, but it fails because of the sheer number of files and the difficulty of dreaming up the correct search terms. I’ve got more than 10,000 word processor documents in a number of formats and a similar number of reference documents.

      For example, I wanted to find something I had written about “executive pay” and found more than 1,000 files. My story was in there somewhere, but I only found it by manually reading through the 1,000 entries.

      There was a pdf of the source material, which I couldn’t find because the author had used the, more pompous term ‘remuneration’ instead of pay. I only found that by navigating through the folder structure.

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