From Paper to Electronic Files: Do we still have the same problems in a new format?

When I opened my business in 2007, I spent lots of time guiding clients through the process of sorting, purging, and organizing paper files at work.


Being overrun with paper was a huge impediment to individual and team productivity.


Yet, reducing paper was an emotional process for a lot of folks. I’ll never forget the corporate executive literally hugging a printout of a PowerPoint demonstration like a beloved blankie and mournfully saying, “But I worked really hard on this!”


I told him that, of course, he could keep it. However, he took a deep breath and laid it to rest in the shred bin.


I helped one department of 80+ people purge 73% of their paper in one week. They were relocating to a new office space. We documented this result by counting the empty file cabinets at the end of the project – file cabinets that did not have to be repurchased in the new finishes for the new space.


Once folks in this department learned about records management and their retention responsibilities, they became almost giddy while filling the shred bins and sending files to offsite storage.


Between 2006 and 2009, the IRS started requiring many businesses to file and maintain documentation electronically. These requirements drove new attitudes and behaviors toward electronic documents.


I am happy to observe the following signs that the business world has embraced electronic documentation:

  • I haven’t seen an email signature saying “Go green! Don’t print this email” in years.
  • Electronic signatures are allowed on everything from real estate contracts to field trip permission forms from schools.
  • I have only had one coaching client in the past five years for whom an excess of paper was impeding productivity. And she dealt with it quickly.


Prior to the widespread adoption of electronic files as the “official” business record, here are some Frequently Asked Questions I wrote about on my blog:


My replies ran the following gamut:

  • “Scan what you must to comply with the government and your industry regulations.”
  • “If something was ‘born’ electronically, keep it electronic.”
  • “Retain the business records you own. Be brutal with reference materials.”
  • Duplicates are the enemy of any good records management program.”
  • “Scanning won’t necessarily solve the problem. It simply transfers the problem from one format to another.”


It is the last bullet that I’d like to elaborate on below.


Did we just transfer our old paper problem into an electronic files problem?


In 2014, I helped a team of 13 project managers dig through a huge, disorganized shared network drive, and develop a better filing system. I documented and trained each team member on the new structure and best practices on electronic file management going forward.


These folks were ahead of their time. They saw a looming problem that would impede their team’s ability to collaborate and worked to address it before it became completely unnavigable.


Other companies have since followed suit. From the tons of “job aids” I constructed for these clients, I developed my own training program on electronic file management.


Today, I continue to consult with clients on electronic collaboration and regularly deliver this two-hour virtual seminar:

Paper moves to iPad in the, "Collaborate Electronically...without creating a digital junkyard" 2-hour course for professionals

In Collaborate Electronically…without creating a digital junkyard, I offer three steps to improve how you organize your files and an additional three steps that help teams work more effectively in shared file spaces on network servers and in the cloud.


Here are a few tips from my Collaborate Electronically course that you can implement:

  • As a group, set up a folder/subfolder structure that focuses on the functions of your team or department.
  • Document the type of information that will be stored in the system and the departments or people needing access to specific folders.
  • Construct file naming conventions that everyone will find meaningful and easy to understand.
  • Be discerning about the documents you save. The more files there are to search, the more difficult it can be to find needed documents.
  • Create (or follow) a records retention schedule to ensure that outdated electronic documents are disposed of when they are no longer needed.


Letting your electronic files grow into a junkyard of information is not only inefficient but also frustrating.


Please contact me to help you, your team, or your entire organization manage your electronic information assets in an organized and productive manner.


You can’t use what you can’t find. Or worse, you might use a file that is outdated or obsolete.


That’s the way things go with junkyards…


Dr. Melissa GratiasMelissa Gratias (pronounced “Gracious”) used to think that productivity was a result of working long hours. And, she worked a lot of hours. Then, she learned that productivity is a skill set, not a personality trait. Now, Melissa is a productivity expert who coaches and trains other businesspeople to be more focused, balanced, and effective. She is a prolific writer and speaker who travels the world helping people change how they work and improve how they live. Contact her at or 912-417-2505. Sign up to receive her productivity tips via email.

1 Comment

  1. Joyce A Teal

    Melissa, Great article! Three years ago I decided to forgo my paper calendar that I carried everywhere with me. All of that paper info was later transferred to a paper calendar at my desk and a paper calendar at home. I now keep everything in my phone’s calendar. My calendar is synced to the cloud so I can access it instantly.
    My favorite part of the electronic calendar is the “notes” section. I can schedule Thursday at 7 pm to go to the grocery store on my way home from work. I keep my grocery list in the notes section of the calendar date. If I think of something I need to pick up, I can immediately add it to the list with a couple of keystrokes. I no longer leave my grocery list on the counter at home and forget something at the store!
    Yes, there is a learning curve but I love being “paperless!”


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