One thing that I love about trading is that it is a low paperwork business. But there is still room for improvement. Regardless if you are trading a personal account or have setup a company for your trading, there are many benefits to going paperless.
This post will show you why it is beneficial to go paperless and how to get rid of most, or possibly even all of the paper in your office. As a bonus, you will also be able to get rid of most of the paper in your home also and actually be able to find your documents, for once.
If this is something that interests you, then this post will also show you how to do it at a very minimal cost.
My Experience With Going Paperless
The reason that I am writing this post is because going paperless has been one of the best things that I have done in my business and my life. That may seem like an exaggeration, but it’s not.
At first, it doesn’t seem like a big deal. We are used to having paper all over the place and we can easily forget that it is there. If you don't know that there is a better way, then it is easy to just accept the status quo.
But once I became conscious of all the paper that could be eliminated from my life, I was on a mission. As soon as I got rid of almost all my paper, I noticed two immediate benefits.
1. I Suddenly Had More Space
The task of scanning all of my documents forced me to review everything and figure out what I really needed and what I didn’t.
I threw out or shredded a lot of unnecessary documents. From there, I scanned in everything that I wanted to keep a record of.
This helped me clean out four filing boxes worth of paper, as well as some miscellaneous paper that was always on my desk. I was also able to centralize my receipts and access them easily by typing in a few simple keywords.
2. Peace Of Mind
I talked about mental mosquitoes in a previous post and how they can affect your trading. The more things you have floating around in your head, the more distracted you are.
They are like mosquitoes buzzing in your ear…and we all know how annoying that can be.
So by having all of my documents backed up and instantly searchable, it was a relief to know that everything was in one central location. It was one less thing floating around in the back of my mind.
As soon as I get a piece of paper that I need to record, I just scan it and shred it or throw it out.
I also found that I could easily record other notes too. Creating notes on trading systems, logging trades that I missed and recording strategy ideas were just a few of the side benefits.
Since my blog is a business, that is an extra set of paperwork that I have to keep track of. This process makes it super easy.
Important Note: There may be some pieces of paper that you do have to keep for legal or tax reasons. I am not a qualified professional in these areas, so consult a lawyer or tax professional if you have any questions.
Now let's get into how this works.
How To Build A Paperless Office
Going paperless is simple. You basically need three things:
- External backup drive
Let’s take a look at each component individually, then I will show you how they work together.
External Backup Drive
You will need an external drive to keep a copy of your documents at home. If you are extra careful, you may want to keep a backup of the backup.
I just use one backup drive. I’ll get into why in a minute.
When purchasing a backup drive, you should get the biggest drive you can comfortably afford. You can always get another one later, so don’t feel like you have to get the most expensive one on the market. I have a 1TB drive and that is plenty for now.
However, you do want to be sure that the drive you buy has a good reputation. You will be storing all of your important documents on it and you want to be reasonably sure that it doesn’t fail.
No matter how good a company is, there will be a certain percentage of drives that fail. But you want to go with a company and drive model that has very few instances of failure.
I usually go on Amazon.com and other electronics sites and read the reviews on a drive before I buy. I’m partial to Western Digital backup drives. I have one to backup my entire Mac and one for my documents.
I like them because the have a good reputation and are very portable. This is the drive I currently have, it is a Western Digital My Passport 1TB.
I previously wrote a post about how Evernote can be a great way to journal your trades. The best part is that you don’t have to sign up for the paid plan if you don’t want to.
This will depend on how much paper you have to scan of course, but since trading doesn't require a ton of paperwork, you should be able to get by with the free plan. I used the free plan for a few years and I never hit the limit. However, I decided to upgrade to Evernote Premium this year, for reasons I will go into in a bit.
If I remember correctly, the free plan gives you 60MB of uploads a month and unlimited total storage. It may have changed by the time you read this, but that is what I recall.
You could probably upload about 500 scans before you hit that limit. It would depend on the resolution at which you scan your documents and the size of the documents.
However, it's not too much trouble if you go over the monthly limit. Since the total upload limit is unlimited, you could just save your scans on your hard disk and upload them next month when your monthly limit resets.
I decided to upgrade to the Premium plan for the following reasons:
- Notes are accessible offline on mobile devices. One of the biggest benefits of Evernote is to be able to take notes where ever you are. Having my notes accessible on my phone is a huge plus when I need to jot down a good idea. Now I can access them even if I have no internet service.
- Passcode lock adds a second layer of protection. This is important because I scan some sensitive documents. It is basically a 4-digit pin that is required to open Evernote on my mobile device. Note: Also remember to enable two-step authentication. That is available to all users, free and paid.
- My upload limit jumped to 1GB a month and each note can now be a maximum of 100MB.
- Automatic character recognition. This was probably the biggest selling point of Premium, at least for me. Evernote will now attempt to identify all the words in each scan and even in pictures. That means you can now search for any document, just by typing in a few keywords that are in the document itself. The Evernote system is very good at identifying words, it's actually pretty amazing.
There are some other benefits to upgrading, but I don't really care about them. These are the ones that matter to me.
Evernote can also help you do other trading related tasks:
- Clip websites to easily take notes.
- Store screenshots
- Take voice memos
- Tag your trades (good/bad trade, strategy name, etc.)
So even if you don't want to go totally paperless, Evernote is a great way to journal your trades or keep notes on your trading education.
Since I have Evernote as my online backup, I only use one local backup drive. That may change soon, but I am comfortable with it for now.
You could just use the backup drive for your documents, but it is much harder to find them later. Even if you only use the free version of Evernote, the tagging and search features make it much easier to locate your scans.
Now we need a scanner to get the documents into digital format. Scanners used to be bulky and expensive, but they have gotten a lot cheaper. I have actually purchased two scanners, so I have a fair bit of experience in this area.
When I first started looked at going paperless a few years back, the cheapest personal scanners were about $600, with most of them costing a couple thousand dollars. But I recently picked up a really good one for about $100.
Things to look for in a scanner:
- Duplex scanning – It scans back and front at the same time
- At least 600 dots per inch maximum resolution
- Ability to scan to pictures and PDF
- Good ratings on Amazon and other electronics review sites
That's about it. Now let's look at what I have.
Fujitsu ScanSnap S510
I have had this scanner for a few years and this is what I think of it.
- Easy to feed multiple documents at once
- Great software that will scan directly to Evernote and a hard drive at the same time
- The software will also do optical character recognition, so all your PDFs will be searchable
- Solid build quality
- Excellent scan quality
- Over the years, the rollers don't do as good a job of separating the sheets of paper
- Expensive compared to alternative models
- Bulky compared to alternatives
- Have to worry about being close to a power outlet
My sister actually has the newer version of this scanner and it is fantastic. The paper separation works much better and the software can detect when there is a paper overlap. So if you will be scanning a lot of documents, I would recommend that you buy a newer version of this scanner.
I just picked up this scanner a couple of months ago and I love it. The best part is that it is very portable and doesn't take up a lot of space on my desk. I was always skeptical of travel scanners because they seemed to be fragile. Here is what I think about this scanner so far.
- Solid build quality
- Runs on USB power, no AC adapter
- Very good scan quality
- Robust paper feed
- Can be purchased for less than $100 online
- Have to feed each document individually
- Software not as good as ScanSnap, does not OCR or scan to multiple locations at once
These are two really good alternatives. The one you choose will depend on your budget and needs.
There is also another ScanSnap scanner that is like the Brother DS-620, but it has a paper feeder. It costs about $250, so that might be a good compromise.
Scanner alternative: If you don't want to purchase a scanner, you can also use your mobile phone to take pictures of your documents. Keep in mind however, that pictures will take up a lot more space. You will have to go through the extra step of optimizing the pictures or printing them to PDF format before uploading them to Evernote.
Putting It Together
Now let's quickly go through the process that I use to store my documents. I find myself using the Brother scanner much more lately because of its small size and ease of use, so I'll use that as the example.
- I formatted the hard drive to work with my computer. Since I use a Mac, I formatted it to Mac OS Extended (Journaled). If you have a PC, then just do a format and Windows will figure it out. Most of the time. I erase any software that comes with the drive, they are always useless.
- Install the scanner software.
- I first scan to the external hard drive and store the scans in folders that are separated by year.
- Then I go into Evernote and manually add the scans to notes and file them in the right folder.
- I tag each note in Evernote with the year and the category of the scan. I also give each note a title, to make it easier to identify. If there is any bookkeeping involved, I do that at the same time that I add the scans to Evernote.
- If the document is something I don't need, I throw it out or shred it. If I need to keep the physical document, I keep it in my (very small) filing folder.
You can even go paperless in your personal life. Keep records of car maintenance paperwork, bills, letters and more.
I love getting letters and Christmas/Birthday cards and I feel bad when I have to throw them away. But I'm not the kind of person who keeps unnecessary stuff for 20 years. This post will tell you more about why.
But I want to keep the memory of that card. A life worth living is worth recording. I have found that scanning the card or taking a picture of it is a perfect way to preserve that memory without cluttering up my home.
Evernote also allows me to take notes when I'm on the go. I just use the mobile version to take pictures or type out notes for later. If you are writing these purchases off to your business, you get to utilize them for personal use as a bonus.
Take a minute to look around your trading office or the personal spaces in your home. How much paper could be eliminated by going paperless?
Remember that sometimes you don't even realize that the paper is there because you are so used to ignoring it. I have heard cases of people who have been able to free up several filing cabinets worth of space in their offices, just by going through this process.
Don't have the time to do it yourself? Hire a family member or use a site like TaskRabbit.
Going paperless may not be for you and that's OK. But once you get started, I think you will find it exciting that you can regain your space and have the peace of mind of knowing that you will actually be able to find your paperwork.
At least that is what it was like for me. Go paperless.
Disclaimer: I get a commission if you purchase some of the products listed in this post, but it goes towards supporting this blog and a portion is donated to my charity partner.