A scanner is essential to a paperless workflow. You may not use paper, but others do. Having a scanner lets you ingest incoming paper and free it from its surly bonds.

Your smartphone will let you make quick snaps of the odd paper as you’re out and about. For heavy scanning, you’ll want to set up a station at home, probably near your computer, where you can digitize documents. At your scanning station, you can have everything you need to scan a document from start to finish without putting it down.

Here are some items you should keep handy by your scanner:

  1. An inbox tray. First, have a tray where you can set things while they wait for you. This makes a significant difference in your mindset. Even if you have a corner of the desk informally set aside for things you need to scan, it looks like clutter. A tray gives that area a formal purpose: these things need scanned.
  2. A letter opener. Keep a letter opener handy. It’s faster than sliding your finger to open an envelope, produces a cleaner result, and saves you from some nasty paper cuts.
  3. A staple remover. If you don’t have a staple remover, get one. They’re cheap. They do one thing and they do it well. Don’t just tear the pages apart. Pull the staples with a staple remover and the paper is left relatively undamaged.
  4. A pen. Or three. Specifically, a red pen, a yellow highlighter, and a black marker. You can mark up a PDF, but sometimes, it’s faster to just jot a note on the page before scanning it. Already pay the bill? Jot down when. Want to call out the due date? Highlight it. Need to redact an account number? Mark over it. A couple seconds of analog preparation can save you minutes of digital post-processing time.
  5. A pair of scissors. Many receipts have a lot of useless information on them. With a quick snip, you can separate the fluff from the part you want to keep. It’s okay if the cut isn’t perfectly square.
  6. A roll of Scotch tape. Sooner or later, you’ll need to scan something that’s torn. The tape is invisible to the scanner and lets the sheet feed through cleanly.
  7. A paper shredder. If you’re scanning sensitive documents, shred them when you’re done. Get a nice cross-cut shredder—the diamond confetti is much harder to reassemble than the ribbons. We keep ours right behind the computer in a wicker laundry hamper; it looks better when not in use, keeps it hidden from little fingers, and lets us set things on top of it (out of sight) until we shred everything for the day.
  8. A wastepaper basket. Once you’ve scanned a document into your paperless system, you’re done with it. Get rid of it. As it comes out of the scanner, it either goes into the shredder or a basket where it waits to be recycled or trashed, depending on your setup.

Now to set aside some space. I have it integrated into the desk where I work; if you prefer, you can create a dedicated area with just the tools for scanning and nothing else.

Design your area to be directional. I go left-to-right: the inbox tray, prep area, scanner, destination. This helps create a “forward” direction for the process. If paper has to bounce around your desk as it gets processed, it’s much harder to work with.

Any process should be as quick and painless as possible, or you’re not going to do. Productivity comes from preparation. Sometimes, that just means collecting all the tools you’ll need so you don’t get thrown off because you don’t have a pen.

Now that you’ve converted the paper to a PDF, don’t just leave the PDF languishing on your desktop! Most PDF services will let you drop a PDF onto them, too. Put it in Evernote. Create a reminder if you need to follow up on it. It’s okay to do this as a separate step—filing doesn’t require the physical access to a scanner—but you’re not done scanning until you’ve turned the paper into the digital reference material or action item it is.

Question: What papers do you take paperless? Share your thoughts in the comments, on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.