How I Digitize My Paper Records with Google Drive
Back in 2005, about a year into my post-secondary career, I bought a large expandable filing folder that has carried almost all of my paper records since. Any documents related to student loans, taxes, insurance, bank accounts and credit cards have all gone into this folder, and while it’s important to keep such documents, doing so in paper form isn’t always the most efficient way to go.
Why? Paper takes up physical space. Paper records also require a manual search. There is no search box to type into — only your eyes and fingers and the time needed to examine each individual document. And, unless you’re making multiple copies, paper records are only available to you in the place you store them. So if you’re ordering eyeglasses and you need a copy of your vision prescription, you’ll probably have to go home to get it.
As someone who writes for a tech blog, it was downright shameful that I didn’t have some kind of digital system set up for these records. So I created one.
There are several options for online storage available, such as Dropbox and Google Drive. I chose Google Drive because you get a fair amount of online storage space (5 GB free) and expanded storage is fairly cheap. You can also create and store Google Doc files in your Drive account and they won’t count toward your storage limit.
Google Drive also intertwines quite beautifully with my browser of choice, Chrome. When printing from Chrome, there is a “Save to Drive” printer option that automatically saves the Web page printout as a PDF in your Drive account. This makes saving Web pages very easy.
As far as converting paper documents goes, you can use your printer/scanner to create a digital image of your document and then drag that file right onto the top of a Google Drive browser window. The file will upload automatically.
A good digital filing system is nothing if your records aren’t well organized. Sure, you could rely on Google’s search feature to try and find what you’re looking for, but sometimes you’ll need to navigate through folders.
I set up several main folders — Personal, Financial, Medical and Mail. Each section has its own mix of sub-folders, but those are the ones I started off with. The first three are pretty self-explanatory, but the last folder is one I added recently so that I’d get into the habit of scanning my mail when it comes in. When I get the opportunity later on, I can sort that mail into one of the other folders or delete it.
Naming your digital files is a big part of organization. For documents, I like to put a description in the file name followed by a date in MM-DD-YYYY format. For mail, I put the sender and the date the mail was received.
Out of all the ways digitizing your records can benefit you, this one is my favorite.
When your documents are stored in the Google Drive cloud, you have access to them anywhere you have a computer and an Internet connection. And there are Google Drive apps available for both iOS and Android smartphones and tablets. Drive really shines on a tablet, so if you have an iPad or an Android tablet, you’ll wonder how you went so long without filing your documents digitally.
If you’re out somewhere and you need to pull up an account number for a company you do business with, now you can. If you need to send a copy of an insurance card to someone, you can open Gmail and attach the file right from Google Drive. Don’t have a scanner nearby but need to save a document? Your smartphone or tablet camera will do the trick, and you can save the resulting image into Google Drive with just a few taps.
Of course, with the good will come some bad and, in this case, it’s all about privacy. If you’re already logged onto Google Drive from your PC or mobile device, chances are, someone could open the Web page or app without having to sign in to your account. This means that they’d have access to all of your stored files and some might contain highly-sensitive medical or financial information.
My advice to you is this — be careful about the types of information you store in Google Drive. If you want to store sensitive information, be extremely vigilant about protecting your account information and your devices, and be aware of who can gain access to both. You may want to sign out of your Google account when it isn’t being used and enable Google’s two-step verification process for added security.
Have you digitized your paper records lately? If so, I’d love to hear about your process in the comments section.
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