In the first twenty years after BusinessWeek called for paperless offices in 1975, paper usage actually increased dramatically. The idea of a paperless office seemed like a joke, and there was even a book written about it, "The Myth of the Paperless Office," which theorized that certain human characteristics made going paperless an impossible feat. The good news is that since 2006, Americans are using less paper. And in the last 7 years, with the economic downturn and various technological advances, the need for paper has shrunk even more and the idea of going paperless is much more realistic. There will always be reasons for using paper, but considering the digital nature of today's business processes, these reasons are few and far in between.

There are, however, several reasons for switching to a paperless system. You can lower costs associated with printing, such as paper and toner, printers and copy machines. Going paperless can make your business more organized because you won't have loose papers lying around and won't have a need for paper storage solutions. Another reason for going paperless is increased productivity, which is our focus here.

Here are 5 ways to go paperless and increase the productivity of your business:

1. The 80s called... they want your fax machine back

One of the first things you need to do is get rid of the fax machine, sticky notes, paper clips and filing cabinets--anything that will trigger paper usage. Do not make it easy for your business to revert to the old ways of doing things. Start subscribing to a service like eFax, which allows you to send and receive faxes without a fax machine. You should also make the process of going paperless an engaging experience for your company; get input from employees on the paperless process. Try to make it fun by offering incentives to employees who are willing to jump on the paperless bandwagon.

2. Switch to digital

There's no reason you need to continue sending paper statements and notices or using pre-printed forms for business to carry on. Switching to electronic invoices, notices and statements frees up time used printing, mailing, and filling out documents--time that could be used more wisely elsewhere. Use a service like JotForm, that helps your business do everything from creating purchase orders to online customer satisfaction forms.

3. Google Drive is your friend

Instead of collaborating with colleagues around a desk with printouts of reports and budgets, use Google Drive. You can see edits in made in real time and you can revert back to older versions of the document at any time.

4. Get a document imaging system

You need to take care of the documents you already have by scanning them and turning them into digital files that can be stored and archived electronically. It takes a lot of work to gather all of your company's documents, sort through them, scan and then destroy them. This could be a daunting task for you and your employees, so look into outsourcing it to a firm that provides that service. That way you can complain about it, but then it's all over and they leave.

Another service I love to use is PandaDoc. These guys have everything a sales team needs to create, send, get contracts esigned without printing anything. We use this for all contracts at our company, it's saved countless trees.

5. Utilizing apps

Most of the things your business uses paper to do can easily be transitioned to the Cloud by using an app designed for the job. If you or your employees travel a lot for the business, switch to an app for reporting mileage and travel expenses. You can book hotels and airlines online, and use your airline's app for electronic boarding passes.

Going paperless can really help your business because it can allow you control and stability where you may not have had it before, and give you more time to do what's really important--grow your business.

Published on: May 9, 2015
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.