If you’re trying to declutter your office and get rid of things you no longer need, you’ll do best to create an ICE File with the information you’ll need to recover from any emergency. ICE is an acronym which stands for “In Case of Emergency” and relates to a physical and electronic file you should create containing all the important information you’ll need to rebuild your business or life after an emergency or disaster strikes.
One great (and probably the best) option to build your ICE File of important information is to copy and scan your important files. But, to be sure you’re covered in case of emergency, follow these four simple steps to create your ICE File.
1. Gather all your important files
To begin this process, you’ll need to gather all your important files for each of your family members. Important paper files you’ll need in your ICE File include:
- Birth and death certificate
- Pension plan documents
- ID cards
- Credit Cards
- Marriage license
- Religious records of life events: Baptismal, confirmation, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, etc.
- Social security card
- Business license
- Military discharge papers
- Insurance policies
- Rare and valuable item documentation (such as certified appraisals)
- Wills, living wills, and powers of attorney
- Vehicle titles
- Loan documents
- House deeds and mortgage documents
2. Scan paper files to digital files
Once you’ve gathered all of your paper and physical documents for your ICE File, you’ll need to create their digital equivalent via scanning. Medium range scanners like NeatDesk and Fujitsu Scansnap have become very affordable and if you have a lot of scanning to do, are well worth the several hundred dollar investment. I’ve seen and experimented with a number of scanners, and I happen to favor the Fujitsu Scansnap to expedite your home and office digital scanning needs. But if you’d like to avoid a few hundred dollar investment, you can easily use the ‘scan to pdf’ function on most current printers. Regardless, you’ll want to scan your important documents double-sided. To expedite the process, do all your scanning at one time, then upload the pdf’s into your organizing system. You can either devise your own naming structure and tag each file while naming it, OR you can easily organize your digital paper files with Evernote.
3. Organize digital files
Evernote is a free online data storehouse that allows you to catalog information as if it were stored in physical notebooks. Evernote has SO many advantages for you because of it’s ability to tag information by category. It also seamlessly interfaces with Google, which offers you access to your documents from any device. There is some controversy on whether to store your records on the cloud*.
When you download and open the Evernote app, create a notebook called “Digital Paper” (or with some other equally generic name) to store every scan you create. When you upload your scanned items into Evernote, they’ll end up in your Evernote Central Stream (and that’s where everything in Evernote goes). So to maximize your time organizing, create a notebook for all your scans.
In addition to a digital paper notebook, you’re able to create sub-notebooks for more detailed organization. You can literally scan any paper item into the system for reference later. And if you’re in business and want to capture all of your expenses, you can easily create a subfile for “Tax Receipts.”
Once you’ve scanned your documents and uploaded them to Evernote, you can go through each scanned file and tag it by category. It’s important to think of your file naming structure before you begin to help you stay organized. Newer versions of Evernote (5 and up) allow you to tag items with multiple tags, but you don’t need to. It really just depends on your organizational style preference. If you’d prefer to use tags instead of notebooks, simply tag each scan with whatever criteria you want and view your scans through Evernote’s tag pages.
4. Back up your ICE File
In this day and age of digital, it’s also important to determine a file backup strategy. Your ICE File can be backed up with an online service such as Evernote, but should also have a physical access just in case the internet or your systems shut down. Having a double backup has its advantages.
However, while there are benefits to storing all your information on the cloud, serious considerations must be understood. Paul Stephens, an identity theft expert and director of policy and advocacy at the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse advised against storing records on online storage sites or in e-mail messages. As a result of recent happenings, I am not convinced that cloud storage of vital documents and important records is the best solution. Stephen’s statement in the New York Times article made me rethink my strategy and reconsider choosing an encrypted service and my external hard drive.
Today cloud computing is so easy, and all services are easily connected. But cloud sites do get shut down and can get hacked. It’s a good practice to keep your paper records in a locked, fireproof filing cabinet or safety deposit box.
Cloud vs Encrypted Backup
Regardless of how you store the data, (after all it is your choice) creating a completely paperless ICE File has its advantages. Most people are surprised that it is a simple as it is with the right tools and an organized approach. But when your documents stretch back through years (or even decades), it can be daunting. In this case, it may not be worth your time to digitize all of them. You may want to call on professionals like ScanDigital whom you can box up your docs and send them away to be done off site. It’s up to you, but it’s worth the effort to dig through old files to determine which you should hold onto and make into digital copies for backup.
Additional paper documents to keep
The documents you should never get rid of are all fairly obvious: They’re official papers from government agencies, typically involve lawyers, will be very important to your loved ones if you pass away, related to something of significant value, and/or are a pain to replace. As we noted in our Time To Toss It ebook, these include those listed above, but there are others.
A simple online search can give you an idea on which records to retain. But I like to refer to the IRS who state – Keep records for 3 years from the date you filed your original return or 2 years from the date you paid the tax, whichever is later, if you file a claim for credit or refund after you file your return. Keep records for 7 years if you file a claim for a loss from worthless securities or bad debt deduction. Here are guidelines on how long to keep records according to the IRS. Although not essential for your ICE File, most attorneys and tax professionals agree that you should keep (scan and backup) the following:
- House records: cancelled checks for major home improvements and maintenance (for the length of home ownership)
- Medical records
- Photos or video tapes of valuables
- Tax return copies and worksheets
- Income tax payment checks
- Annual IRA or other investment contribution statements, pension/profit-sharing informational returns
In summary, if you follow the four steps in this article, you’ll be well on your way to getting and feeling more organized. Additionally, you’ll have created one of the milestone master files you’ll need in case of an emergency: Your ICE File. Once you’ve digitized your paper files, be sure to keep the physical documents in a safe place. Finally, emergency preparedness experts suggest you store vital ICE Files in one single location that’s easy to grab in case you need to evacuate—and also make digital copies for off-site backup. If you do these things, you’ll feel much more organized, and be ready to rebuild if disaster strikes.
If you’d like help creating and staying on track with your ICE File, contact me. I help entrepreneurs get organized and productive for business and life. Schedule your free Discovery Call here and let’s see how I can help you get on the right track to life-flow and productive living.