What is PDF?
PDF stands for Portable Document Format, and it was designed by Adobe. PDF documents give the creator a high level of control over restrictions including password protection, printing capabilities, and re-naming the file. One of the first things you will notice about PDFs are that you cannot copy or move around text. The document is almost like a jpg image.
Why it is Useful
One of the reasons that publishers like PDFs is that the text cannot be edited or copied. This prevents plagiarism, or unauthorized modifications to the document. This also works to the user's favor, as a PDF document of something is much more credible than a word document or image. While the text in PDFs cannot be edited, they can be searched and indexed, which is very useful for long documents with defined sections, such as an instruction manual for a camera.
Probably the biggest feature in PDFs is its ability to preserve formatting. If you want to print a receipt from online shopping, PDF is the way to go. Other formats such as JPG or Word documents can ruin the format, or prove to be less credible, as they can be easily edited.
Printing to PDF
The first step is to halt the flow of printed documents into your physical workspace. Most printed papers that are in your filing cabinet such as receipts, invoices, etc, can just as easily be sent to PDF and filed digitally on your hard-drive. A good free printing to PDF application is doPDF. After you install it, a doPDF printer will be added to your printer list. Printing to this from any application will send the data to a PDF file, saved wherever you choose. If you want more features and versatility, you can purchase winPDF. Personally, I think the only thing better about winPDF is that it includes a clickable URL in PDF if you print from the web.
After you have installed Print2PDF software, create a folder in My Documents and set up a proper filing system, similar to your current physical system. After that, be sure to set up automatic backups of this file.
A Better PDF Viewer
Adobe Acrobat Reader is not the best PDF viewer out there. Not only is it heavy on system resources, but it takes over 30 seconds to start-up, which is a big disadvantage when you want to acess your files quickly. A good free alternative to Acrobat is Foxit Reader. Foxit Reader is free, quick to start, and easy on system resources.
Printing to PDF
The final step is taking your current physical clutter, and making it digital. If you are really serious, you can spend a few hours and scan your entire filing system. More than likely however, you will want to gradually go into it, possibly starting or moving individual filing categories at a time. If you bought your scanner recently, there is a good chance that the included software has scanning to PDF capabilities. If not, there is plenty of commercial software avaliable, and possibly some free software. However I cannot recommend any, because I haven't used anything other than the included HP software.