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July 13, 2012

My Way to Paperless

by Andreas Schaefer

This is my account of going paperless. I will update the post when there is something going on. The parts will be in reverse order so that you always have the latest first.

July 21st: Hazel

Lately I didn't have much time to spare for this project but we started to use the scanner more often. Rather than to fret what to do with a document we just throw it into the scanner and then drop it into the delayed shredder bin. We can sort out where to place it later.

For that matter doing my travel receipts is much easier now. Just scan the receipts, open the resulting PDF into PDFpen, add the electronic invoices like flight tickets and the spreadsheet with the receipts summary and I'm done.

I was briefly using Hazel to see how it works and it should do the trick even though it's probably a little bit tougher to create good rules and we might spend more time manually name the documents. For example the receipts document is very hard to create a good Hazel rule for but I think using TextExpander instead should speed up the naming process enough to keep it efficient.


July 12th: Getting Ready

If my wife hadn't started to work full time we probably would still use papers even though in my job I started to use less and less paper a few years back. The last time we bought a new house and sold our old one we started to use PDFs, Dropbox and PDFpen to sign and share most of the documents with our realtors.

With the dawn of paperless billing keeping all invoices, business paperwork and receipts in one place is becoming more and more of a challenge. What I don't want is to search all my documents in multiple places rather than just open my computer and search for it.

In the beginning of 2012 my wife and I started to talk about going paperless but it took nearly another 6 months to put it in place. I knew that my printer/scanner combo wasn't good enough to scan efficiently nor was a simple PDF image of my documents going to help us cataloging and searching the documents efficiently. When I bought PDFpen I saw the power of OCR to convert a document into searchable text. Then I started to share sensitive documents about our house transaction with our realtors over Dropbox and later used CrashPlan for an online backup. The only missing so far was how to automate the scanning, sorting, syncing and backing up of our documents.

In order to make everything work well all our documents are stored on a central location with a minimal effort to convert into searchable documents and automatically sorter based on its content, at least for recurring documents. Having already a Mac Mini Server adding a great scanner to it, scan and sort the documents into a shared folder on the server looks very promissing. Finally I can use CrashPlan to backup these folder(s) and the only thing I need to figure out if I want to encrypt the documents locally before the are backed up.

The only missing piece is the automatic sorting and for the Mac the solution seems to be simply Hazel. With this tool I can automate actions on files bases on various features like file name, properties, Spotlight comments, content and more. In order to trigger Hazel I need to place my documents into a folder no matter if it was scanned or arrived digitally. Hazel will check the content and move, rename, add tags etc on all documents it understands. The rest will remain in the original folder and we need either to create new Hazel rules or just rename / move them manually.

Even though we didn't start yet I want to collect paper documents in our office in a bin then periodically scan them except I need the documents right away like receipts. After a given time I want to check if I still can find some random documents and if found I will shred the paper.

Because the scanner is a very important piece we bought a Fujitsu SnapScan S1500M and after a few tries I can scan a document in seconds. The Fujitsu software is then running OCR in the background and places the PDF into our central folder. This is dead simple because the scanner scans both sides in one pass, uses a sonic sensor to make sure it did not scan two pages together and the OCR is pretty good. The only thing I need to figure out is how to place multiple pages in on PDF file. So far I see two solutions, either I scan one document at the time and let the software combine them into one document or I scan all pages as one document and combine them later with PDFpen manually. Even though the scanner ran obout $440 it is a great investment to go paperless.

– Andy


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