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Trying To Go Paperless

Upon graduating from college I took a temp job with a local business doing basic accounts receivable reconciliations and research.  The job w as rather mundane and uneventful but it did leave a scar on me.  My assignment manager was a super nice lady th at was very experienced and likely overworked.  Her office was deplorable! The first time I walked in I was stopped about two feet in the door by stacks, upon stacks of paper printouts from the GL.  She instructed me to have a seat and I politely moved a stack from the chair and placed it at her direction upon another stack.  Gingerly stepped over the multiple stacks on the floor and took a seat.  Every square inch of this office was covered in paper.   During my tenure at this temp job I added to the stacks in her office through the normal course of business.  I also vowed never to have an office as hers is.

Today some of my co-workers have joked that they are not sure if I still work for the company when I am not at my desk because it is so barren.  I have succeeded in not turning out as my temp job manager but I too have secret stacks of “usefullness” stuffed in a filing cabinet or desk drawer.  I have tried to apply concepts from 43 Folders, Getting Things Done,  and other management books I have read along the way.   I have had a scanner for about six years and still struggle with a useful filing system to be productive and achieve paperless bliss.

My HP all-in-one scanner broke about a year ago and I have been avoiding replacing it because I knew I would again struggle to find a real paperless system.  I bit the bullet and bought another HP All-In-One print/fax/copy/scan device (HP CM1415 fnw).  It is a nice device and I recycled an old inkjet at Staples so they gave me $50 towards the purchase making it $320 with tax.  The software that comes with the device includes OCR recognition and driver support.   Yes, I was proudly ready to go paperless.

Ahh, the disappointment.

Since I didn’t spend $500 on just my scanner and have another device sitting on my desk I didn’t get a TWAIN scanner that most of the high end paperless systems require.  This makes the normal workflow of scan and file a bit more clumsy.  I ended up testing several different workflows and filing systems.  One of the easiest and most popular is to simply scan the documents to a pdf and file them using normal network folders.  Bills go in the bills folder, bank statements in the bank statements folder — easy enough.  One of the clever recommendations was to put the file path in the final name of the file.  So CreditCard-MyBank-Jan2011.pdf would go in the /CreditCard/MyBank/ network folder.   I would have to manage this step and do the sorting manually which didn’t seem like a step forward and I would likely have a repeat of the last six years.

There are many ways to go from basic folders to software based database solutions.  There are three options in my opinion. 1. Use  a notes program like SOHO Notes or Yojimbo  2. ?Mariner Paperless or 3. DEVONthink Pro Office.   I have been a SOHO Notes user for many years and love the program for keep track of silly things and details that I don’t want to forget.  I thought it would be great if I could organize my paper life in the same spot.  Verdict:  Yes it is possible but not very efficient.  You might as well user network folders.   Next up was Mariner Paperless.  I had high hopes for this program since it is relatively cheap and reminded me of iTunes.   I started to think of these programs as the iTunes for my paper life – wow! what a great idea.  Of course my first hick-up was that I didn’t have the fancy ScanSnap scanner that it is designed to work with.  I could scan the docs and add them to the library but it is a lot of work.  The same turned out to be true for DEVONthink’s Pro Office.  The second problem with both of these programs is that they are not like iTunes or iPhoto.  You cannot browse your Mac Finder to the stored pdfs on your drive like you can with your iTunes Library or iPhoto Library.  The only way to get your hands on your document is to open up the program.  Not a big deal but it does make backups and network sharing and such a bit more tricky.

Ultimately I picked DEVONthink’s Pro Office.  It is more expensive than Paperless but has far better search capability which is really what sold me.  My workflow is this.  Scan the document with HP’s scan software, HP OCR’s the file and saves it as a pdf in a “to be imported folder”.   I then go to Pro Office and import the documents, tag and file them.  Finally I can clear out the “to be imported” folder.  Both programs do this basic function, Paperless might even do it a bit cleaner.  The extra coin is all in the OCR.  In ProOffice I can search for CM1415 and voila, it finds my Staples receipt which I miss filed in another folder.

This workflow isn’t too bad since my printer is wireless and I can leave a USB key stuck in the device to scan the daily mail stack without needing to file or tag things right away.  The mail sorting is now a quick digital function rather than a ugly box of stuff.   My next goal is to see if I can adopt a similar system at work where I have to coexist with Windows folks.

43 folders, archive, DevonThink ProOffice, getting things done, gtd, HP CM1415fnw, paperless, pdf, productivity