It’s one thing to go out and buy a scanner in an effort to become paperless. It’s another thing to actually be able to find what you need amidst a tsunami of digital files. So here are five tips to tame those digital documents. Remember, scanning is the easy part; consistently finding your documents is the trick.
Set up a Digital Workflow and Plan
Let’s start at a high level here. There is no need to get too detailed. The point of this step is for you to work outing your head a set of processes for you to follow consistently so that once you’ve scanned a document, you know what to do. Here is an example:
Scan your documents to an inbox folder. (Inbox is a loose, generic term here.)
Rename the documents with consistent, descriptive naming convention.
Move the document to it’s storage location.
Make sure things are backed up - preferably in more than one location.
Set up a Digital Document Management Structure
You need to move your document to its storage location. But where is that? Pick your favorite flavor: computer + backup hard drive, or choose a cloud service. Regardless of where you set it up, stay consistent. You shouldn't put documents all over the place: how would you ever find them?
But here is the catch: do NOT make your folder structure overly complicated. Resist the temptation to make an elaborate multi-level folder structure. In the next step, you’ll see we will make all the documents searchable, so resist the temptation to make a complex folder structure.
Now, set up a high-level structure, something like this:
Year - Receipts
Year - Expenses
Make Your PDFs/Scans Searchable
The whole point of scanning your paperwork is so that you can find it later (and yes, of course, to get rid of the paper.) Let’s say something is wrong with your dishwasher. If you had to look through multiple folders of scanned documents, you’d want to give up. But, if you could type in a few keywords like “dishwasher” or “Maytag” and find what you are looking for, you’d be happy. With our searchable PDFs, we’re going to forget about whether a warranty goes into “bills” or “statements” folder and just put it into a general “insurance” folder. When you need it, you can find it with search.
Most likely your scanner comes with OCR (Optical Character Recognition.) So make sure you enable this option when you scan.
Access Your Info from Anywhere
Sometimes it can be very useful to access your information from any location - thus the popularity of cloud computing. Here are a few of my favorite services:
Evernote. As you know, I’m a huge Evernote fan. Evernote has both a Windows and a Mac desktop application, or you can access it from a mobile device. Evernote is free for storing PDFs, but any of the paid plans will allow you to OCR your documents to make them searchable.
Dropbox is a file repository service. Your files get saved to Dropbox’s servers and then can be accessed from anywhere, including your smartphone.
Google Drive is another file repository service, much like Dropbox. They want to be "the place for ALL your files.”
Shoeboxed is a service that allows you to mail in your physical documents, and they do all the scanning and organizing for you. You can also upload receipts and have them categorized.
** The only catch is that you need to read the fine print on any of these cloud services to make sure that YOU own your documents - not the company you upload to. Evernote and Dropbox do NOT own your info - but as of the time of this writing, I'm unsure about Google Drive.
Make Your Digital Documents Secure.
“Back up your computer" is kind of like “eat your vegetables.” You just gotta do it. Here are a few backup options:
Local Backup. This is a great first step in most cases - backing up your computer to an external hard drive.
Online Backup. These services are growing in popularity. If something were to happen to your physical space and impact both you computer AND your external hard drive, and online backup is what you want to have. I personally prefer Backblaze because I like the plans and pricing options, and it is just so easy. But there are others out there, too.
Multi-Location backup. If you are not comfortable with an online backup, then make a copy of your external hard drive and store it someplace safe. (Like a bank deposit box, or leave a copy with a close relative or friend.)
There’s another key piece of digital security: encryption. This doesn’t mean virus protection software or having the latest software updates. Encryption means locking up your files, folders and drives (with a password) so that if someone were to hack or steal your computer, they wouldn’t be able to read them. There are numerous ways to do this.
I am not an expert in this area, so I rely on the gurus to help me with this. Brooks Duncan, a Canadian Paperless Guru, has a great Paperless Security Guide where he walks through both Mac and Windows encryption details - and other security issues we have to worry about given the digital world we live in. Check it out here.