Now, before you start calling me a tree-hugging hippie, let me preface by saying that I’ve fought the paperless bandwagon for as long as I could! I constantly got annoyed by the requests by all my companies I do business with to go paperless, and I was extremely frustrated when it came to the point that I either converted to paperless, or faced a $5.00 a month additional charge by them to send me the statements in the mail. I wanted paper statements! I wanted something tangible that I could see, touch, and file. I wasn’t comfortable without a stack of cellphone bills in my filing cabinet (that I would probably never look at again, mind you). I felt that if it wasn’t there, then it wouldn’t be there in the future when I needed it. Never mind the fact that in the case of a house fire, all of my paper filing would be gone, and I would be without any sort of documents.
Fast forward a few years down the road, and my office quickly became a massive disaster. Boxes after boxes of papers lay around, waiting for me to properly sort, organize, and file into the filing cabinet. These papers dated back 3 or more years, doing nothing but cluttering up my office with their presence. Furthermore, after those boxes filled up with papers, the papers themselves continued to fill up the office, slowly making their way into random piles, strewn about here and there, covering my desk, the floor, the folding table, bookshelf, and other assorted areas. I tried various methods to stay on top of the massive, endless amount of papers, including purchasing color-coded filing labels, developing a storage system, reorganizing, etc. However, each various method felt like nothing more than another attempt to fail at the same thing. I just could not stay on top of the papers, and my office was quickly becoming nothing more than a collection of paper waste. There wasn’t even a spot for me to sit any longer!
Eventually, it came to the point that “enough was enough”, I needed to do something about the papers.
The Solution – The ScanSnap!
I did some research. I then did more research. I then thought about it, and did more research. All the while, the paperwork continued to pile, and the space continued to dwindle. Then one day, I hopped on Amazon, and said “that’s it!” I had had enough, and it was time to finally purchase a scanner, and begin to go completely paperless. After an extensive amount of research, I finally rested on this – a newly upgrade, ScanSnap S1300i scanner:
Once it arrived (yay, Amazon Prime!), I quickly set it to get it in place and get it going just as fast as I could. I was sick and tired of the paperwork, and it was time to be done with it.
The first thing I noticed when I got the scanner in the mail was that the box was quite small. I opened it up, and noticed the following in the packaging:
- The Scanner (duh)
- A USB cable
- A power adapter
- Another USB cable, with a nifty power plug on one end
- Various assorted instructions / warranty cards / installation CD
After popping in the CD, the software quickly installed, and I was on my way. It’s interesting to note at this point the secondary USB cable that came with the box. While the scanner obviously can run of the power adapter, the secondary USB cable can also serve to power the scanner through a secondary USB port on the connected computer. Nice! I probably won’t ever use this feature, as I don’t plan on taking the computer with me in a portable situation. However, it is a nice touch, and a nice additional feature if your environment will lend you that necessity to do so.
Once everything was set up, I was ready to scan! Every where I looked in my office, I saw paper after paper, pile after pile, and box after box, of various dead tree bits that needed to turn their lives into a digital format. I quickly grabbed one box, and began the scanning process.
I found a stack of papers that I felt belonged together, each of various sizes. After arranging them in an order from larger to smaller (full size documents in the front, smaller card-sized documents in the middle, and receipts in the back – to help with the scanning rollers), I stuck it in the scanner and hit the big glowing blue button. Immediately the scanner sprang to life, sucked all the paper through one page at a time, spit it out the other end, and finished the job before I knew it!
It’s important to point out why this scanner is so friggin’ awesome. Obviously for the most part, a scanner is a scanner. What makes it extremely powerful is the corresponding hardware that goes along with the scanner. In this case, it couldn’t be more true. Besides the scanner having dual scanning heads (so that it can scan both sides of the page at the same time), the corresponding software does the following, automatically:
- Automatic duplex detection
- Automatic color detection
- Automatic page size detection
- Automatic page rotation
- Automatic keyword detection
- Automatic highlighting tagging
- Automatic OCR (Optical Character Recognition)
That’s right. No longer do you need to continuously mark the scanner for a specific size, type, orientation, or format of the paper you’re scanning it with. Instead, the scanner does everything fully automatic (if you’ve configured it to do so), and you no longer have to do that. Just grab a stack of papers, put it in the scanner, hit the button, and you’re off! Obviously, if the process takes too much extra unnecessary effort, I’m more likely to drop the process entirely, and regress back to a state of not doing anything with the papers, and quickly return to where I was before purchasing the scanner. So, the fact that the scanner can do everything in an extremely quick, efficient manner is important to me.
I’ve touched on the software a bit already, but there’s so much more to it than just the automatic scanning part of it itself. Depending on the package purchased, the ScanSnap might come with a slightly different list of software with it. The version I purchased, however, comes with the following:
- ScanSnap Organizer
- ScanSnap CardMinder
- Abbey FineReader for ScanSnap
I haven’t payed too much attention to the software that came with mine, outside of those listed below. The most critical of all the software, in my opinion, is the ScanSnap Organizer, and the corresponding FineReader. The FineReader is the piece of software that will automatically perform the OCR on the files that are scanned with the ScanSnap. Note that it WILL NOT allow you to perform OCR on any PDFs that were not created with ScanSnap. While the normal FineReader software can do, the version that came with the scanner will not. I assume this has to do with a license restriction put in place in the software bundled with the scanner.
In my workflow, the coup de grâce, in my opinion, is the ScanSnap Organizer. There are a number of alternative software packages that do similar functionality as the Organizer. However, in my case I wasn’t looking to spend any additional money than what I spent after purchasing the scanner. So, ScanSnap Organizer it is!
At its core, ScanSnap Organizer is nothing more than a simple document managing system, that simply puts all the files in a folder, gives them preview icons that show what the document consists of, and calls it good. And that is exactly what I wanted! I didn’t trust various other software, such as the one coupled with the NeatDesk system, which kept all PDFs in a proprietary database, which required the user to access through the software. The great thing about ScanSnap Organizer, is that it simply references with Windows (or Mac) folder structure, and overlays it with a bit more detail, using a hidden “.organizer” folder. Don’t feel like going through the Organizer software? Simply navigate to the ScanSnap folder that you have configured, which contains all of your PDFs within it, and you’re good to go! Not being locked into a proprietary software design is huge to me. I don’t want to be locked out of all of my files a few years down the road.
In addition to being a document organizer for all the PDFs, ScanSnap Organizer also contains some various additional advanced PDF editing tools. These include deleting and reorganizing pages within a PDF, rotating / deskewing pages, cropping, etc. It can also organize by keyword, find highlighted keywords, and distribute by keyword.
Lastly, the Organizer / scanner allows scanning to numerous third-party programs, including, but not limited to:
- Microsoft Office (Powerpoint, Word, Excel)
- Google Docs
- Any other program you can configure!
The ScanSnap scanner, and the associated software, allow you to do pretty much anything you want to with your digital documents. In my case, I primarily wanted the ability to convert all my physical documents into digital, and organize them into a folder structure similar to how they would have been in my filing cabinet. But the options and possibilities to do more advanced things with the documents expand far beyond my simple requirements.
After spending an hour or two a night for the past few weeks, I have managed to scan, file, and organize over 2,000 pages worth of documents. They are all now contained within a single master folder (or cabinet), with various associated folders underneath of it. I’m far from complete in scanning all of the remaining documents that still reside inside of my file cabinet. However, all of the boxed and loose paperwork lying around my office is now gone, and in its place is nothing but space, and room for me to actually enjoy my office once again. With barely 100MB or so of converted files on my PC, I have plenty of room to scan, and destroy thousands, if not millions more documents, with little concern about space any longer. In my case, one Banker’s Box worth of documents used close to 100MB worth of storage space. Assuming the minute size of a 32GB micro-SD card, I could effectively take 320 Banker’s Boxes, and consolidate it down into a size smaller than a penny. How awesome is that!
As far as I’ve come in the past few weeks, I still have an incredibly long way to go, before I can fully consider myself paperless. I still must fully develop, and stick to, a workflow plan that will effectively take any paper documents I receive, and convert them into an organized digital counterpart, and still be able to access the documents as quickly and efficiently as I need, without allowing the papers to once again pile up and overrun the office space. Furthermore, I also need to go through many of my physical mailing statements that I receive, and see about converting them to digital, and going with a paperless distribution with them instead. Unfortunately, many times the paperless format isn’t actually distributed, but rather put online for access, and only for a limited time. So, rather than being able to be lazy for a year and let documents accumulate, I need to be proactive in making sure to regularly download and archive all my digital statements. Otherwise, if I don’t stay on top of it, I could easily lose those digital documents into the abyss of dev/null, never to be seen or archived.
Oh, and there’s the obvious statement of “backup, backup, backup!”. In the case of physical documents, one only really needs to be aware of fire and theft – both of which are fairly uncommon. But in the digital world, one needs to be must more aware of harddrive and other equipment failure, and protect against such failures with duplication, redundancy, and versioning, to make sure that the documents don’t get accidentally lost or deleted. But that’s a completely different topic for another time!