Thursday, January 24, 2013

How to go paperless the future-proof way (without using Evernote)

The short version:

  • Get a Doxie One scanner. For (optional) convenience, get an Eye-Fi SD card for $35, which will send documents from the scanner to your computer wirelessly and automatically.

    Update: If you want to cut your scanning time by more than half, spend a few bucks more and get the Canon P-215 scanner (as recommended by The Wirecutter). It scans twice as fast, it scans both sides of the page at the same time, it has a document feeder, and it has built-in OCR.
  • Scan your documents to your hard drive. Put them all in one big folder. If you want, use the OCR option in Doxie’s software to make your PDFs searchable.
  • Date and tag the documents: use this format for filenames:
    [year]-[month] name of document #tag1 #tag2 #tag3.pdf
  • Get an expanding file jacket. Put all your important papers in there and out of the way, and scan them all once every quarter or so (I usually do my scans once a year just before I do my taxes).
  • Shred the original documents.
  • Keep backups.

When you want to run a search, open your archive folder and run a search. Need all tax-related documents for last year? Search for 2012 #taxes.

No subscriptions. No extra software. Guaranteed to be stay portable and useful for the next 20 years.

Why the hashtags? What about folders?

Using #tags #like #this in the filename is a universal tagging mechanism. It works on Mac OS and on Windows, and the searches on those systems will have no problem finding your files.

Sticking files in a folder hierarchy is a poor way of filing that is on its way out. For example, what do you do if a document is both medical and tax-related in nature? Do you create a Taxes → Medical folder structure, or Medical → Taxes?

Tags allow a document to live in more than one box at a time, are easy to add, and are easy to search for.

Why Not Evernote? Reasons, that’s why.

There have been a couple of great posts by others lately about going paperless, and they’re definitely worth reading. But they all assume you need some kind of fancy software setup, including (most commonly) a subscription plan to Evernote.

I agree it must be nice to have someone else run OCR on my documents and host them for me. But let’s look at the drawbacks:

  • I have to pay someone else $60 a year in case I need to perform occasional full-text searches on my own documents.
  • Long-term uncertainty. Will Evernote be around in 10 years? 20 years? How do I know I’ll be able to get my massive archive back out again when they go out of business?
  • Handing off responsibility for your sensitive documents to someone else’s computers — this is just asking for trouble. Data corruption, security breaches, warrantless searches. Over the next 10 years, it’s almost a given that your hosted service of choice will be hit by at least one of them.