Home Scanner and Workflow

Finally going to go paperless at our house and have a couple questions.
Any recommendations on a document feeding scanner? Just bought a Fujitsu ScanSnap iX1500 but may return it if there is something better out there. Looked at equivalents from Epson and Brother. Found that all had their pros/cons.
Any tips on workflow for scanning old paperwork? I got David’s paperless book and have been going through that. Some of it is a little dated though. Downloaded Hazel to see if that can help automate the process.

Went paperless at my office in 2007. Bought Fujitsu scanner. They are excellent and still going. The only bad news was that they did not upgrade the older scanners to 64 bit. I still have two of the old ones working with 3rd party software.
I have three rules I tell people when going paperless.

  1. Don’t make paper. If you can get it electronically then do it. Making paper is really going backwards.

  2. Just start with today. Don’t worry so much about going back in time. A fools errand. The sooner you start, the sooner you have stuff electronically. In a couple of years you wont even think about the older stuff. You can cherry pick back in time if you want.

  3. You must have very good back up habits. I think Stephen and David talked about rule of 3 for backups. Anyway, backups are a must.

Last comment. There are cheap all in ones that can scan and there are really expensive scanners that support TWAIN. Fujitsu was the only one I found that is in the middle. It seems pricy but if you look at the whole picture, it is not.

Good Luck!


@Scout makes good points. Re: rule #2: I recommend that older files to “cherry pick” include a few important categories. Take time to make a list of these to scan, including old tax returns and limited supporting data, receipts for major purchases, home & personal property inventories for insurance purposes, investment statements that document cost basis, loan and mortgage payoff documents, marriage/birth certificates, passports, selected medical records, etc.

Additional suggestions:
Keep digital files in a generic files & folders format, not in a proprietary database and not in a proprietary file format.

Computer access passwords, Apple ID, email login passwords and encryption/decryption keys are special cases. You should keep a paper copy of these in a safe or other safe place.

I had a decent paper filing system for our paper records so scanning them in wasn’t too bad. I did them in batches of like records so I could file them together easily. Most were in chronological order so I could keep them in order. Some I did in large bundles as I didn’t need the individual item as separate files. An example was my wife’s medical records from 40 years ago. There was important information there but we didn’t need each doctor visit stored individually so I scanned a few hundred pages into one pdf.

Speaking of PDFs, I store all records as PDF. If I get a receipt via email I save it in a PDF. Same for web pages I need to file. No problem reading them on any system anywhere.

Decide on where and how you want to store your files. I used a hierarchical file system similar to my paper filing system. Think about how you can get to them when needed. I keep mine in iCloud so I can retrieve them from my iPad or iPhone as well as the macs.

There are some documents you have to keep like wills, birth certificates, etc. Even though you are keeping the paper document, scan it in so you have an electronic copy. If you need the information from it but not the actual document it will be available.

Backup, backup, backup! Multiple backups using different methods. I use time machine, CCC, and Arq. Test your backups periodically. A backup that hasn’t been tested is not a backup.

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Excellent point. Most bills and statements are available online. Once accessed in Safari, use the “File > Export as PDF” function to create the PDF file and save it in a designated folder named “Bills”, “Bank Statements” or whatever. Usually the “Export as PDF” function will pass through a filename that is perfectly suitable, without alteration, for archive. Safari’s “Print > Save as PDF” function works, but this takes more steps and usually does not pass through the bank’s suggested file name.

Example - when I access my monthly bank statement in Safari, the Export as PDF function will default to the filename “20200109_BANK_checking_xxxx” (xxxx is the last 4 digits of the bank account number). One more mouse-click saves the resulting PDF file to the computer. Same story for most credit card statements and utility bills. Only 3 mouse-clicks and you’re done - no need to type in a file name.

To save even more time, you can access certain statements online only once per year and save them as a batch instead of accessing and downloading the statements monthly. Example: my brokerage account firm makes available all statements for the most recent 7 years. Each January I access the account online and batch-save the statements for the entire previous year. This takes less than a minute. The Mac’s Finder app’s “rename” function allows batch renaming, making suitable file naming quick and easy.

The Mac Preview app has become more powerful in recent years. It is easy to annotate PDF files to indicate “paid” and the method of payment, and to highlight, explain or clarify certain entires - for example a tax-deductible payment in a credit card bill.

The Fujitsu scanner works well for scanning paper documents, but there has been much consternation regarding Fujitsu’s software changes recently. I still use my Fujitsu S1500M, but much less recently because most new documents are added directly as digital documents rather than scanned.

You can also use your iPhone or iPad to scan paper documents using various apps including Notes, Scanbot and others. I use Scanbot, which allows direct and immediate saving to my Dropbox in a Receipts folder. Before I leave Costco, for example, I stop briefly to scan the receipt, which is immediately named with the date and time, then saved to Dropbox as a PDF file. No need to save the paper receipt - if you need to return an item to Costco (and other retailers), just retrieve the file in Dropbox.

Hope this helps …

To reiterate Scout’s point, stop getting paper now. Switch everything possible to paperless.

Thanks everyone. Some great tips I hadn’t thought about.

I download and store the monthly statements of all my accounts.
Just in case records get lost after an unfortunate event…

@MacExpert pointed out an important overall design consideration: Your paperless system must be accessible, understandable and usable by someone else (spouse, adult child, successor trustee) in the event of your death or incapacity. How will the bills be paid? How will financial accounts and email accounts be accessed? Documents, including healthcare and financial powers of attorney, must be accessible in your new digital system. Keep the document system simple, generic and non-proprietary.

These considerations are closely related to estate planning.

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1 password is a critical app for this.
Some of my clients have my contact info and 1password recovery form in a sealed envelope with their attorney so that when something happens I can assist giving access and help navigate…

I went paperless around 2005 or thereabouts when I got a ScanSnap fi-5110EOXM. That lasted me a good number of years until the ix500 and recently I went to a ix1500. I have tried other scanners, but always come back to the ScanSnap. It is not perfect but I find it is the best for my needs. I share the criticism of others about their software. It seems like a Windows app shoehorned onto the Mac, but it does work. I also begrudge their PDF software. My original ScanSnap came with Adobe Acrobat Pro. Again, overkill and not the best app but it is extremely powerful and unmatched, in my view, by other PDF apps. I love PDFPen Pro and PDF Expert, and others. As much as I do not like the subscription model, I am so ingrained with Adobe Acrobat Pro that I struggle to transfer to others. It is sad that AAP no longer comes with ScanSnap.

As for filing, all of the above is great advice. Balance between a system that fits with you, try to keep to files and folders rather than a third party database and have a mind to those who will have to unravel your system when you are no longer here. I do recommend using Dropbox or something like that (I use Tresorit) for your file systems along with backups like offsite, Time Machine, etc. They are life savers.

Going paperless also encourages you to not make paper and to receive bills, tax returns, etc., digitally for easy storage. Couple that with Hazel (see David Sparks’ series on this - brilliant) and you can largely automate the filing.

It is fun and you are tempted to experiment with apps and systems, but I would keep it as simple as possible.

I’ve been paperless for several years and heartily endorse every technique described above. Here’s an expanded look at my workflow.

As David’s Paperless explains, Hazel analyses documents that arrive in Downloads, then sends those that are appropriate (no downloaded apps, etc.) to an “@Action” folder. Katie provided a Hazel rule for documents you’ve scanned that turns them into searchable PDFs; I move those to the “@Action” folder, too.

Then in AppleScript (copy and paste)

tell application "PDFpenPro"
	open theFile as alias
	-- does the document need to be OCR'd?
	get the needs ocr of document 1
	if result is true then
		tell document 1
			repeat while performing ocr
				delay 1
			end repeat
			delay 1
			close with saving
		end tell
		--In PDFpen, when no documents are open, window 1 is "Preferences"
		--If other documents are open, do not close the App.
		if name of window 1 is "Preferences" then
			tell application "PDFpenPro"
			end tell
		end if
		-- Scan Doc was previously OCR'd or is already a text type PDF.
		tell document 1
			close without saving
		end tell
		--In PDFpen, when no documents are open, window 1 is "Preferences"
		--If other documents are open, do not close the App.
		if name of window 1 is "Preferences" then
			tell application "PDFpenPro"
			end tell
		end if
	end if
end tell

At those spots where "PDFpenPro" or "ScanSnap" are mentioned, you can change to your apps of choice for those tasks.

Hazel then renames them and files them appropriately. Most importantly, the file name should begin yyyy.mm.dd (I’m Team Katie) to maintain chronological integrity. I also have Hazel tag new documents with a “current” label so when I click on “current” in Finder the list of all my due bills are displayed. After they’re paid I delete the tag.

YMMV. Whenever I get something in snail mail that needs to be kept, I scan it then put it in the shredder. Great joy!

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I decided not to worry too much about the old stuff. What I did was:

  • a pile of paper in front of me
  • shredder to my right, scanner in front of me
  • worked through the pile. a) The crap: straight to the shredder b) somewhere between useful and worth keeping: scan c) really important: new pile
  • I was very strict with the “new pile”. Only really important stuff. Like my insurance policy. No bills/receipts/etc.
  • everything just went into an “old” folder
  • the “new pile” was ~20-30 documents, I scanned them last and renamed/sorted them manually

So, why didn’t I use some Hazel+Automation system:

  • How often do you need all that stuff? Almost never.
  • Spotlight will find that receipt you need for warranty purposes
  • So, it would have been more effort than gain

So I was left with:

  • a lot of shredded paper, everything archived as PDF and searchable
  • the “new pile” (really important stuff) was properly renamed
  • left with “a fresh start”.

And then I just took it from there and started building Hazel rules with the paper/stuff I started getting from that day on. After some months I had rules for almost everything important. Then I just moved the “old” stuff into my “document inbox” and many PDFs were processed by the rules. But: my Hazel rule only caught my current electricity provider and filed it. The older ones not. Which I see as an advantage: why would I want old utility, electricity, phone, etc. bills? I am never going to look back at 10 year old bills. Whatever was not processed: back to the “old” folder. Because I obviously didn’t miss any of that stuff.

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Does anyone have a workflow setup or suggestions for Hazel and managing all the attachments mostly documents that sane box saves to Dropbox? I had this working well with Zapier for years but can’t seem to get those rules to work any longer with Zap and started having Sanebox save all documents attachments to Dropbox and that leads to a crazy amount of created folders and files. Many I don’t really need to keep but a handful I do.

This was incredibly helpful. Thank you!

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