Going paperless


It's a big concept, especially when you really throw yourself into it, but 'going paperless' is something that has been of interest to me for a good while now. I've always been put off by it because I've deemed it too much like hard work; too hard to get set up, and too much hard work to keep running as new paper arrives into our home.

You crazy man, what's this paperless thing all about?

The idea behind 'going paperless' is that you remove all the useless and unneeded paper from your life. All the bills, statements and letters that you don't need to keep in paper form - that's most of them, then - can be scanned and saved digitally with the aim of eliminating those boxes and filing cabinets full of paper.

What you do with those scans is up to you. Some people just save a load of PDFs to something like Dropbox, whilst others use something like Evernote to sort and tag everything. That's the method I'll be using.

So, now what?

I decided a few days ago that I was finally going to give going paperless a try. Having my server running 24/7 meant that I had a machine ready to receive the scans, and I already had a scanner that could do the job. Yes, it's certainly not as flash as the Fujitsu ScanSnap affairs that everyone seems to think you need, but it does have the considerable advantage of being free.


But I was still left with the main reason I've procrastinated about doing this paperless thing for so long, and that's the time and effort it would take to get documents into digital form. Scanning the thing, then moving it around, formatting it and putting it somewhere I can access it quickly and easily was going to take time, and I didn't want that. The ScanSnaps can scan straight to Evernote, which would have been nice. Still, where there's a will, there's a way.

Cobbling together a system that works

So I set about making a system that would need as little work as possible to keep running, and this is where things started to get creative.

What I wanted to do was quite simple. My all-in-one scanner has buttons and a screen that allow scanning directly to a file without the need to actually touch a mouse or keyboard. It can't scan straight into Evernote, but this is 2013 and I was determined to find a solution. That solution came in the form of Hazel.

But wait. The server runs Windows 7.

Thankfully, I'd already played with getting a version of Mac OS X Snow Leopard to work in a Virtualbox machine. It's currently acting as my DNS and DHCP server, actually, so the obvious thing to do was to install Hazel onto it.

Hazel, for those that aren't in the know, is a Mac app that can be told to monitor a folder and then act on files that get put into it. That means that I can set a rule up that has Hazel monitor a 'scans' folder on Dropbox (yes, that's how the file gets from the Windows 7 host to the OS X VM) and then import it straight into Evernote from there. The rule even adds tags automatically, with the end result being a new note in Evernote, complete with tags and an attached PDF of the file that was scanned. Magic.

The end result is pretty much what I wanted from the beginning. If I want to scan something, I do so using the on-scanner interface. That's as far as my input goes, at least for now. The scanner puts the file in ~/Dropbox/Scans. Dropbox then syncs that file across to the Snow Leopard virtual machine where Hazel imports it into Evernote. The whole thing takes seconds, and more importantly, only needs me to put the paper into the scanner and hit the 'scan' button. Minimal friction, minimal fuss.

Of course, at some point the new Evernote entry needs a proper title, but that's something I can do in batches, say once a week. It's infinitely better than sitting at the machine and doing the whole thing manually each and every time I want to scan a page as that's ultimately the kind of thing that would stop the hole project dead in its tracks.

It may not be as flash as some of the solutions on offer by others, but it works, and it cost the price of a copy of Hazel because I'd already bought Snow Leopard years ago and the scanner was sat on the desk unused.

You can't say fairer than that.

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