Categories | Community Contributions | Gear | Implementation
Living in an apartment in Manhattan I have very limited space, and I cannot possibly keep the amount of file cabinets that I otherwise might. Unfortunately I have been the opposite of a pack rat: I routinely discarded material, and later regretted it. Having been a horrible organizer all my life, despite full court press attempts every couple years, I basically had a box of everything “important” that I added to, and once in a while retrieved from. Then I would cull the box occasionally, and there was no space–literally–for sentimentality.A couple of years ago I had to move to London for a while and decided to organize my most important papers in an accordion file with about 30 sections so I could take them with me. It wasn’t half bad: my bank statements weren’t in order, but at least they were together in one of those sections. I could eventually find what I needed, as necessary. But that accordion started getting full, and there was a lot of stuff that didn’t fit, or didn’t make sense to put in, with the paperwork I collected.
GTD really required me to do something about filing stuff, but I decided for lack of space, I had to find a digital solution. Eventually I decided to use a Fujitsu ScanSnap Scanner (I chose the compact S300M model but there are bigger desktop models if you’re inclined) and for software I selected DEVONThink Office Pro for document management. (I will review this software in a future contribution. While I love it, you can use the scanner without it, and there are Windows versions with included software.)
The scanner is brilliant. You simply put in a stack of papers, double sided is fine, and push the button on the scanner. The pages whiz through the scanner and in no time a window on my Mac asks me what to do with the image; I choose “save as PDF” and it compiles the stack, in order and minding both sides of the pages, into one PDF. I name the file and hit “Save.” Since my downloads and default save location for everything is my “Personal Records” folder in DEVONThink, it’s immediately collected. Originally I would then process the scanned documents into various sub-folders but I found that to be unnecessary because the software is brilliant at searching so I don’t think any organization is necessary.
My file naming convention helps. I use grouping prefixes, such as “TAXES,” “READ,” “INSURANCE,” “MEDICAL” and then name the document descriptively. For example, all records pertaining to my dog Olive are “OLIVE Vet bill for eye infection 20090315” (I like that date format: YYYYMMDD and use it all the time.)
So what do I scan? I started by scanning literally every document I was holding on to and it took a lot less time than I would have expected. This included: financial statements, tax returns, tax related correspondence, legal documents, insurance policies, medical records, receipts, proofs of purchase, warranty info, birth certificate and other forms of ID, personal letters, birthday and Christmas cards, instruction manuals, recipes, magazine clippings, research materials, etc. The scanner accepted everything, included very oddly shaped documents such as birthday cards and two foot long receipts.
Finally, if you have supporting OCR software (DEVONThink has it built in), PDFs can be converted to searchable PDFs so you can easily search for “Samsung HD TV” and find the receipt and warranty information from the content in the document. However for most documents I do not convert them to searchable PDF, as just a well named file is most often all I need to find something.
Having this system has liberated me so that I can keep anything that is mildly interesting to me. I no longer have to feel the dread of, “Where I am going to put this?” and “Who am I kidding? I will never find it even if I keep it!” I have no doubt that I will end up being more creative and productive as a result of this system.
Chip Joyce is a regular contributor to GTD Times and member of GTD Connect. You can also read his great post on his Mac + paper hybrid system.