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Keeping On Top Of Receipts

Holding ReceiptsThis is a guest post from Penny Bryant Catterall, a Professional Organizer in the Washington DC area. I read her describe her receipt workflow on a NAPO mailing list, and begged her to share it with you.

As a paperless devotee, business owner, and office organizer, I have clients who want to know what I do with all those bits of paper that seem to flow in endlessly and drive us crazy – otherwise known as receipts. Yet many of these receipts need to be kept in some kind of organized format if you are running your own business and need them for IRS back up. So here is what I do.

First, I shred all my personal receipts for groceries, dry cleaning, gas, movie tickets, meals, and other consumables. I often decline getting a receipt in the first place if given the option by the sales clerk, or have it sent to me by email if possible. I figure I most likely am not going to return any of these kinds of items and certainly don’t need this information for tax reasons. And if I ever do have to return groceries, the stores have never given me a hard time about bringing something back without a receipt.

For personal receipts for items that I may want to return (clothing, household goods, etc.), I have a Post-It Wall Pocket right over my desk that I pop receipts into, so I can easily access them if I need to. After a month or so, if I haven’t returned the item and know I am going to keep it, I shred the receipt. Receipts for big ticket items such as furniture, artwork, electronics, and household goods get scanned with my trusty Fujitsu ScanSnap and put into a folder on my Dropbox account called Receipts, with subcategory folders for each type of receipt. This way, the receipts stay intact (have you noticed how receipts fade so quickly?) and can be found easily in case of insurance, warranty or other needs.

For my business, I scan all my receipts with my Fujitsu ScanSnap once a week on my admin day and put them in a Dropbox folder called Business Expenses (by year). Within each yearly folder I have category folders for all my expenses according to how the IRS labels them, including Advertising, Supplies, Meals & Entertainment, Communications, etc. I make sure to name each receipt with the name of the store and the date of the purchase (e.g. ContainerStore7.13.13) so I can save it to the appropriate category folder and find it quickly if I need to. I then immediately shred the receipts for items I know I can’t or won’t be returning, such as meals or other consumables, as the IRS is perfectly willing to accept scanned images as backup. I put the other receipts in another Post-It Wall Pocket for a month or so and then shred them (remember, they’ve already been scanned into the appropriate Dropbox folder) after I’m sure the products won’t be returned. If I get a receipt sent to me by email for online purchases, I save it as a PDF directly into the appropriate folder, rather than printing and then scanning it.

I also use a great online program called Outright.com in conjunction with my Dropbox scans to keep track of my business income and expenses. Outright links securely to my business credit card and bank accounts, automatically downloads any business transactions I make, and then categorizes them for tax purposes. It now also has a great feature allowing you to attach a scanned receipt directly to the appropriate transaction, making it even easier to find.

Receipts don’t have to run your life. Just show them who’s boss by not letting them in the door in the first place, or scanning them and filing them electronically!

Thanks Penny! This is great. I like those wall pockets. I also like the concept of having a set day to do scanning/processing. That’s an awesome tip. If you have any questions for Penny and her workflow, reach out to her or leave a comment here and I’ll make sure it gets answered.

Penny Bryant Catterall of Order Your Life, LLC offers in-person professional organizing services for clients in the Washington DC metro area and virtual services for clients around the world. She specializes in home office and small business organization. She currently serves as the Director of Communications and Technology for the Board of NAPO-WDC and is a Mac and Fujitsu ScanSnap devotee. Follow her on Facebook.
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Best Practices For Expense Reporting

Receipts
This is a guest post from Michael Hourigan at Shoeboxed.

The key to effortless expense reporting lies in implementing a few crucial best practices that will allow you to seamlessly track your expenses while you’re on the go.

Know What’s Expected

Get clear on what’s expected from you in terms of your reporting.

  • How detailed does your report need to be?
  • If traveling, how soon will you need to submit your report after returning to the office?
  • Does your boss need you to track your expenses as you go, or can you submit a single report at the end of your trip or conference?
  • How much time will you need to set aside in order to track expenses as you go?

If you’re responsible for expense reporting while traveling on business or conducting business outside of the office, make sure you have clear answers to each of these questions. If you’re running a business and require reports from your employees or contractors, be sure to clarify what you expect before they begin tracking their expenses.

Go Paperless

Paper expense reporting is inefficient and uneconomical. Receipts and reports can easily get misplaced, especially while traveling and working from remote locations.

Receipt scanners like the Fujitsu ScanSnap and receipt scanning apps like Shoeboxed will help you engage in completely paperless expense reporting. If you have a large stack of documents to scan, simply feed them into the ScanSnap tray and watch your paper clutter become instantly digitized in a matter of minutes. For individual receipts, just snap a picture of the receipt on your smartphone and it will be instantly beamed to your Shoeboxed account. You now have a digital record of each receipt that can be included with your digital expense report.

Once all of your receipts have been scanned, you can recycle the hard copies since the IRS accepts digitized documents as long as they’re clear and legible. From here, you can use a service like Shoeboxed to create one-click expense reports based on various search criteria like categories, dates and amounts.

Know What Qualifies

The best practices for expense reporting involve knowing what qualifies as an expense and what doesn’t.

In general, any purchases you wish to expense must have a direct correlation to growing your business or to making your company money. For example, having lunch with your grandma could not be expensed (unless, of course, her firm is looking to buy you out). On the other hand, a business lunch with a potential client can be expensed, even if the deal ends up falling through.

Check with your company as to how its best practices compare to Uncle Sam’s. While the IRS may only reimburse you for 50% of dining and entertainment costs, your company may pay for up to 100% of those costs, depending on the situation.

If you are a small business owner, it’s a good idea to become familiar with what does and does not qualify as a tax write-off according to the IRS. You can then base your expense reporting on what will count towards your write-offs at the end of the year.

Engage in best practices for expense reporting by getting clear on what can be expensed, digitizing your receipts, and letting cloud-based apps create your reports for you!

(Photo by Michael Hammarström)

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How to Reduce Your Office’s Shredding Requirements

Shredded PaperThis is a guest post from Andrew Morrell at Russell Richardson, a shredding service company. I asked him to fill us in on some of the things you should look for when selecting a provider.

A large amount of shredding isn’t good for the environment, whether it’s in an office or at home. Continuously emptying a shredder is also a time consuming task, not to mention shredders tend to use quite a lot of electricity; and the paper is wasted once it’s put into a bin. To reduce the amount of shredding that is being done in your office all you need to do is follow these simple tips.

Recycling

To reduce the shredding requirements of your office you could sort through the documents and sort them into two categories; one that contains sensitive information, and one that do not. The documents that contain the sensitive information can be put aside for a different method of disposal whilst the other pile of documents can be recycled without hesitation. Be thorough when you’re deciding on the type of document and how to dispose of it, as just a small amount of misplaced information can have damaging effects such as fraud and identity theft.

Cut It Up

The documents that contain sensitive data should be destroyed rather than recycled; one method of this is to cut up your documents manually. Although this method would certainly reduce the shredding requirements in your office, it is very time consuming and should be deemed a last resort rather than a first choice.

Paperless

Attempt to keep your office paperless, get into the habit of scanning any incoming paper and rather than physically mailing things, email them instead. The less paper that is going through your office to begin with, the less paper that you are going to need to recycle or shred; however, if you are keeping your documents on your computer you should back them up in several different places, one of these being in a secure account online.

Scanning all of your documents can be a tedious experience, but remember that it will be worth it in the end when you no longer have to deal with mountains of documents. There are some items that you cannot scan or should not scan. Copyright laws prevent you from scanning books into your computer system, you also should keep legal documents such as warranties, birth certificates and contracts as copies of these may not be accepted if you were to have need of them in the future.

Hire a Professional

Another method of disposing of your paper waste and confidential documents is to send them to a professional shredding service. An outsourced shredding service can do more than just shred your unwanted, confidential paper documents; they can also dispose of IT equipment that has stored confidential files and remove other unwanted assets from your office or premises.

An outsourced shredding service will often supply you with sacks for security and will then collect these sacks from you to ensure that the documents are kept completely confidential. Outsourced shredding companies will also implicate other security protocols for the purposes of confidentiality, such as being monitored by an independent auditor. When hiring a professional to shred your documents for you, make sure that they are certified by the NAID and have insurance that will cover not just the company but also your documents.

However you decide to manage your documents, remember that when disposing of them, your method must be secure and maintain the confidentiality of the documents at all times.

Author: Andrew Morrell works as a part of the marketing team at Russell Richardson and works hard to achieve the highest level of security when working with confidential documents and data protection.

(Photo by rosmary)

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How to Scan Directly into Evernote using NeatDesk

This is a Guest Post from my friend Amy Payne, a Professional Organizer at Lasting Order.

{First off, I want to thank Brooks Duncan for inviting me to write a guest post for DocumentSnap! My name is Amy Payne and I own a professional organizing company out of Southwest Indiana called Lasting Order. I met Brooks at the NAPO (National Association of Professional Organizers) Conference in New Orleans in April. We discovered a common love for all things technology and Evernote, which brings me to the topic of today’s post – how to scan directly into Evernote using NeatDesk.}

When you purchase a NeatDesk document scanner, it comes with Neat software and the option to purchase monthly cloud services. I prefer to use Evernote, so I uncovered a way to use Evernote with the Neat scanner. It is possible to bypass the Neat software and use Evernote for document storage instead. Evernote is free (or $5 per month for the Premium membership) and the Neat Cloud service is $15 per month. Evernote has better features for a lower price, so for me it’s the obvious choice. {I love free or cheap solutions!}

So, you want to use a NeatDesk scanner and bypass the software to use Evernote instead. Here’s the step-by-step instructions on how to do it: {I’m using a PC, so your screens may look slightly different if you are using a Mac.}

Open the Neat scanning software & change settings to match the item(s) you want to scan.

NeatDesk Setup

NeatDesk Setup

Scan to a PDF. If you click “scan” without selecting the PDF option, it will scan into the Neat software. When you select the scan to PDF option, it will prompt you to select a location to save the document to.

Scan To PDF

Scan To PDF

Create a folder on your computer for scanned documents you want imported into Evernote. I labeled mine “For Evernote”. {very creative, I know}

Create toEvernote

Create toEvernote

Name the document and hit “Save”. The document will scan and be saved into the “For Evernote” folder. You can rename the document once it’s in Evernote, so you don’t have to worry about scanning multiple items at once. It will automatically save them with sequential numbers. {For example, when I return from a Chamber of Commerce meeting, I can put up to 15 business cards into the scanner at once and name them Chamber and the date. It will automatically name them “Chamber date 1”, “Chamber date 2”, etc.}

Go To Evernote

Go To Evernote

Open Evernote. Click on “Tools”, then “Import Folders”.

Evernote Tools Import Folders

Evernote Tools Import Folders

Click “Add” and locate the “For Evernote” folder on your computer. Select it and hit “okay”.

Browse Evernote Folder

Browse Evernote Folder

Once you’ve added it to the import list, you can select which notebook to import the notes into. I put all scanned items into my -Inbox folder, so I can organize them once they are in Evernote. You can also select whether to keep or delete the source file after it’s imported and whether to import subfolders or not.

Evernote Setup Import Folder

Evernote Setup Import Folder

That’s it {it’s that easy}! You can access all of the documents you scanned directly from Evernote. Be sure to tag and organize them into notebooks and stacks. Once you’ve started using Evernote, you’ll want to access it from all of your devices… so be sure to download the app on each device! Remember: if you are scanning financial documents or otherwise sensitive information, you may want to consider importing your “For Evernote” folder into a local notebook instead of a synced notebook. If you need further instruction or information about how to scan and organize using NeatDesk and Evernote, please contact me via phone or e-mail!

Amy Payne

Thanks Amy! Unfortunately the Mac version of Evernote doesn’t have Import Folders for some weird reason, but something similar can be done with Hazel.

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How to Archive Financial Documents while Saving Space and Time

This is a guest post from Craig Hollingum from Micro Com Systems, a Vancouver-based document imaging company. I was interested in hearing from him because I find the whole scanning outsourcing business fascinating.

If you’re like most people, then you probably don’t enjoy such bureaucratic processes as filing and archiving financial documents. The problem is that such dislike for paperwork often causes you to simply shelf documents in one of your drawers or file cabinets without organizing them. Needless to say, this isn’t the most efficient way of going about your business. So, how do you archive your financial documents such that managing them becomes a lot easier? Read on to find out.

Perhaps the first thing you need to know is exactly which financial documents should you keep and for how long? Here is a quick rundown:

  • Tax-related Records – You may keep these documents for about seven years before discarding.
  • IRA Contributions – These documents need to be kept permanently.
  • Retirement Plan Statements – Quarterly statements need to be kept until your annual statement arrives. Check if the numbers match and if they do, you can discard the quarterly statements. The annual statements need to be kept permanently.
  • Bank Records – Bank documents that aren’t that important can be kept for a year before discarding. Important bank documents should be kept permanently.
  • Brokerage Statements – These documents should be kept until your sell the securities, at which point your can discard the documents.
  • Bills – Most bills can be discarded once they’re paid in full or when you receive a cancelled check. For big items such as a car, however, it’s best to keep the bills permanently.

Desk with pen

You can discard most bills when they’re paid in full or when you finally get a cancelled check. Flickr.com photo by wrestlingentropy

  • Credit Card Receipts – These receipts can be kept only until you can reconcile them with your statements, at which point you can discard the receipts and keep the statement for seven years before discarding.
  • Paycheck Stubs – You need to keep these until you get your annual tax statements.
  • House Records – These documents need to be kept permanently.

Bear in mind that the best way to discard financial documents when you no longer need them is to shred them first before throwing them out with the trash. Now that you know which financial documents to keep and for how long, here are some tips on how you can effectively archive these documents:

1. Choose Your Medium

You need to take into consideration the fact that your financial documents will be stored for a long period of time. This makes it imperative for you to choose an archiving medium that can last for as long as you need your documents. If you choose to keep your files in tapes, remember that tapes of the best quality last for just about ten years. This means you may have to transfer the files to new tapes or to another medium before the ten years are up. Optical storage devices may be a better option for documents that need to be kept permanently, since these can last for an indefinite period.

Discs

You need to choose the medium of storage well to make sure it will last many years. Commons.wikimedia.org photo by avaragado

You should also consider the accessibility of your chosen storage device a number of years from now. To illustrate, there are people who stored important documents in zip disks several years back. These disks are now practically extinct and you’ll most probably have a hard time trying to retrieve data from a zip disk, if you can retrieve them at all. Of course, there’s really no way you can predict which device will last. It may be a good idea to transfer your files to a newer device every ten years or so.

2. Choose a Data Format

The application you use today to archive your financial documents may no longer be supported ten years from now. There have been many cases where archived files can no longer be recovered because the format used has become obsolete. To avoid such a problem, you could archive copies of your chosen installation media and the necessary license keys along with the data itself.

3. Select a Scanner

Paper records need to be converted to digital images. Scanners that were once expensive and difficult to operate, install and maintain have improved considerably over the past 20 years. The newest models are very simple to install (USB interface) and many come bundled with rudimentary scanning applications. Features to consider include Automatic Document Feeders, scanning speed (as rated in pages per minute), color/black and white options and flatbed capability to capture damaged documents and photographs.

4. Set Up a Retrieval Method

Bear in mind that there’s always a possibility that you’ll need to refer to some of your archived files from time to time. This is why you need to devise an efficient retrieval system for your archives. For example, if you choose to store your files in tapes, you need to make sure the tapes are properly indexed. This makes it a lot easier to locate files that have been indexed years ago. The good news is that there is now plenty of archival software that simplifies the task of retrieving data from archives.

Dog

When you archive your financial documents, you have to make sure there’s an easy retrieval method as well. Flickr.com photo by Hen_son

5. Revisit Your Archive

It’s only logical for archiving and storage devices to change over time. This is why it’s a good idea to revisit your archives annually to see if there’s a need to transfer some files to a new storage medium. Let’s say, for example, that you decide to store your files in CDs. You never know if CDs will someday become obsolete, so you need to be always aware of evolving trends in terms of storage innovations and be sure to transfer your files before your chosen medium completely becomes outdated.

6. Make Copies

Don’t make the mistake of storing just a single copy of your data. What if something happens, causing that copy to get damaged? In the same way, you should avoid keeping the copies of your files in one place. What if your hiding place gets flooded? The essence of making several copies is to make sure you have a backup for your files, so it only makes sense to keep the copies separately.

7. Need to convert lots of paper records? Consider outsourcing.

There are companies that specialize in converting paper documents to digital images. These firms, typically known as service bureaus, perform the service of record conversion on behalf of clients that prefer not to incur the costs and expense of operating scanners and learning and maintaining specialized scan capture software.

The criteria for selecting a document conversion service bureau are fairly straightforward. Ask potential service bureaus if they have clients with material similar to your own. Will they show you their facility and equipment? Do they have multiple stations using similar equipment? How long have they been in business? What about references? Do they have the equipment in-house to satisfy every facet of your conversion project, or will they use subcontractors? Most well established service bureaus will create a sample set of images using your own paper documents at no charge to make certain the output will match your expectations.

Having an organized archiving system enables you to manage your finances a lot more easily. Now financial paperwork doesn’t have to be such an ordeal anymore.

Craig HollingumCraig Hollingum has been in the Document Imaging business for well over half of his life. He has been involved in Micro Com Systems Ltd. on an evolutionary path as an employee/partner/sole owner since 1982.
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The Business of Being a Mom: Let Technology Help You

iPhone MomThis is a guest post from Lauren Rothlisberger, the author of Evernote for Moms.

We just celebrated Mother’s Day and since I have young kids I was lucky enough to get lots of school-made gifts sent home. My five year old put that her favorite thing I do for her is “let her watch a TV show after dinner.” Note she did not say, take care of her when she is sick, feed her dinner, or help her with her clothes every morning, nope TV. Sweet huh? Of all the stuff that goes into running my household that is what she loves the most. Clearly her world is pretty self-centered, as any self-respecting five year olds should be, and I am good with that. But it did get me thinking about the business of being a Mom.

It turns out that Moms are good at a lot of things (other than pressing the power button) and if they aren’t at first they improve out of pure necessity. Moms (no matter how free-spirited and relaxed) create systems and multi-task possibly better than some Fortune 500 CEOs. When I had my first baby.. well it was a mess. It took 2 hours to just get an 8lb baby out of the door. Then, like most Moms, I figured out systems and put them in place. Now I get three kids, five and under, dressed, fed and ready to leave every morning in less than an hour. My point being, that putting systems in place is something we know how to do. Unfortunately, I don’t think a lot of Moms enhance their systems by leveraging technology. Your house is a small business and we know that any business now would be crazy not to take advantage of the technology available.

There are many different technology tools out there, but I want to focus on going paperless with Evernote. I encourage you to put new systems in place, for example spend 10 minutes every Saturday scanning in anything in your scan pile.

Here are just a few examples of ways to use Evernote:

Important Documents
Like any business the flow of “business” related paperwork is pretty high. Bank statements, insurance, warranties, mortgages, taxes, birth certificates important receipts and kids artwork are just the first things that come to mind.

Medical Information
Running a home, means you need to have medical information on hand. Keep shot records, allergy lists and medication information for those unexpected medical moments.

Travel Planning
A family vacation is no simple task. You must find a place to stay, make travel plans and keep track of the paperwork. Not to mention the work to get everyone out the door. I keep all my lists with everything we need to get packed in Evernote. It is so easy to share notes I can send them over to my husband too.

Home/Property Management
Managing your home or multiple homes is a lot of work. However, there are massive amounts of time to be saved by tracking all your home information through a paperless system. You can put warranty info, appliance info, leases, paperwork, pictures, and repair contacts all in Evernote. This allows you to easily and promptly deal with any home situation that occurs.

Kids’ Activities Schedules
Kids should come with their own secretaries. Keeping up with their back and forth is exhausting. School schedules, sports information are all saved in Evernote. That way no matter where I am I can reference these events that we need to work around.

Businesses measure success by profit. I think in our business time is the profit. More time gained is less time stressed and freedom to be with our families.

Lauren Rothlisberger is a Mom to three girls and an Army wife who bounces around the country. In 2007 she went paperless and has never looked back. She blogs at www.getmegeeky.com on all things geeky. She recently wrote an ebook called “Evernote for Moms.” It can be found at http://www.getmegeeky.com/evernote/evernote_for_moms.html.

(Photo by cogdogblog)

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A Burglary Could Help Your Paperless Adventure

Lego: CriminalsThis is a guest post from DocumentSnap Peter Whalley. Thanks Peter!

Let’s get to the point – I’d rather watch 365 episodes of “Days of our Lives” than go through this again.

You see, we were burgled some time ago, & I’d like to share with you how this helped us become paperless. (Yeah, you read that right…)

On “Burglar Day” (Hallmark, referral fee, please) Beagle Boy 1 & 2 took great delight in forcing the locked filing cabinet open & dumping years of paperwork onto our awesome crème carpet.

Most colourful, I thought to myself as I stood there surveying the mess. “Most annoying,” my wife exclaimed. (I agreed with her – I’m good like that…)

Every cloud has that silver lining … In this case, the crime accelerated our move to a “paperless” home.

(As a matter of history, I had already been down the path of “going paperless” some time ago & had canned the idea. This was really due to the inefficiency of the flatbed scanner that I had used, at that particular time. That’s ANOTHER story…)

So, after some thorough research, I chose the right scanner for my next paperless trial (see below) & was about to start “the process” when we were burgled.

“The process” I’m referring to is the steps you should take to go paperless & I’d like to share with you the 3 things we did to help us go paperless:

1. Choose The Right Scanner Or You’ll Go Frigging Mad

In my case, I choose the Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500. There are many reasons – simply Google & YouTube for dollops of information on this range of scanners, but MY major reason was that the software & scanner gave me the ability to scan & file automatically, whilst allowing excellent search options. (OCR – Optical Character Recognition – go on, stop staring – Google that term while you’re about it…)

2. Get Family “Buy In” Or You’ll Go Loopy

Well, by family, I really mean your partner. (I checked with the silkworms, fish, cat, hermit crabs, pet mice & guinea pigs but they seemed uninterested in my paperless passion.)

You really need to get all incoming paper (like receipts & warranties, and incoming postal items) into one spot for processing. And you have to plan it and repeat the habit until it’s an automatic family habit.

Here’s a 60 second IPhone clip – it’s all child’s play with Wife Rene and Daughter Savannah getting involved, for a small appearance fee.

3. Write Down Your Incoming Paper Flow & Evolve It

And the third step is to decide how you’ll sort the paperwork for scanning & processing.

  • For example, which folders do you want to save the files into?
  • Do you want the scanner to scan both sides of the document?
  • What format (PDF etc.) do you want?

You can hand draw this paper flow or use software. (I used Microsoft Visio – quick and easy!)

Here’s what I did – it might trigger some ideas for you. Here’s a major tip and I’ve seen this repeated in other blogs – KEEP IT SIMPLE to start!

Paper Workflow

Click Here To Download As PDF

And another quick point – I scan & save Receipts & Warranties directly into Evernote
and share that folder with management (my wife). For our small business I scan directly into folders in Dropbox and I share that folder with our Bookkeeper/Accountant, so it’s easy for them to track documents without having to call us

Here’s what happens to the filing of the electronic docs once we’ve scanned them

Paperless Filing Process

Click Here To Download As PDF

So there you have it. The three steps we used…

Is it perfect?

Nope. But I don’t file anything into the filing cabinet anymore and I can find documents much easier.

And it keeps getting easier, as you evolve your processes. (Oh, you may have to change your partner if they don’t come into line – keep that as an option. Okay, only joking.)

Now stop thinking about it. Take the first step and you’ll soon be sailing smoothly, quicker than you can say “paper cut.”

Thanks Peter! If you have any questions, just leave them in the comments and I will try to get them answered for you.

(Photo by lydiashiningbrightly)

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GTD And Going Paperless – Filing Documents

GTD

This is a guest post from Alex Satrapa, a software engineer and Paperless Document Organization Guide interviewee.

Through DocumentSnap you’ve been introduced to the Paperless Workflow, which relates to organising documents. You may also have been introduced to the Getting Things Done system, which relates to taking action. The two can be used very effectively together: the Paperless step “Move To Correct Folder” is where the entire GTD workflow happens, with the various folders external to the GTD workflow mapping into the Document Storage block of the paperless workflow chart.

Let’s work through this process, the way it works in real life for one Paperless practitioner. This practitioner (“you”) has set up an automated workflow using Yep and Hazel. More about the details later.

Today, you receive a paper invoice from ACME Corp for your new rocket jetpack (because catching the roadrunner requires the proper tools). You work through the Paperless process “Scan with Scanner” step – place the document in the feeder for the Scansnap, press the button, when the document comes out you feed it through the shredder. The next couple of steps happen automatically: “Scan To Inbox Folder” & “Apply OCR”.

Now that we’re at the Paperless “Rename File” step, we also apply the GTD “What Is It?” step. On the computer you open up Yep, which is configured to show you all the documents in the Inbox folder. In Yep, you rename the invoice to “ACME – Invoice – 2011-04-01″ because it’s from ACME, it’s an invoice, and the invoice is due by April 1st. You then tag it as “invoice”, “acme”, and “roadrunner” (because it’s related to the “roadrunner” project), add “Invoice for rocket jetpack” to the Spotlight comments field, and Hazel moves the document to the Pending folder (which is the “Move To Correct Folder” step).

You process the rest of your mail in a similar manner. All invoices have been deemed actionable, but deferred.

Aside: You defer invoices simply because you’ve made the decision to pay invoices in batches, since (for example) access to the payments interface of the Internet banking service requires an SMS authentication, which is only valid for ten minutes.

Having processed all your mail, the Inbox is now empty. With an empty Inbox, you can take a short break and marvel at the nice empty space you have on your desk.

Now it’s time to get to the “Pre-defined Work” part of the GTD flow. So you open up the Pending folder in Yep. There are a bunch of invoices that have been moved here by Hazel – filter them by selecting the “invoice” tag in Yep. Next, you open your Internet banking system and work through the process of paying each invoice. Let’s go through the process with the rocket jetpack invoice.

You open the rocket jetpack invoice. You’re using a Mac, so the document is opened in Preview.

You pay the invoice using the bank’s “BPay” system, and the bank gives you back a confirmation including a receipt number of 12345. Now you annotate the PDF with (for example) “Paid BPay 2011-03-20 #12345″. The important part here is to include the date, the payment method and the receipt number in case you have to look that information up later.

Now you save the changes to that PDF and close it. Since we’re using Yep, you can just add the “paid” tag, and Hazel will file that document away in the “Financial Year 2011″ folder.

Here’s what we have done, using the GTD and Paperless workflow terms:

  • GTD: What is it? It’s an invoice from ACME corp for a rocket jetpack, with 30 day terms, due April 1 2011.
  • Paperless: Rename File “ACME – Invoice – 2011-04-01″
  • GTD: Is it actionable? Yes, we need to pay it Soon™
  • GTD: What is the next action? Pay the invoice in the next batch of bill payments.
  • GTD: Defer It: we batch invoice payments together since the banking system requires authentication using an SMS code that is valid for a few minutes, or is otherwise a hassle to open every time we need to pay an invoice
  • Paperless: Move to the correct folder, “Pending”, which is part of our “Document Storage” box on the workflow
  • GTD: Processing is complete, work through “Pre-defined Work” from left to right
  • GTD: Pay the invoice and refile under the Reference system, which is still part of the Paperless “Document Storage”.

Yep and Hazel

Yep is a neat little app from Ironic Software. It’s basically a nifty tool intended to replace the Finder, for the purpose of finding things. Yep supports the OpenMeta tagging standard, which allows you to “tag” a document without playing silly tricks with the Spotlight comments field.

Hazel comes from Noodlesoft. It’s a very basic rules-based robot that monitors specified folders, and can perform actions on files when certain conditions are met. Hazel supports the OpenMeta standard.

The rules that were in place for this workflow are:

  • “Inbox” folder
  • “Unpaid Invoices”: if a file is tagged with “invoice”, move it to the “Pending” folder
  • “Pending” folder
  • “Paid Invoices”: if a file is tagged with “invoice” and “paid”, move it to “FY 2011″ folder

Other Resources

Some other helpful resources:

  • Free GTD Chart From DavidCo
  • GTD Cheatsheet From Livedev
    Alex Satrapa is a software engineer who missed all the classes at elementary school about personal organisation and is desperately trying to catch up. He has a blog on an eclectic range of issues on Livejournal, ranging from iPad fanboyism through Perl programming tips to commentary on IT commentators.
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Author + ScanSnap + Hazel + TextExpander = Time To Write

This is a guest post from Michelle Muto, author of the newly released book The Book of Lost Souls.

I’ve slowly been going paperless for about two years. It was part of my new mantra, “Everything you must have owns you.” I cleaned out closets, rooms, cabinets. I saved the worst for last – the dreaded filing cabinets. We had three of them – one a huge desk-length two-drawer behemoth large enough to hide bodies in.

After a couple of weeks in purging paperwork purgatory, I vowed to find a better way. A quick search online told me others were scanning documents. Great idea! Being a die-hard geek, it sounded like fun. Yeah, well, what can I say, right? Except it wasn’t fun. Not until I got my newFujitsu Scansnap S1300 for Christmas.

Now, I actually enjoy it. Yes, I know – I really should get out more.

Anyway, here’s my workflow:

I have a portable file folder where I store all incoming items in appropriate folders. Once a week I scan whatever is in the To Be Scanned folder. I use TextExpander to name things. !wtr becomes Gwinnett Water bill (ironically, the county that wants us to conserve water hasn’t yet embraced conserving trees).

I use TextExpander snippets for the date, too. !ymd becomes 2011-03-09. For monthly bills, I just use year and month since I don’t really care about the actual date. So, !ym !wtr expands to 2011-03 Gwinnett Water Bill.

Then I save the file and let Hazel do the rest.

Hazel screenshot

Remember I said I vowed never to deal with paper again? Well, most of that is because I had to sit for hours to wade through records retention, trying to figure out what stayed and what I could shred.

In my Hazel rule above, notice that I keep files in folders based on groups. Utilities – Phone (cell), Utilities – Water, Insurance – Home, and so on. Yes, OCR helps, but sometimes I can just find things faster in a folder. My digital cabinet is a copy of my physical one. Plus, I use the folders to my advantage for records retention. And once again, Hazel has my back.

Let’s take the water bill. In my state, I really only have to keep it until the next bill arrives. But, I like to keep them for a year. So, I made a Hazel rule that runs on the folder Utilities – Water.

Hazel screenshot

Each parent folder has such a subfolder. And, you’ll notice that I don’t actually delete the file. I just move it. I know I should just let it go and have Hazel delete the file, but I suppose that in a way, my OCD about filing trumps my mantra and still owns me.

Maybe in time. Which, speaking of, going paperless with the help of Brooks, Hazel, and TextExpander gives me more time to do what I love most. Write.


I’m an author, and while I still love holding a book in my hands, I also read more and more ebooks these days. My debut novel, The Book of Lost Souls, is now available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble for just $1.99 – just in time for Read an Ebook Week. It’s a young-adult fantasy novel.
The sixty second pitch?
It’s not easy being a teen witch. Just ask Ivy MacTavish. Her date for the big dance is really a lizard, a black magic spell book is missing, and a charming demon is offering to help make things right—for a price.

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