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Photo Organizing Tips From An Expert

Stack of PhotosA surprising number of awesome DocumentSnap readers write me and ask for photo scanning and organizing advice.

A look at my iPhoto library will tell you that I am absolutely not the person to ask about this subject, but as luck would have it I went to the annual conference of the National Association of Professional Organizers in New Orleans last year and met Christie Gelsomino. When I found out she is both a Professional Organizer and a Certified Personal Photo Organizer, I begged her for her card. Little did she know I’d be bugging her for advice someday, and today is that day.

I asked Christie for photo scanning and photo organizing tips.

What equipment do you need to scan in your photos?

FlipPal (portable to take to clients), Kodak upright (large projects), Canon and/or Epson (flat bed scanning).

The best resolution to scan at is at least 600 dpi.

Is it better to use a scanning service? Any recommendations?

The scanning services are good to use as well, if you just don’t have the time or the equipment. I use them for larger projects and for a faster turn around time then what I might be available to do for my clients.

Fotobridge in NJ, ScanDigital in CA. No company that will then send your photos overseas to be scanned. Keep your photos in the USA.

Brooks note: Obviously this applies if you are in the USA to start with. If you know a comparable service in your country, please let us know in the comments.

What are some tips for organizing physical photos?

  1. Know your goal for the completed project. Break that goal into smaller goals. Stay focused. Get help.
  2. Gather all the physical photos into one general location of the house.
  3. Created a timeline of events/people/yearly activities to help label the photos.
  4. Group by theme or by date or a combination of both.
  5. It’s ok to TRASH bad pictures.
  6. Become a detective with the photos to find the clues that you need.
  7. Use archival, photo and lignin free products to store your photos. Albums or photo boxes.
  8. Use post-it notes and archival safe writing tools to make notes with your photos.
  9. Scan the physical photos as a “back up”, not to get rid of the physical photos. Consider the physical photos a form of a back-up.
  10. Share the photos, create gifts, display your organized photos and tell the stories that go with the photos.

What are some tips for organizing digital photos?

  1. Know your goal for the completed project. Break that goal into smaller goals. Stay focused. Get help.
  2. Gather all the digital photos into one general location. Computers, memory cards, devices etc…
  3. Create a timeline of events/people/yearly activities to help label the photos.
  4. BACK-UP first before starting your digital photo organizing, then BACK-UP again at the end of the work session. PictureKeeper is great for this.
  5. It’s ok to DELETE bad pictures.
  6. Group by theme or by date or a combination of both. Use the Number system 1.2.3 to label the files. ex. 1 January 2014
  7. Use the provided software that is already on your computer (PC: Picture Viewer, Mac: iPhoto).
  8. Additional software: Picasa, Shutterfly, Flickr, Photoshop/Lightroom, Panstoria.
  9. PRINT some of your best digital photos not just to share but to also have them as a back-up.
  10. Share the photos, create gifts, display your organized photos (digital photo frame) and tell the stories that go with the photos.

Any additional information you’d like to share?

Get Film Reels, VHS tapes, Slides and Negatives transferred to DVD’s, CD’s or a Hard Drive so you can view these great stories.

Keep the originals because we don’t know how long DVD’s, CD’s or a Hard Drive can last. VHS tapes are an exception, they are already deteriorating.

Thanks so much Christie! If you have additional photo tips or questions for Christie, please leave them in the comments.

Christie Gelsomino is the owner and operator of Vision to be Organized (2006) and Scrapbook Designer (2003). She is a Professional Organizer, a Certified Personal Photo Organizer, a Certified Home Movie Expert and a Personal Scrapbook Designer. Christie is a NAPO (National Association of Professional Organizers) National Member, a NAPO Los Angeles Chapter Member and a NAPO Virtual Chapter Member. Christie serves currently as the Marketing Director for the NAPO-LA Chapter, has been the Chapter Historian for the NAPO-LA Chapter since 2007 and is on the Professional Development Committee for the NAPO Virtual Chapter since 2012, she is also a NAPO Golden Circle member and a member of the NAPO Technology Sig. Christie is also a member of APPO (Association of Personal Photo Organizers) as a Certified Personal Photo Organizer. Christie has assisted as a Professional Organizer on the A&E show “Hoarders.” Christie focuses her organizing business on residential organizing while specializing in photo organizing.

(Photo by Alex)

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SimpleRev – Pursuing Simplicity

SimpleRevThere’s an interesting-looking new conference coming up that I thought I’d share, since I know a lot of DocumentSnap readers are into simplification and minimalism.

It’s called SimpleRev and it is taking place October 3–4, 2014 in Minneapolis, MN.

According to the site, here is what will go on:

There will be intimate workshops, inspiring main-stage action, community-sourced meetups, and evening connecting shindigs. You’ll also talk with mentors, new friends, and potential project partners … not to mention have a ton of fun.

SimpleRev is being put on by Joel Zaslofsky from Value of Simple and Dan Hayes of Simple Life Together fame. I notice my friend Mike Vardy is speaking too.

The first batch of tickets went on sale today if you are interested in checking it out.

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The Paperless Farm

FarmIf you a city dweller like myself, you might have this image of a farmer thumbing through his copy of the Almanac that is hanging from a nail while he looks up at the weather vane to see what is going on.

The truth is, farming has become incredibly high tech, and it is an industry (like many others) that is going through a paperless transformation.

I had the pleasure of being interviewed for the March issue of Country Guide Magazine, which is Canada's oldest farm publication and is “about the business of farming, providing farmers with strategic business thinking”.

The digital edition is online, so click here to read The Paperless Farm.

My dad grew up on a farm, so I guess this is as close as I am going to get to carrying on the family business.

(Photo by Nicholas Tonelli)

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Experience Curating Book Free Until Mar 8

Experience CuratingIn my post How I Manage My Life Without Paper, I mentioned that I am becoming more and more interested in the concept of personal tracking and simplifying in general.

I am taking baby steps in that regard, but the master of this has to be Joel Zaslofsky from Value Of Simple.

Apparently his book Experience Curating: How to Gain Focus, Increase Influence, and Simplify Your Life is free on Amazon until March 8, so I picked it up (what can I say, I’m cheap).

I thought I’d share the news here in case anyone else is interested in picking up a free copy. I am just starting reading it, but it looks interesting so far. It’s a little scary how similar our backgrounds are.

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Asian Efficiency Productivity Blueprint Review

Productivity BlueprintYears ago, I was working for a large corporation and was given a big promotion. I went from being an individual contributor to running the department and dealing with other parts of the business.

I had tasks and responsibilities flying at me from all angles, and I eventually found that things were slipping – I was letting my customers down, I was letting my staff down, and most importantly, I was letting myself down.

I realized that as smart as I thought I was, my system of keeping things in my head and on random post-it notes slapped around my cubicle was not cutting it, and I needed to find another way. That is when my deep dive into productivity started.

Things went even farther when I started working for myself. I no longer had staff, but I was all of a sudden in charge of everything.

It happens that I am a geek, so I enjoy figuring out systems, researching methodologies, and trying out different apps.

Looking back on it now, instead of spending all that time reading blogs and figuring stuff out on my own, I would have been much better served finding someone who had figured all this stuff out and just getting them to point me in the right direction.

If something like the Productivity Blueprint by the guys at Asian Efficiency had been around back then, I would have been all over it.

Click here to find out more about the Productivity Blueprint.

The Asian Efficiency Crew

Asian Efficiency is a website run by Thanh Pham and Aaron Lynn. I don’t keep track of these sorts of stats (I’m sure they would), but I am sure I have shared more of their articles on social media than from any other source.

I am constantly impressed by the quality of free stuff that they put out on their blog. So much so that the first time I met Thanh at Macworld, I berated him for not putting out enough stuff that I could pay for.

They finally released OmniFocus Premium Posts, a guide for the task manager that I use, and it made me angry. Angry that I hadn’t thought to use some of their techniques myself and had wasted so much time before buying their product. I’m supposed to be good at this stuff!

On the train back from the World Domination Summit last year where I met Aaron for the first time, I remarked to a friend that I wished I had things figured out when I was Aaron and Thanh’s age like they do. I am pretty sure I was sitting around playing Quake.

When Thanh approached me about their new product and asked if I wanted to be a part of it, I said “Yes” first and then asked “What is it?” second.

The Course

The Productivity Blueprint is a video course recorded in a professional studio in Hollywood.

At a high level, it is split into four modules: Beating Procrastination, Improving Focus and Self-Discipline, Reducing Distractions and Interruptions, and Email Productivity.

Productivity Blueprint Modules

The videos for each module are split into bite-sized pieces, which is smart. You aren’t sitting there watching some long video and having your mind wander.

They’ve taken an interesting approach to the content. It is not purely “tips and tricks” based and it is not application workflow-specific.

Their idea is that the more you go through the content, the more you will get out of it. Their expectation, which I agree with, is it will go something like this:

  • The first time you watch the videos, you will pick up tips and tricks and actions that you can put to use right away. I can attest to this. I’ve picked up some project strategies that have really helped me get moving on some things I’ve been dragging my feet doing.
  • The second time you watch the videos, you will find that your mindset is changing and you will start looking at the work you need to do in a different, and more efficient way.
  • The third and future times you watch the videos, you will find there are some universal principles you can apply to your life, not just your work. As they say, you will be “ready to live productively rather than just know about productivity.”

The course comes with a bunch of worksheets to put the principles into action, and one cool feature is it has little “action screencasts” to show you some strategies and examples for completing the worksheets.

Lifetime Coaching

I had to read this twice to make sure that I wasn’t misinterpreting, but if you purchase the Productivity Blueprint, they’ll provide you with lifetime(!) personal email coaching. Here is how they put it:

Whenever you have questions, concerns or you simply need some personal advice… just email us and we will help you out right away. It’s like having a personal coach right along with you, with just a couple of taps and clicks away… FOREVER.

The first 100 customers also get a private phone coaching session.

Brooks Interrogated

If you purchase the “one payment” option (see below) you are also provided the opportunity to purchase the Premium version, which includes a bunch of bonuses, action plans, and interviews with a bunch of extremely productive people and… me. I was sick that day so I don’t exactly remember what I talked about (and am afraid to watch), but I am sure it was brilliant. I’m eager to dig into some of the other interviews.

A Suggestion

I’ve been going through the Productivity Blueprint and if you haven’t figured it out by now, I am impressed. The only suggestion for improvement I can think of is it would be nice if there was a time listed for each video so that you know if you have time to jump into it or not.

Having said that, knowing those two, it is some carefully thought-out omission to beat procrastination. Who knows.

Is The Productivity Blueprint Right For You?

Given everything above, it will probably surprise a lot of you when I say that the Productivity Blueprint is probably not right for most people.

I don’t say that because of the content. The content is great. I say that because the Blueprint costs $997, or two payments of $597. In other words, it is not cheap.

Before I go further, I will say up front that I am an affiliate of the Productivity Blueprint, so I will receive a referral fee if you purchase the Blueprint through my link. As a thank you for that, if you do buy it through my link, forward me a copy of your receipt and I will do a free coaching call with you to help you out with the paperless portion of your new productive life.

If you are just looking for some hacks to improve your email or reduce distractions, the Productivity Blueprint is probably overkill.

If you are in a situation where $997 would have a negative financial impact, then you are probably better off buying some books and trying things out yourself.

However, if you are in a situation where the extra time saved by improving your productivity, where getting more projects completed, and where focusing on becoming a high performing individual can translate to increased earnings, something like the Productivity Blueprint is an investment and can make sense.

Only you know where you fall on this spectrum.

If you are interested, click here to learn more or purchase the Productivity Blueprint.

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Paper, Scanners, Toilets, and Nairobi Slums

Sanergy Recording DataEven though people call me “Mr. Paperless”, I have long maintained that there can be some very good reasons to use paper, and this amazing project is a perfect example.

As you may or may not know, the majority of Nairobi’s population live in slums, and lack of sanitation (and the diseases that come along with that) is a real problem.

A company called Sanergy is trying to do something about this by creating low cost toilets and franchising the operation to residents. This is a double win: the sanitation problem is tackled, and the entrepreneurs have a chance to earn an income.

What caught my eye about this project is the way that they collect the usage data, and Vera Solutions has an excellent writeup about the project.

The safest and most effective way is to have the data recorded on paper. Instead of manually keying in the numbers as they have in the past, they scan the documents[1] and use Captricity to digitize and extract the data. I’ve written about Captricity before.

As Vera says:

Captricity’s learning algorithm, which makes the program more accurate with greater use, has ensured increasingly fewer data entry errors and saved staff hours of time each week. Instead of taking almost five hours to enter a single day’s waste collection data, it now takes fifteen minutes. Not only is Sanergy’s data more real-time than ever, but the extra 20+ hours each week that staff have gained now goes towards quality control, greater supply procurement oversight, and operational support. Most importantly, Sanergy’s field staff can continue to serve the local community without having to risk their safety.

Really interesting project, and it shows what you can do when you adapt the tools to the environment.

(Photo by Sanergy)

  1. Using a ScanSnap S1300i, I notice!  ↩

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Brooks On Mac Power Users Podcast

Mac Power UsersI did some digging through the archives, and it looks like my earliest mention of the Mac Power Users podcast was an issue of the DocumentSnap newsletter back in August 2010.

Needless to say, I’ve been a listener for a long time, and it has been fun seeing David Sparks and Katie Floyd at Macworld every year.

I was both excited and honoured to be invited on as part of their Workflow series, and Mac Power Users 172: Workflows with Paperless Guru Brooks Duncan is now live!

Click the link above to listen and for the very comprehensive show notes, or you can find the show in iTunes.

Workflow Update

In the episode, I mentioned that I was in the process of rethinking parts of my workflow.

In the few days between recording and when it went live, I did a little weekend project and made some changes for 2014:

  • I’m experimenting with having my documents stored on my Transporter instead of Dropbox.
  • I’m processing my documents just in the Finder instead of using software.

Watch for a blog post in the future with how all this is going.

I hope you enjoy the episode as much as I enjoyed doing it.

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12 Days Of Paperless Gifts – Paperless and Gift Cards

12 Days Of Paperless GiftsThis is Day 12 in a 12 Post series: 12 Days Of Paperless Gifts. If you know someone who could use some help going paperless, or if you’d like to drop some hints, this series is for you. Don’t worry, the regular DocumentSnap tips will still be flowing.

It’s getting close to down to the wire, so it is time to start thinking about gift cards. To be honest, I love receiving gift cards. That way, I know I will be getting something I want. If that’s wrong I don’t want to be right.

Amazon Gift CardsIf you’re in the United States or country with, a good choice is an Amazon gift certificate.

That way, they have a bunch of stuff to choose from (see many of the previous items in the 12 Days series), and you are saved the stress.

Click here to check out Amazon’s gift card options

iTunes Gift CardsIf your special someone is an iPhone or iPad user, they might appreciate an iTunes store gift card, which can be used for music and apps. I know whenever someone asks me what I want for Christmas, I just say “iTunes cards”.

Click here to go to the iTunes Store

There are some people who are more in the “holiday card” category than the “buy a present” category. You might have received electronic cards back in the day and found them tacky, pop-upy, and ad-filled.

Not anymore. There are some e-cards now that are actually pretty nice, and I’ve sent them myself.

Paperless Post

I usually use Paperless Post, which actually has classy e-cards. If you want to be paperless and not scare or insult your recipients, it is worth checking out.

Click here to check out Paperless Post.

Another option that I have received and have had recommended are Jacquie Lawson cards.

Happy holidays!

Brooks Duncan

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Wipebook Reusable Notebook

WipebookIn line with my quest to manage my life without paper, I came across this cool Kickstarter project via the folks at Tools And Toys.

The Wipebook is a reusable whiteboard notebook. There are 25 pages, and each page is covered with a UV gloss. You can either write in it like a normal notebook and keep it, or you can sketch, erase, and re-use the page.

Here’s a video that shows more:

Of course, this is a Kickstarter, so you never know what you will get when, but I dig the concept. The only question is how lefty compatible it is (probably not very). I ordered one anyways so we shall see.

The Wipebook Kickstarter goes until 8:52am EST on December 23, so if you want to get in on it, now’s the time.

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How I Manage My Life Without Paper

Discarded NotebookIn this year’s DocumentSnap survey[1], there was a great suggestion from an awesome reader:

I’m interested in how you and other people manage their lives, their tasks, priorities, documents, to-do lists, and everything that goes with it. I first came to DocumentSnap for help on making my world paperless. With your guidance I’ve made good progress but still have more to do and I’m fascinated with hearing how other people do this.

Interesting question. Going paperless goes beyond just scanning documents and downloading statements. In this post I will share how I try to eliminate the use of paper in my life. Before I get into it, two points:

1. I use both Mac and Windows, but my primary machine is a Mac. I also use an iPad and an iPhone. Therefore, many of these solutions will be Apple-leaning. I understand that some of you don’t go that way, and that’s totally cool. There should be Windows and Android equivalents to all of these. If you know of a great one, please share it in the comments.

2. Just because this is what I do, it doesn’t mean that it is necessarily what you should/need to do. If you want to write in your paper notebook and use post-its, go for it! We all have to do what works for each of us.

Quick Capture

I’m sure there are post-it notes somewhere in my office, but I don’t know where they are. I try to do all my quick capture/jotting stuff down electronically. There is almost never a time that I am without an electronic device of some sort (sad, I know).

I used to use Field Notes notebooks, and I always have one in my bag, but since the Drafts app was released, I never use a notebook anymore. I tend to jot stuff down in Drafts, either by typing or via Siri. I can then process/send it to its eventual destination later.

I wrote more about this in an issue of the DocumentSnap newsletter.

Shopping Lists

I don’t use any special software for this, I just have a variety of shopping lists in Apple’s Reminders app. I find it quick to add items to the appropriate list, and I can use Siri. I like how it syncs between all my devices, and I can easily check items off as I go through the store.


I don’t do any fancy geofencing for this. Since I’m a hermit and mostly stay in my ’hood in East Vancouver, it works for me.

I wrote more about paperless grocery lists here.


For my to-dos, I need something a little more powerful than Reminders.

I am a big fan of OmniFocus, which is available on the Mac, iPhone, and iPad. I tend to (more or less) follow David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology, and OmniFocus is great for that.

I’ve used OmniFocus for a number of years, but I had a big epiphany after reading the OmniFocus Premium Posts guide from my friends at Asian Efficiency. The workflow they outline has made a huge difference for me in the past few months. Smart dudes.


I am a big mind mapper. For me, there is nothing better for brainstorming and planning.

I find the iPad perfect for this, and I use iThoughtsHD. It is a great app, and I like how it can keep everything in sync via Dropbox. It makes building out elaborate mind maps extremely fast.


You can imagine my shock and dismay when I came home and my wife had a paper calendar taped onto the fridge. I still have nightmares.

Over time, we have made a surprisingly successful transition to an electronic calendar. We use Google Calendar and have a shared family calendar between us.

I love, love, love Fantastical on the Mac and Fantastical 2 on iPhone. These apps make it extremely easy to enter new appointments and view my day.

On the iPad, I just use the built-in Calendar app.

Phone messages

Voicemail is a necessary evil. All my voicemails on my DocumentSnap line and my mobile come in as MP3s so that I can listen to them, and on my mobile phone they are (sort of) transcribed by a service called Phonetag.

Event Notes

Historically, when I was at an event I would take notes by writing in a notebook or typing into the Evernote app or the aforementioned Drafts.

It got to the point where people would take pictures of me (gasp) writing on paper, as my good friend Rebecca Mullen did here.

Brooks writing! Oh no!

I recently went to a conference, and as an experiment I tried handwriting on my iPad using the Notability app and an Adonit Jot Pro stylus.

It went pretty well, and I can see myself doing it going forward. I like how Notability lets you seamlessly switch between typing, writing, and drawing.

The only thing I didn’t like about the Adonit was that it made a loud tapping noise as I was writing. If you have a stylus that you love, please let us know in the comments.

Either way, all these notes end up in Evernote.


I am a big fan of the You Need A Budget software/methodology, aka YNAB. They describe it as “four simple rules that help you stop living paycheck to paycheck, get out of debt, and save more money faster”.

I download all my transactions into YNAB, and categorize and track from there.


Using the same password everywhere is a recipe for disaster. You want to use a password manager so that you can have unique secure passwords for each site without going crazy.

I use 1Password on my Mac and Windows machines, iPhone, and iPad. It makes password management so easy and automated.


It’s very rare that I need to fax something, but when I do, I use either HelloFax on my computer or Genius Fax on my iPhone. They make it easy to send faxes without having to touch a fax machine.


I like paper books as much as anyone, but I am shifting more and more of my reading to digital books. Most of my purchased books are read on the Kindle that my wife and I fight over, or on the Kindle app on the iPad or iPhone when I inevitably lose that fight.

For books that I download in ePub format, I use the iBooks app on the iPad.


I have shifted all my magazine reading to the tablet. I use the Wired app in Newsstand to read Wired, but I am starting to enjoy the Zinio app for some other publications.

I am sliding more and more down the slippery slope of digital comics lately, so ComiXology has become my guilty pleasure.

Filling Out And Signing Documents

I use PDFpen or good old to fill out PDFs, even ones that are not “fillable”.

I recently wrote a newsletter issue on this very topic describing how to do it on Mac, Windows, iOS, and Android.

Holiday cards

I can’t send paper cards for obvious reasons, so when I want to send a card I use Paperless Post.


The other day my wife and I were in a store and she pointed at a scale and said “why the heck do you need a scale with Wi-Fi?”

I had to bite my tongue because that very day I was planning to use a gift card I had received to buy that scale. Oops.

I use a Fitbit One to capture my activity and a Fitbit Aria scale to capture my weight etc. These automatically get uploaded to Fitbit’s site where they are tracked over time.

For years I used Lose It, but lately I am playing with MyFitnessPal. I can’t decide which I like better.

As for why I track all these things, I’m a nerd. Why wouldn’t I?

How About You?

These are some ways that I manage my life without paper. How about you? Are there any areas that I have missed? Do you have any alternate tools that you recommend? Let us know in the comments.

(Photo by Brad Greenlee)

  1. Thanks to those of you who have shared your feedback. If you haven’t yet, I’d appreciate your thoughts!  ↩

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