Paperless Bills And Record Retention With Hazel

Automatic For The PeopleThere is nothing I love more than when DocumentSnap readers share their paperless tips and workflows. I especially love it when the tips come from friends-of-the-blog like Michelle Muto.

Michelle is an author whose most recent book is Don’t Fear The Reaper, but you might remember her from her previous paperless workflow post.[1]

This time, she was kind enough to share how she uses Hazel to automatically file away her paperless bills.

Before I get into the post itself, a quick note. I love reading about and sharing these workflows because I am a productivity nerd and am always trying to make things as efficient as possible.

However, if you read this and your head is spinning or you don’t understand it, just ignore it. None of this is stuff you have to do to go paperless. Just focus on taking action with what you can do now, and worry about the rest later.

With that said, take it away Michelle (there are some minor edits by me to make it more post-y. Any mistakes are almost certainly mine).

Moving Based On The Content of A Bill

There are two things to ensure I’ve got the right file:

  • department of water resources
  • Current Due Before

These occur exactly as typed on my water bill.

Hazel 1
Hazel 1

Adjust The Date

Notice the extras in the Do the following. I add the date created, modifying it (Edit Date Pattern) to reflect the YYYY-MM. I’m willing to give up the exact due date because I’m really only getting one bill per month, right?

Then, I modify the date created qualifier some more. THIS IS THE KEY. Click on the down arrow in the qualifier, choose Adjust Date. Since my water bill is usually due the following month, I add 1. See below.

Hazel 2
Hazel 2

Move Into The Folder

About those other actions? It sorts into folder by year, creating a folder if one doesn’t exist. Now, all bills in 2012 will sort into a 2012 folder while next year, they’ll sort into a folder named 2013.

Records Retention

I’ve also added a keyword in the comments. This is for records retention. It can be whatever your accountant, IRS, State, local or whatever retention method you use. I tend to use only two, although there are several for my situation and location. For instance, I have records I need to keep seven years, and ones I need to keep four years. Since I have extra disk space, I just lump the two in the same pot so to speak. You could essentially only make one search if you prefer.

Now, to use that record retention comment (you don’t want to keep your water bill forever, right?) So, I built some more Hazel rules. Because… well, there’s always room for more Hazel goodness.

I needed Hazel to look inside the Filing Cabinet structure and subfolders, hence the following rule that watches the folder Filing Cabinet. Note that it MUST be the first rule.

Hazel Subfolder
Hazel Subfolder

Next, I created a rule to color files meeting the record retention of seven years red and add the keyword Possible Deletion in the comments.

Hazel color by year
Hazel color by year

Hazel doesn’t delete anything, so far, so good. Now, all that’s needed is to create a Smart Search in Finder to look inside the Documents folder for PDF files that are colored Red AND contains Possible Deletion in the comments. I save it to my side bar and that’s it. I can now either delete any files, or use Quick Look to verify I really do want to delete them.

Now, the last rule would be to have Hazel delete empty nested subfolders inside the folder named Filing Cabinet.

And last but not least, I can now get back to finishing my new manuscript.

Editorial comment by Brooks: The retention part is really going above and beyond. Very nice, Michelle!


  1. Surely she is more famous for that.  ↩

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Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Getting SuperGeeky: Paperless Workflow w/ my Mac & Hazel | Michelle Muto – Author - June 20, 2012

    [...] For the extra geeky, and for those with a Mac, read how I automatically scan, then have my Mac name, file, sort, and mark documents for possible r… [...]

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