PDF Search And The 80-20 Rule - Find Your Documents

PDF Search And The 80-20 Rule – Find Your Documents

We are lucky to be going paperless in a time that all the major platforms (Mac OS X, Windows, Evernote) have great PDF search built right in. If we need to find a document, we have the tools to do it.

While we do have the tools, many of us find it overwhelming to actually use that search box to find the PDF that we’re looking for (if that is you, no worries! You’re not alone!).

Mac, Windows, and Evernote all give us fantastic search commands to zoom right to the document that we’re looking for. Once you become a “search ninja”, these can be amazing. You can instantly bring up that PDF you need, right when you need it.

However, you don’t need to start there. You can start with more general searches, and often they will bring you close enough to where you want to be.

What Is The 80–20 Rule?

If you’ve read any business book in the past 10 years I am sure you have heard of the Pareto principle (aka the 80–20 rule). Here’s what Wikipedia says about it:

The Pareto principle (also known as the 80–20 rule, the law of the vital few, and the principle of factor sparsity) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

How Does The 80/20 Rule Apply To PDF Search?

Here is how I translate that definition to PDF search: “Using 20% (or less) of the search commands can get you 80% (or more) of the way to the PDF that you are looking for”.

When you’re starting out, you don’t need to master all sorts of commands to find your documents.

A PDF Search Example

Here’s an example. Where I live, my electric company is called BC Hydro. Let’s say for whatever reason I want to look at my March 2015 bill.

Because I am experienced, using search I can instantly bring up that document, but let’s apply the 80–20 rule here and see how close I could get with some simple searches.

My screenshots will show the Mac, but the same concept applies to Windows, Evernote, or whatever platform you are using to store your documents.

Let’s start by doing a search for bchydro:

PDF Search General Results
PDF Search General Results

I can see some PDFs there, but also some other junk. I don’t see the PDF I want, so obviously that is not close enough.

Thinking Like A Searcher

Let’s think about this for a moment. What am I actually looking for here? I want:

  • A PDF
  • Probably with BCHydro in the name
  • From 2015

I bet that’ll get me close enough.

What happens if I type in bchydro pdf 2015? I’m not using any commands here, I’m just trying to get close.

PDF Search 80-20 Rule
PDF Search 80–20 Rule

Boom! I still have a number of results here, but by eyeballing I can see the March 2015 bill that I want.

Remember, the specific commands and things you type aren’t as important as the concept of thinking like a searcher and trying to get as close as you can to get the result you need.

Once you get comfortable with that, you can move on and learn more powerful search commands that will save you even more time.

About the Author

Brooks Duncan helps individuals and small businesses go paperless. He's been an accountant, a software developer, a manager in a very large corporation, and has run DocumentSnap since 2008. You can find Brooks on Twitter at @documentsnap or @brooksduncan. Thanks for stopping by.

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