In Praise Of The Paperless Inbox

In Praise Of The Paperless Inbox

MailboxThis is going to be a strange thing to say, but I love (and I mean LOVE) inboxes.

When we think of inboxes, we usually think of that plastic or wire thing on the desk that is overflowing with paper from 2 years ago.

Since I’m all about going paperless, I’m talking about an electronic inbox. A place where you collect the documents that you scan or download, and then take action on them.

From my experience, when most of us do our scanning, we scan, name and file each document one at a time. It makes sense, and falls in line with that “you should touch each document only once” advice that you hear.

That advice is fine when you have a small amount of paper, but if you are regularly scanning a reasonable number of documents, it can be more efficient to get the information digitized first and then name and file them away.

This is where the electronic inbox comes in.

Why I Love The Inbox (And You Probably Will Too)

If you scan and download your documents to an inbox first, you are applying the principle of batching – doing similar tasks together, which increases productivity.

It also doesn’t hurt that it allows you to take better advantage of the speed and capacity of that fancy scanner you dropped all that cash for.

However, the reason that I really love electronic inboxes is that it opens the door for automation – having our computers do things so that we don’t have to.

If we know that every PDF that we scan or download will be going to one place, it opens the door for having Hazel process our documents for us (or File Juggler for the Windows users among you). We can make naming faster too by using a text expansion tool like TextExpander.

This type of automation is great for two reasons:

  1. Our computer is doing things for us so that we don’t have to. Great!
  2. If our computer is naming and filing things away for us, there is less of a chance that we will mess up the name or file it to the wrong place. Consistency becomes enforced.

All this comes from the electronic inbox. How about you? Do you scan to an inbox, or do you scan-name-file? I’d love to hear your workflow in the comments.

(Photo by Esparta)

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.

Leave a Reply 5 comments

Michael - April 18, 2016 Reply

I use a Mac for years as a graphic designer. Now I want to go paperless, but I’m a beginner. I learn to scan my accounting for my tax consultant.
I work with DEVONthink Pro Office and later on I will learn Hazel, so that my receips will go automatically to the right folder like »car«, »office«, »invoices« and so on…

Kay L. - April 23, 2014 Reply

I am a MAC user and I have finally figured out how to set up folders for use with the ScanSnap; however, I do not know how to scan to an inbox and then have documents go to individual folders. Apparently, I need software like Hazel to handle that process. Am I correct? Currently, I am grouping all “like” documents and scanning to particular folder. I need more help!

Leo Eddy - September 24, 2013 Reply

I use a folder named action that sucks up all my scans.

When I download a PDF it goes into my downloads folder

by default. But then Hazel moves into the Ation folder

And then does her magic from there.

    Brooks Duncan - September 24, 2013 Reply

    Awesome Leo. Yeah, Hazel makes the whole inbox/action folder thing shine.

      Amir Siddique - March 4, 2021 Reply

      I need help to setup Hazel for my filling system.

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