You might strive to maintain a paperless office, but your efforts are probably thwarted as soon as you walk out the office door. Even in the internet age it’s hard to escape business cards, printed receipts, meeting notes, legal documents and other paperwork which contains important information. Like it or not, paperwork will remain a necessary evil for many years to come.
Some people have the discipline to maintain a well-organised filing cabinet and perhaps even an old-fashioned rolodex on their desk, but they’re a dying breed. If you try to ignore the growing pile of paperwork lurking on your desk then digitisation might be the answer – converting all that paper into searchable text.
If you’re not disciplined enough to make a regular date with a filing cabinet then you probably feel the same way about standing in front of the office document scanner, but the answer to your problem is probably already in your pocket.
The camera in most modern smartphones is more than good enough to photograph documents, capturing images sharp enough that they can be converted into text. Photographing your paperwork is easy – there are plenty of document scanning apps and business card readers available for smartphones – but don’t just download the most popular app and start snapping away.
The real challenge is finding a practical way to store and categorise all that scanned information so it’s always at hand when you need it.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Just like storing notes or starting an ongoing to-do list, the key to digitising your paperwork is to be systematic and find a solution which integrates into your existing workflow. Preferably you want a cross-platform solution rather than leaving everything locked away on your phone.
Start by looking for a scanning app which integrates into the apps and services you already use. Your needs will vary depending on whether you want to scan business cards, long documents or both. You might want to import scanned business cards into your address book, or you might prefer to keep them separate. As for scanning documents, you might need the ability to tag them with extra details so you can associate them with a client or project.
If you’re already using Evernote or OneNote to manage your notes then you should definitely check out their document scanning features. Both let you photograph a page, convert it to text and upload it to a notebook. There’s even a dedicated Evernote Scannable app which makes it quick and easy to scan and categorise pretty much anything, but keep in mind that the free Evernote service limits you to 60MB of uploads per month.
Another option is to take advantage of the text-scanning features built into Google Drive. The Android Google Drive app has built-in text scanning, but even with the iOS app you can upload photos to be processed in the cloud. You don’t have the tagging options of Evernote, which is frustrating, but from the Google Drive browser interface you can edit a photo’s details to add keywords.
If these don’t cut it then you’ll find a range of specialist document scanner apps designed to integrate with cloud storage services like Google Drive, Evernote, Dropbox, OneDrive and iCloud. Apps worth checking out include Scanner Pro, CamScanner and Genius Scan. Some also include the ability to convert an image to PDF, so you don’t need to fire up your office document scanner to send someone a digital copy of a physical document.
Don’t be in a rush to commit to an app or service and start scanning every piece of paper in sight. Start by scanning a handful of test documents to see whether the storage, sync, text conversion, search and tagging features meet your needs. There’s no point in swapping a pile of paper for a folder full of scans until you’re sure that your new digital filing system will make it easy to always find what you’re looking for.