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Going Paperless in 2016

It’s long been an ambition of mine to reduce the amount of paper I store and digitize records as much as possible. Over the past couple of years I’ve been doing a half-hearted job by scanning most of my important mail and shredding everything. In 2016 one of my resolutions was to make the “Paperless Household” a reality. My goals were as follows:

  1. Spend less than 5 minutes on our paperless workflow, per week
  2. Make document recall easier for my wife and I, on any device
  3. Establish a backup strategy
  4. Reduce chance of identity theft
  5. Stick to budget of $500 for one-off hardware/software purchases and $100 per year on software services

Here’s how I achieved my goals:

As part of my new process, I opted to still receive physical mail. I evaluated a few virtual mailbox solutions but decided against that route as I couldn’t see the time savings being material. Key to the process, I decided, was batching, and my newly purchased Sparco Desk Tray was to be the the hub for this; top tray for unprocessed mail, middle tray for outgoing and bottom tray for shreddable items.

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New mail comes in everyday and gets processed once a week (in a few minutes) with a few possible end states: 1) digitized 2) recycled 3) shredded 4) outbound. Items 2 and 4 are quickly summarized as items which don’t have personal information printed on them and can be sent for recycling or out to the mailbox.

Digitizing is slightly more complex. Here’s where I ended up for this part of the process:

  1. Scan paper items and generate PDFs
  2. Place paper items in shreddable tray
  3. Make the contents of each PDF searchable
  4. Automatic filing of PDF based on rules
  5. Sync to cloud storage

I’d been using my Epson WorkForce printer to do scanning in the past, but it took so long to scan it would mean I could never achieve Goal 1 – spend less than 5 minutes per week on paperless. After some reading around and advice from Omar, I opted for the excellent Fujitsu SnapScan iX500 which is a beast and can handle more than my needs for scanning.

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Whilst the hardware is great, the software provided by Fujitsu is mediocre and somewhat confusing to setup. Their software is good, however, for making PDF contents searchable, which is a scan profile you must activate using the SnapScan software:

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With items now being successfully scanned, saved to local disk and searchable I was ready to start filing. SnapScan’s Organizer Software seemed to have some rules features but I was unable to get them working. Instead I opted for File Juggler for Windows. For Mac, there are other options available, including the highly recommended Hazel. Using FileJuggler, I created rules that monitored the contents of the SnapScan directory and moved and renamed files based on contents of the files. During the course of January, I had created rules (or “trained”) the system to take care of mostly all the mail we receive, with the exception of a couple of pieces that needed manual processing. Once a week, I was spending about 3-4 minutes processing and automatically filing everything – magic! Goal 1 – Check!

Here’s an example rule to file away Mortgage Statements that I scan in.

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The system renamed the files and moved them to my OneDrive folder, called Personal Records and into sub-folders like Banking, Utilities, Mortgage, Taxes, Nanny Receipts etc. depending on the particular rule. Now in OneDrive, these files were easily accessible by mobile, web and desktop and more importantly by my wife too! Goal 2 – Check!

There are lots of good resources on Backup Strategies, but I like Scott’s “The Computer Backup of Three” approach. With files now syncing to OneDrive, I signed up for CrashPlan after evaluating various online reviews. Their setup was painless and now I had an offsite backup of all my stuff. At $60 per year, I really like their service. It just works. Goal 3 – Check!

Time for a pause. Digitizing all that content comes with its own risks, mainly opening a new threat vector for identity theft: Hacking. As an individual, I consider that risk pretty low; I use very strong passwords and I use two-factor authentication whenever possible. However, as a family I needed to think about how my wife uses digital services. She’s not as tech savvy but still has a ton of online identities to manage, just like everyone else. To help reduce the risk, I signed up for 1Password and followed this article on sharing identities with her. I showed her how to use it and then started hardening all her passwords, one by one, starting with the important ones like Banking, Email, Cloud Services etc. For physical items, I have the trusty AmazonBasics 12 sheet shredder – get one, they’re worth it. Goal 4- Check!

How did I do on the budget? Well, I went over a little because of the Fujitsu SnapScan iX500 but it seems the price is cheaper all the time (with Amazon’s prime discount). However, I believe that I’ll literally save hours over the course of the year due to its scan speed. I can’t understate that this scanner just eats paper like its going out of style. Crashplan is $60 per year but I went over on the 1Password license ($70) which is one off. Goal 5 – Check!

Finally, I updated our estate documents to recognize digital documentation stored in OneDrive and how trustees to our estate can gain access to important documentation should the worst happen.

Future enhancements to the “Paperless Household”

  1. Paperless services. Many services, like American Express, allow you to opt for paperless billing. This is great, but means that your paper trail is now all over the internet in different services in stead of one convenient, predictable location. Later this year, I’m going to explore FileThis.com as a means by which to complete the filing solution. I’ll let you know how that goes.
  2. Large format documents. When we bought and sold property last year, I was reminded how the volume of paperwork was ridiculous and how the institutions use irregular formatted paper. I need to figure out if I can digitize them and have my documentation still be legal.

Finally, have you digitized your household? Would love to hear your approach in the comments!