I hate paper mail. Even when I filter out the spam, the credit card offers, and the endless stream of catalogues from places where I once bought a pencil sharpener, it’s still bad. Because what’s left is usually somewhat important. Bills, receipts, or documents that should otherwise probably be filed properly some where.
For me, that somewhere was always The Pile. A bottom-less pit of guilt that would build up over a few weeks until I would rip through it and find that I was two days over due on paying $14.59 to People’s Gas.
Enter the tag team of organization: The Fujitsu ScanSnap document scanner, a shredder, and a solo Highrise account.
The beauty of the ScanSnap is its utterly brain-dead simple mode of use. You feed it a document, click the scan button on the device itself, and a PDF lands on your desktop. No continuous configuration, just one-click-straight-to-PDF goodness.
After the document is PDF’ed, it goes straight to the shredder. No clutter, no pile, just the pleasurable sound of paper I don’t have to worry about any more.
The final step is upload to Highrise. I have contacts for all the major bills I pay. So one for AT&T, one for People’s Gas, and so on. They’re all aggregated by the bills tag, which with the new tag streams allow me to see everything going through. I also have accounts for all the major service providers I use. There’s one for the lawyer, one for the mechanic, one for the doctor.
With the rhythm of “document goes in, follow-up task is set, and paper is gone” I’ve finally been able to beat The Pile and achieve the same level of inbox-zero zen that I have for Mail.app.
matton 28 Aug 07
Still sounds like kinda a pain. Why not set up accounts to debit from checking or be paid by credit card and then use wesabe? This way you can also look @ your spending trends.
DHHon 28 Aug 07
Matt, bills are one part of The Pile, but definitely not the only part. There’s still plenty of other documents that needs to be archived and I like having it all collected in one place.
Wesabe is definitely great for monitoring spending habits, but I see that as tangerial to this.
Jimon 28 Aug 07
I’m not sure how scanning all of your mail saves you any time or clutter at all… so is everything in the pile is still tagged bill or just the bills? If it’s just the bills, why not use a low tech solution of a “bill pile” and a “to be filed” pile?
Auguston 28 Aug 07
What happens when you have to deal with some of these forms or whatever and you can’t be sitting in front of you computer (happens to me at least once a week, where I either have to physically go somewhere with a form, or where I have to be on the phone with somebody somewhere other than at my desk, and I need the information in front of me)?
It’s all well and good to have less clutter, but do you want to have to cart your computer around with you (or stay home when you should be somewhere else) because you need to have one piece of paper in front of you?
Khoi Vinhon 28 Aug 07
This reads like a script for a 30-minute infomercial!
Landeron 28 Aug 07
Sweet! I’m going to check this one out.
David, you might be interested in greendimes.org to help cut down on the junk mail.
Anonymous Cowardon 28 Aug 07
August, its called a printer. Print out a document if you need a paper copy. Is it really that hard to grok?
Ericon 28 Aug 07
Cool. I like to keep copies of receipts as well and have just started using my camera phone to take pics of them. It stinks when they are a bit too big, but otherwise it works well enough and I don’t have to keep pockets full of receipts. Anybody use this scanner for smaller items like receipts?
Also, a great service that’s worked well for me in regards to reducing junk mail (in the regular snail mail sense) is http://www.41pounds.org/. It reduced junk mail exceptionally well for me.
Eamonon 28 Aug 07
That seems 100% crazy to me, not to mention a huge waste of electricity and paper. Can’t you just put folders next to your mail slot and sort your mail as it comes in?
We have a basket under our mail slot, so when we get home, we just carry the whole basket to the couch, pull out the bills, sort the personal stuff, and dump the rest. Basket empty, problem solved.
Colinon 28 Aug 07
EarthClassMail would be about your speed- you have your mail sent to them, and then you can choose whether to scan it, forward it, shred it, or recycle it. Boom, no more paper.
Jeff Carron 28 Aug 07
This seems like a pretty great idea to me.
Anyone have any experience using the SnapScan with Linux?
I know it works to a certain extent, I’m just wondering if it’s that simple to use, or if it’s not any easier than a regular scanner.
Luison 28 Aug 07
Don’t see this working with business paperwork. By law aren’t you supposed to keep hard copies of everything?
Kenn Christon 28 Aug 07
Luis: It depends on the business, of course, but in general the answer is “no”. I’ve got a CPA in the family who not only keep her home paperless, similar to what’s described in this post, but the accounting firm she works for is also paperless. Believe it or not, the IRS has actually evolved a little bit. Digital copies are fine for most things.
I’ve used the ScanSnap elsewhere and have been meaning to pick one up for myself. Too bad they’re so expensive.
ChadLon 28 Aug 07
I like the idea. However….
It’s really too bad we have to be reactive to ‘problems’ like this when a nice simple solution would be to bypass paper altogether. Sure, many organizations out there give you the option for electronic delivery; not all organizations are so progressive though.
That’s why a product like this can be made, sold and be a success. Ahh, the joys of a disposable society. :(
Brooks Jordanon 28 Aug 07
Thanks for this tip. I’ve been looking for something to do an easy scan to PDF. I want to be totally paperless by the end of 2007.
I use bill pay to make as many paper bills as I can digital. And I use Wesabe to track my spending. But, you’re right, there are some bills that will be very hard to get out of paper form and doing converting those manually with a scan is a smart way to go.
Eric Johnsonon 28 Aug 07
I have done this for years. I use Paperport for storing the documents in PDF and use an HP LaserJet 3052 All-in-One to scan multiple pages at once. Paperport manages the document folders for me. Once the docs are scanned I simply shred them. Cuts down on the need for filing cabinets.
If I need my documents when I’m not at home I simply remote desktop to my home machine, or if I know I’ll need them the next day I email the scanned doc to myself. That also serves as a reminder that I need to do something the next day as I’m striving the clear out my inbox.
Karimon 28 Aug 07
I use a service called PayTrust.com that receives my bills, scans them, pays the bills according to my rules and then I order a DVD at the end of the year with all my bills on it. Basically it combines bill scanning and online bill pay in one service.
Of course this would only help with the bills. As David mentioned, there are other things you get in the mail besides bills and this ScanSnap sounds like a good solution for those.
Jeffon 28 Aug 07
Almost all mail (bills, especially) only need to be kept for maybe a year.
My system: all 1-year paper goes into a monthly file. At the end of the year, I package that paper into a big envelope and label it “destroy in 200x.” That way, I have it around in case I need it (almost never), but I don’t spend any time cataloging it.
Everything else (and it’s not much) goes into a basic A-Z file cabinet. Easy. And no scanning.
Also, automatic bill pay wherever possible (almost everywhere).
Jake Howertonon 28 Aug 07
There is also Earth Class Mail, which does this whole process for you.
Andy Kanton 28 Aug 07
Thats a pretty cool idea to scan and shred all the mail. My mail usually just builds up filling boxes because I never open any of it unless I’m expecting something.
Dragonslayeron 28 Aug 07
Another cool feature of ScanSnap is the PDF document can also be OCR’ed (thought this increases the processing time significantly) and now the documents are indexable and searchable. I’m not sure of the OCR feature is part of Adobe Acrobat (which it comes with) or some other software installed with the scanner.
Roberton 28 Aug 07
As far as the junk mail goes, this sounds like a band-aid when you need a real cure. Check out GreenDimes.
They’ll get rid of your junk mail.
Michael Doanon 28 Aug 07
I was going to mention Earth Class Mail too (http://www.earthclassmail.com).
I’ve been doing exactly as you’ve described. The problem is this: if you let paper pile up now, you’ll let paper pile up after going paperless. It helps to scan a little everyday.
@Kenn Christ: I am a CPA and I work at a CPA firm - although I don’t do taxes - we go paperless.
KevinBon 28 Aug 07
DHH: Amen, brother.
bashonon 28 Aug 07
Whilst the next logical step will be, of course, to outsource letterbox, and scanning, indexing, and commit requirements. Woops. I see someone has already thought of this business opportunity. Hmm … the next logical step will be barcoded – or equivalent – authentication/identification upon all posted material to aid the scanning and indexing workflow. And doors without letterboxes. The end result? :Click here: if you want to find out where your letterbox is and what it has been up to.
Richard Kuhlenschmidton 29 Aug 07
We have a solution, the Famundo Assistant, which lets you scan documents or other records directly from your scanner to your online document storage or encrypted vault in Famundo.
It’s pretty slick and saved me a lot of headaches when I was on vacation recently and had to access my kid’s medical records. Fortunately I had scanned the hard copy from our doctor into my Famundo vault.
Scotton 29 Aug 07
Does the ScanSnap work with OS X? It looks like a pretty slick solution and I’d love to get one but, didn’t really see any documentation about compatibility with a Mac. I’m sure it would work but… can you verify?
Paul Schreiberon 29 Aug 07
You can reduce your junk snail mail, too.
First, opt out of the credit card offers. Then, get on the DMA’s opt-out list.
You can opt out of the PennySaver and Shopwise flyers and even Valpak.
And related: go to donotcall.gov to get off the phone call lists.
Ericon 29 Aug 07
While the machine is interesting, sounds like reinvention of the wheel. Why have digital folders when real folders will do, and with one less step?
Davidon 29 Aug 07
In the UK we have three useful services for reducing junk in your inbox:Mailing Preference Service. Fax Preference Service. Telephone Preference Service.
If you’re a new parent, they also offer a service to stop unwanted baby related junk mail.
Anonymous Cowardon 29 Aug 07
I’m curious whether anyone knows the answer to this question:
I live and work in the UK and do a lot of invoicing to clients. A lot of the time I need to reclaim expenses by supplying receipts with the invoice. I’d like to be able to scan in receipts and include them in a digital PDF to send with the invoice. Can I do this, or do I need to send the original?
I’m also curious to know whether the ScanSnap is compatible with OS X.
Jonon 29 Aug 07
The next step would be to automate the scanning and filing. One step closer to the recycling bin.
Nate Burgoson 29 Aug 07
The Fujitsu ScanSnap is a good device, whose use is almost to the point of ritual. Highly recommend it for helping to realize an uncluttered space, physically and mentally. It was highlighted in a past issue of Fast Company in a sidebar called How To Build Your Own MyLifeBits.
Kenn Christon 29 Aug 07
Eric: Why have digital folders when real folders will do?
B) “You can’t grep a dead tree”. In other words, isn’t searching on your computer much faster and easier than digging through a filing cabinet stuck in the back of your closet? (see point A re: clutter)
Scott, Anon: There’s a ScanSnap model specifically for Macs, different from the one for Windows.
Serge Lescouarnecon 29 Aug 07
Maybe this a complex solution to a simple problem
For detailed comments Read my 41 Cents on Mail, Bills and Overkill
‘The French Guy from New Jersey’
Vote for my Just Over 50 and not Dead Yet Panel (South by Southwest 2008)
radugaon 29 Aug 07
For the credit card offers, see: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/credit/prescreen.shtm or http://www.optoutprescreen.com
It really works :-)
Auguston 30 Aug 07
AC: It seems ridiculously wasteful to me to destroy a piece of paper only to print the information again later because I still need it in that format.
Damianon 30 Aug 07
I saw someone mentioned www.paytrust.com already. I just want to reiterate what a crazy awesome service it is. Been using it for years, and can’t live without it. Puts all of my bills in one place (paper or electronic) and makes it easy to pay everything just-in-time. And when you move, no billing address to change. I could go on…
Fazal Majidon 01 Sep 07
There is a Mac-compatible version of the ScanSnap, but you have to decide up-front, the Mac and Windows versions are different.
The paper feeder mechanism on the ScanSnap is its week point. It has a tendency to double-feed, and what’s worse, you won’t know about it so your scanned document may be missing pages without your realizing it. If you can afford it, get the Fujitsu fi-5120C with ultrasonic double-feed detection (the mechanism is more reliable, though, so double-feeds are very rare, but even if they happen, you will know about it). The higher-end document scanners are Windows-only but you can buy ScanTango for OS X support. For Windows users, the Canon DR-2050C is the same price as the ScanSnap, but more reliable.
I don’t shred my paper originals straight away, but file them in a chronological scheme that takes very little space but still makes it easy to retrieve the paper original in the unlikely event you would need to: http://www.majid.info/mylos/weblog/2006/05/01-1.html
Joeon 01 Sep 07
Sounds great, save for the $300-$400 scanner! I agree mail organization is a problem, but I’d definitely go for a much cheaper option than that!
Jim Cutrellon 02 Sep 07
I know the Famundo Assistant has been mentioned already, but it really is a great solution for making copies of all those odd and ends around the house, like birth certificates and passports, and storing them in a safe place. Cheaper that a safe deposit box and a lot more convenient.
Suzanneon 02 Sep 07
It is nice to work with online bill paying, but my bigger trouble is all the RECEIPTS we get from buying stuff. How to deal with that?!
madbugon 02 Sep 07
I really like my setup to reduce paper : The Canon Canoscan Lide70 (does scan to pdf with text search option ) and the software Yep (www.yepthat.com) for Mac, it’s a iTunes/iPhoto manager like for pdf’s.
Garyon 03 Sep 07
Good to see that I wasn’t the only one that was inspired offline by Merlin Mann’s awesome Google Tech Talk. I have been Inbox Zero on Mail.app and have been working to be Paper Zero as well. Thanks for a practical use on how to do that! I will definitely try this with my Highrise account.
Jerryon 04 Sep 07
I have a Fujitsu ScanSnap sitting right next to me on my desk. The concept sounds great but unfortunately this piece of hardware is crap. A few weeks after I got it, it started sucking in several pages at a time rather than one after another. The Fujitsu people were useless: “Just clean the rollers.” Didn’t/doesn’t work and now I’m stuck with a $400 paper weight that is good if I need an occasional one page scan.
This discussion is closed.