Confession time. As an author, my desk is always covered in paper. Lots of paper. Funny how I help my clients stay organized and optimize their processes, yet I’m a mess myself. I get bored easy, and always have several projects on the go. Someone said, “A clean desk is a sign of a sick mind”, so from that perspective I’m in the clear. Then again, clutter takes away energy and focus, so I’m always on the lookout to optimize my workspace.
Years ago, I started on a project to scan all incoming mail. With most communications being electronic, some important stuff still comes via snail mail. As a business owner, I’m required by law to keep some of it for at least seven years. Talk to your accountant or lawyer for guidance. To reduce my clutter, I decided to pick up that project where I left it. Goal? Ditch the filing cabinet, and keep digital copies of important files. With smart phones being able to scan documents much faster, this should be easy.
So I went on the lookout for an app to scan, categorize and store my documents. The goal is to get rid of my filing folders especially for incoming snail mail. Here’s the rest of my requirements: The app doesn’t have to be free. It should work on my smart phone. PDF’s have to be searchable through cloud storage. In this post I’ll share my research and recommend options and best practices.
Evernote has a separate app to scan documents into it’s library. Evernote Scannable is quick to capture a high quality scan that you can save and/or share. It can also turn your business cards into contacts as it pulls information from them. I found the OCR (text recognition) feature for business cards not always accurate.
The service worked quite well. What I didn’t like was how it stores scans within the Evernote infrastructure. Should I wish to migrate files elsewhere, it’s harder to access them.
Microsoft Office Lens
While I do use Microsoft Office, I’m not a huge Microsoft fan. Never was, to be honest. But if you are, consider the Microsoft Office Lens app. It offers text recognition and easy to use scanning, which is hard to find in a free app.
If you don’t want to pay, Microsoft Office Lens is a good option. It has excellent OCR (text recognition). The apps interface is simple to use. The downside is that it ties in to Office 365. To access, or edit your results you’ll need a Microsoft account and other Microsoft apps, such as Word.
Last but not least: Dropbox. I’ve used the service for years to have some of my most important files sync across my devices. I didn’t realize they’ve expanded their arsenal with some more tools. The document scanning feature allows me to save and organize documents. The interface is quick and easy to use. The app stores PDF files in a Dropbox folder of my choosing. This means I can move files elsewhere should I run out of space. Or decide to finally upgrade Dropbox and pay for the service.
I can keep digital copies of important files. It’s all organized in my Dropbox, and I can access them from any of my devices. Best of all? No need to upgrade. This all works from their free plan (which most of their users are still on). Dropbox Professional and Business users have more options. For example, they can search for text within their scans.
After testing out all three updates to scan and upload a week’s worth of mail, the Dropbox app was a clear winner. Speed of the app is great, but more importantly the resulting PDF ends up in a folder structure I own and control – so if I ever needed a single document it’s easy to retrieve and share. Should I ever run out of space in my Dropbox, I can easily move the files to a more permanent storage solution, let’s say once per year.
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