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Going Paperless Part 5 - Backing up your data

OrganizationEdward Kiledjian1 Comment
Image by  Martinluf  under creative commons license

Image by Martinluf under creative commons license

First go here and read my article on the 3-2-1 backup rule.

There are 2 types of backups:

  • Offline backups
  • Online backups
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An Offline backup is simple, it is an external hard disk or USB key you use to periodically keep an extra copy of your data. As an example you plug it in once a week to copy the information over then unplug it. The problem with this model is that you may forget to backup your data or the data loss may happen just before you back it up therefore you may lose all the data you created since your last backup.

An Online backup comes in 2 forms:

  • Hot online backup 
  • Cold online backup

For Mac users, a hot online backup is like Time Machine or Dropbox (for everyone). This is a drive that is mapped to your computer where the information stored therein is replicated out to the cloud.

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With the recent rash of Cryptolocker, we learned about the risks associated with hot online backups. This is certainly a better option than no backup but Cryptolocker discovered these backups (because they have mapped drives) and proceeded to encrypt your information unless you paid their ransom. 

Cold Online backups are services like (Carbonite, Backblaze or Crashplan) that backup your data using a local agent (and not by mapping a drive letter on your computer). These types of backups provide the benefit of a second or third copy of your data and they protect you from malware like Cryptolocker because these nasties can't directly access your backed up info to harm them. Plus since these backups are automated and near-time after a file is changed or added, there is no risk of forgetting to backup.

My recommendation is to follow the 3-2-1 rule mentioned in my other article. My setting is something like this.

  1. My main data is on my computers SSD.
  2. I replicate that document management structure in Evernote as a second copy
  3. I backup my information to an always connected external hard drive (third copy)
  4. I backup my information to Backblaze (fourth cold online backup)

Cryptolocker  is charging around $300 to recover you files but you could have bought 1 year of online cold backup (from any of the 3 listed above) for about $50 per year. Unfortunately once disaster strikes, your options are more limited and typically everything costs more (paying the ransom, sending your drive to a data recovery lab, etc). So backup first and backup often.

Going Paperless Part 4 - What to do with that PDF

OrganizationEdward Kiledjian1 Comment
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So far we have:

  • Reduced the paper clutter by throwing out needless items and switching from paper to digital where possible
  • Bought a scanner and installed the scanning software
  • Started scanning some of the paper and converting it to PDF
  • Most scanners have an OCR option and that option should be enabled.

On the Mac

If you use a Windows PC, jump to the next section.

I recently switched my main everyday laptop from a Windows machine to a Macbook Pro. My Brother MFD was compatible and even had Mac software but I started using another app from the Apple Mac App Store called PDFScanner (link). 

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The reason I like the app is that it is fast and the workflow is quick. 

There are many applications for Mac OS X that allow scanning of images or text. Most of them are however complex, slow or not really suited for scanning documents or letters. some of the features I like:

  • Has built in multi-lingual OCR which works pretty well (English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian and Finnish)
  • Really simple interface to edit pages, move pages or delete pages.
  • It automatically straightens pages and deskews the image
  • The app is multithreaded which means it can scan, straighten, deskew and OCR all at the same time
  • My MFD is a simplex scanner but the app allows me to perform fake duplex scanning. I scan all of one side, switch the papers and rescan. The app then intelligently resorts them into the appropriate order.
  • Of course it supports my ADF
  • I can import previously scanned PDFs and perform OCR on them

Naming Convention

Naming and standardization is something companies spend a lot of time thinking about because once you start it is difficult to switch mid-way to a new strategy. The easiest way to standardize your file naming is something like this:

YYYY-MM-DD-Category-Specific

As an example, I could do this for my internet bill

2014-02-06-Home_Internet-ElectronicBox.pdf

This way my naming is consistent. Finding items is easier. Sorting is easier. If tomorrow I switch my internet from ElectronicBox to Bell (as an example), I could simply rename the new Bell invoice

2014-03-06-Home_Internet-Bell.pdf

Same thing with Pay stubs. Most companies now provide electronic pay stubs (or you can scan them in). You can name them

2014-01-01-PayStub-CompanyName.PDF

But How do I store my scanned documents?

The simplest system is to mimic a physical folder structure on your computer (Windows or Mac).

You can create simple main folders (larger category groups) and then have more specific sub-folders for more granular control.

  • Bills
    • Home
    • Car
    • Purchases
  • Taxes
    • Tax Returns
    • Invoices
    • Pay Stubs
  • Children
    • School Stuff
    • Arts and Crafts
    • Special Memories

You get the idea. It is simple, functional and works on Windows, a Mac or Linux. I decided long ago to use Evernote as my central store and Evernote supports tagging of Notes. Each scanned document is a separate not with  the appropriate file name. I add the file name as the Note name then tag the note with the appropriate tags. So a 2014 invoice for a home repair can be under a Bill-2014 tag and a House tag at the same time. Since multiple tags can be assigned to a single note in Evernote, this makes sorting documents even easier.

Article on how to tag information (link)

Google-ification of your document management system

Before Google's GMAIL email system, most of use were constantly trying to sort our emails using some sort of folder structure. How else were we going to find important emails in the future?

Then came the sultan of search and shows us the power of Google search for emails. This means you no longer needed to sort your emails because you could always use their powerful search to find whatever it is you need.

We can now apply this same concept to our document management system (kind of). You should still organize your scanned documents in some kind of folder structure but because we are OCRing all of the documents, we can also use the search function of the operating system (aka Spotlight on a Mac) or another dekstop search app to find the information we are looking for.

Since all my internet invoice is OCRed, Mac OS' spotlight search feature has indexed all of that wonderfully useful OCR information. So if I want my January Internet invoice from Electronic box, I could go through the folder structure and find it or I could search for ElectronicBox and January and 2014.

Resist the urge to spend

The internet is littered with apps or ebooks selling expensive Document Management systems. These may be worth it for a company or self employed professional but individual home users don't need it. Keep your system simple and your workflow clean.

Some apps (like PDF scanner in my case) are affordable and will really positively impact your system, others (like $150 software) may be cool but won't improve your system that much.

I do love evernote and do recommend it. If you are not afraid of cloud storage then take a look.

Going Paperless Part 3 - Choosing the best file format

OrganizationEdward Kiledjian1 Comment
Image by  xmodulo  under Creative Commons License

Image by xmodulo under Creative Commons License

This article is going to be short and sweet. It will answer one question

"What format should I scan my documents to?"

Regardless of the scanner or scanning software, typically they can save documents in JPG, GIF, PNG, PDF.

The answer is PDF, end of discussion. PDF is an industry standard, allows for the inclusion of multiple pages and is accessible almost on every device in the world.

Unless your a multinational company, you don't have to worry about what version of PDF you are saving to. 

Going Paperless Part 2 - Choosing the right scanner

OrganizationEdward Kiledjian3 Comments
ImageTrac 5300

ImageTrac 5300

Before we talk about the different methods to capture information and workflows with digital information, I am going to talk about scanners right upfront. 

Like everything electronic, scanners come in all shapes, sizes and prices. On one end, you have the single sided, single page portable scanners (like the Doxie Go)

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Or you can splurge on a high quality, high volume, fairly automatic, double sided scanner with built in sheet feeder

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Jargon

Before we discuss which one is best for your particular needs, we need to demystify some industry jargon.

  • ADF - Automatic Document Feeder is a mechanism that allows you to load many pages into the device and the ADF will automatically feed them to the scanning engine one by one.
  • Duplex - The basic scanners like the Doxie are simplex scanners which simply means they scan one side of a page. The more expensive scanners support duplex mode which means they automatically scan both sides of a page.
  • PPM - Pages Per Minue is a measure of how many pages the scanning engine can process per 60 second block. 
  • DPI - Dots Per Inch specifies how much detail the scanning engine can digitize when processing a page. The higher the number the higher quality the scan but the larger the final file and the longer the scanning will take.
  • TWAIN / ISIS - TWAIN and ISIS are industry standard protocols of how a device communicates with a scanner. 
  • OCR - Optical Character Recognition is a software function which can "read" a scanned page and convert it into editable text or add a hidden payer within the scanned file to make the scanned picture searchable by keyword.
  • MFD - MultiFunction Device is typically a scanner built into a printer

Smartphone apps

I have tested dozens of smartphone apps (both IOS and Android) and have yet to find one that matches the quality of a "real" scanner. These apps are great when you need to capture something while on the go (such as on a business trip) but typically this is my least favorite option.

You can already read one of my past articles comparing some of the more popular iPhone document scanning apps called "SCANNER PRO, CAMSCANNER+, GENIUS SCAN+ AND PRIZMO DOCUMENT SCANNER APP TESTS" here

Ignore the hype

Many of the blogs you read about scanner or going paperless talk only about the Fujitsu ScanSnap document scanners. Some do this because they genuinely love them and others do it because they received free demo units or other consideration. 

The Fujitsu ScanSnap devices are fantastic, easy to use and powerful, but they are expensive for the average home user. There is no use buying a sportscar if you need a 4 door family sedan.

MFD is fine for most users

If you buy a decent Multifunction Device from a reputable brand, you will likely be satisfied with the price/quality ratio. You can find decent MFDs in every big box retailer, online electronics store and even the direct sale manufacturers. 

Right now I use a Brother MFD at home and am satisfied. Remember to look at the specs of the various devices using my jargon demystifier above. 

Regardless of what you choose, you want a device that:

  • has an automatic document feeder of at least 15 pages
  • has paper size guides on the ADF to allow for the scanning of different size documents (paper, receipts, tickets, etc)
  • has a colour scanner
  • comes bundled (or has available) drivers and scanning software bundle for MAC and Windows (you never know where you will be in 2-3 years)
  • is TWAIN or ISIS compliant so you can use other software with it (such as photo editing software)

Going Paperless Part 1 - Reducing your paper exposure

OrganizationEdward KiledjianComment
Image by  Joybot  under creative commons license

Image by Joybot under creative commons license

A couple of years ago, I made the switch (personally) from a paper filling system to an all electronic document management system.  There are a bunch of benefits by going digital that include:

  • free up lots of space
  • make finding information faster and easier
  • easily transferring or sharing information 

I want to help you go paperless and the best way for me to do this is to slowly break-up different tips and recommendations over a series of articles. Each article will have a call to action which means you'll be asked to do something but the change will be slow and easy.

Anytime we start a restructuring program, the first step is to clean-up our inputs. This means consciously getting paper out of your life when it is not absolutely required.

As an example, I use to receive a great big product catalog from the New York city retailer B&H (they sell via store and online). The truth is I never used their catalog since the information on their website is always more fresh, so I asked them to stop mailing me. Same thing with my bank, credit cards and utilities. Where possible, I switched from a paper invoice to electronic. I asked retailers to stop mailing me catalogs, flyer and pamphlets.

Where possible, switch from paper communication to digital.

Most governments accept digital copies of invoices for tax calculation purposes as long as the information is clear, easily accessible, easily retrievable and backed up. Since I have readers from over 70 countries, you should check with an accountant or lawyer for your country specific laws but I am sure most will find digital perfectly acceptable.

The other courses will follow shortly