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Take Control of Your Paperless Office
Jun 04, 2014
The Author

Joe Kissell has written more than 50 books about the Mac, including many popular Take Control ebooks. He runs Joe On Tech and is also a contributing editor of TidBITS and a senior contributor to Macworld.

Take Control of Your Paperless Office, Second Edition

Digitize your documents while reducing incoming and outgoing paper!

Join Joe Kissell as he helps you clear the chaos of an office overflowing with paper. With Joe’s guidance you can develop a personal clean-up strategy and choose your Mac-compatible tools—a document scanner and the software you need to perform OCR (optical character recognition)—plus devices and services for storing your digitized documents and tools to categorize, locate, and view your digital document collections. Once you have your gear in hand, Joe shows you convert your paper documents to digitized files and gives you ideas for how to organize your office workflow, explaining how to develop day-to-day techniques that reduce the amount of time you spend pressing buttons, launching software, and managing your digitized documents.

More Info

In addition to all of the above, Joe clues you in to these paper-reducing skills:

  • Scanning or photographing documents you find while out and about—business cards, receipts, menus, flyers, and labels—so you keep only digitized versions. Joe discusses a variety of mobile scanning options, with an emphasis on using a camera-equipped iOS device, and lists similar options for employing Android, Windows, and BlackBerry smartphones.

  • Creating a digitized image of your signature so you can sign and share documents digitally, rather than printing them for the sole purpose of signing them with a pen.

  • Setting up your computer to send and receive faxes so you can avoid using a physical fax machine with paper input and output. Joe describes online fax services and using a fax modem.

  • Common techniques for reducing paper—paperless billing, online bank statements, and more—and less common practices, such as paperless postal mail services and check depositing services. Joe also shares effective tips for reducing the amount of catalogs, junk mail, and paper that you receive.

The book answers numerous questions, including:

  • What is a “searchable PDF,” and why is it key to a paperless office?
  • Where should I store my digital documents?
  • How should I back up my important digital documents?
  • What differentiates “document scanners” from other types of scanners?
  • What does TWAIN stand for, and should my scanner support it?
  • Why do I need OCR software, and what features should I look for?
  • What scanners and OCR products does Joe recommend?
  • How can I automate my workflow for scanning documents?
  • What paper documents should I keep in physical form?
  • How do I use common tools to add a signature to a PDF?
  • What naming and categorization schemes should I use?
  • What should I keep in mind if I want to share my digital documents?
  • How can I access my digital documents remotely?
  • How can an iPad, iPhone, or other device help me reduce paper use?
  • Is it better to use a fax modem or a fax-to-email gateway?
What's New

What's New in Version 2.1

Version 2.1 is a minor update, which reflects changes in software and services made since version 2.0 was released, fixes several small issues, and adds a few interesting new pieces of information. Major changes include:

  • Added Hubdoc to the list of online statement aggregators, and included a note about security when using such services. See Sign Up for Paperless Billing.

  • Mentioned Square Cash in the sidebar Other Electronic Payment Options.

  • Clarified that the Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 can now scan wirelessly to Macs as well as to mobile devices. See Consider Important Scanner Features.

  • Added a tip about PDFiler. See Name and File after the Fact.

  • Included Microsoft OneNote in the list of document managers. See Use a Document Manager.

  • Updated links to information from the IRS about recordkeeping. See Prune Unnecessary Documents.

  • Repaired many broken links, especially to items in the iTunes Store.

What Was New in the Second Edition

It’s been two years since the last update to this book. Although my basic strategy for running a paperless office hasn’t changed much in that time, significant changes have occurred in the hardware, software, and online tools available. In addition, numerous readers have made suggestions, asked questions, and proposed additional topics. This heavily revised second edition attempts to address as many of those things as possible.

The major changes in this edition are these:

  • Added a chapter for people who have already taken steps toward a paperless office and want to know what they should take a fresh look at; see Reassess Your Paperless Office Strategy

  • Included a sidebar about creating editable Word documents from scanned images; see Converting Scans to Microsoft Word Format

  • Updated Consider Storage Options to cover the latest interfaces and cloud storage options, as well as SSDs

  • Added new services in Sign Up for Paperless Billing that can fetch PDF statements for you and listed more options in the sidebar Other Electronic Payment Options

  • Expanded Explore Other Paperless Options and Get Paperless Postal Mail to include additional services, including several for Canadian residents

  • Revised my advice about multifunction devices in Learn Why Document Scanners Are Different

  • Heavily rewrote instructions for how to Pick a Mac-compatible Scanner and Choose OCR Software, and, in the process, moved numerous details into online appendixes

  • Reorganized and expanded the information about configuring scanner settings, with much more detail about how to achieve optimal results; see Choose Your Main Scanning Options

  • Updated the sidebar ScanSnap Manager and OCR to cover the latest version of Fujitsu’s software

  • Significantly revised Set OCR Options to include additional important settings and considerations

  • Expanded Use a Document Manager to discuss further features, such as syncing and sharing

  • Updated the Automate OCR topic and (to a lesser extent) the AppleScripts that accompany it

  • Thoroughly updated Pick an iOS Scanning App and Use Other Smartphones to reflect current offerings


Is this ebook useful to me if I want to work with a Windows computer?

The ebook assumes that you are using a Mac, so some topics are Mac-centric, especially those that describe scanning software, OCR software, PDF-manipulation software, and other tools that you’d be using on a desktop computer. However, the discussions of scanner hardware, features to look for in scanning/OCR/PDF software, overall workflow, online storage options, and integration with handheld devices would be (nearly entirely) equally applicable.

The paperless office is a myth. Why did you bother publishing this ebook? And, why should I bother to read it?

Honestly, I (Tonya) wondered the same thing until I started editing the manuscript. However, while editing, I learned that there is such a thing as a document scanner. Unlike the flatbed scanner built into my printer, a document scanner whips through piles of paper in almost no time at all. I am planning to purchase one, and I am excited about digitizing about 25% of my filing cabinet—papers that I want to keep but it wouldn’t be a crisis if my backup system ate them. And, that will save me from instead having to buy a new filing cabinet! By editing the manuscript, I also finally learned how to digitize my handwritten signature and use it on PDFs so that I can sign and fax documents without paper.

2014 update: I bought a Fujitsu ScanSnap S1300 document scanner. I wrote about how much I like it in a TidBITS article, Dragging School Papers into the 21st Century with a ScanSnap. Although I still don’t have a paperless office in the sense of no paper, I do have a paper-less office with far less paper than I would otherwise. And, I find that the firms and contractors who I work with are becoming increasingly comfortable with sending me PDFs from the get-go, so more of my “paper” arrives digitally.

Is this ebook agnostic about filing software? I ask because I know that you’ve published a book about DEVONthink, and I am a committed EagleFiler user.

The book mentions EagleFiler, but because it doesn’t do OCR, it’s not discussed at any length. However, DEVONthink isn’t discussed at any significant length either because we have the other book—it gets more mentions because of the OCR aspect of things, but I don’t think you’d have trouble applying the recommendations to EagleFiler.

Should I buy Take Control of Getting Started with DEVONthink 2 because I will need DEVONthink 2 in order to use the “Paperless Office” ebook?

The “Paperless Office” ebook is broad—it talks about choosing a scanner, setting up an office workflow, capturing documents with an iOS device or digital camera, backing up and sharing digital documents, cutting down on incoming and outgoing paper—lots of topics. It says a few things about DEVONthink, but really only enough to help you decide if that’s a tool you’d like to use for OCR and/or document management. If you already use DEVONthink, or suspect that you are DEVONthink kind of person, then you’ll probably want both ebooks.

The DEVONthink book, on the other hand, is deep—it tells you everything you need to know to use that particular tool effectively. But it doesn’t say much about all the other paperless office topics.

Update Plans

January 13, 2016 – Although the book was last updated in mid-2014 (when OS X 10.9 Mavericks was current), nearly all the information in it is still applicable to newer versions of OS X. Some minor details have changed in OS X (as well as third-party apps, hardware, and cloud services), but the book’s overall recommendations remain the same, and you should find it useful even if you’re running OS X 10.11 El Capitan or later. We don’t yet have specific plans to release a new version of the book, but Joe would like to update it later this year if time permits.

Posted by Tonya Engst