Creating the Paper-Free Mac Office

Operating a paper-free office is, for many people, an enviable goal. For the last few years, I’ve been attempting to cut down on the paper I receive; asking people to send emails rather than post, receiving statements and forms via the internet, and recycling all the post I receive that isn’t absolutely necessary.

This has gone a long way towards achieving a paper-free setup, though I’ve still had several years worth of paper filed away. After spending a while settling upon a good solution for digitizing all this old information, I finally settled upon a combination of DevonThink Pro and a Fujitsu ScanSnap. I’m thoroughly impressed.

This how-to will take you through the hardware and software required for setting up a completely paper-free office, ensuring that it’s thoroughly easy to use, and carefully backed up.

The Hardware

The Fujitsu S300M

The Fujitsu S300M

A traditional flatbed scanner doesn’t really offer a usable solution for inputting a large number of documents. Being required to scan each side of every document in order, then manually combine them into a PDF takes an inordinately long time.

There are a few scanners on the market which offer the ability to record both sides of a document at once, feeding through several pages at a time. One particular group of these is the ScanSnap line from Fujitsu. These range in price considerably, with my choice being the S300M – a reasonably priced piece of kit, and incredibly small to boot.

A range of other options are available, most of which can be found at this site.

The Software

Once you’ve sorted out the hardware, you’ll need an application to handle all the information scanned in. Undoubtedly the simplest and most full-featured tool for the job is DevonThink Pro, capable of interfacing with your scanner and organizing documents in a thoroughly useful manner.

Documents can be stored in any number of ‘databases’ – I use one for my business documents, and another for personal information. Within a database, files can be organized through a system of groups (essentially folders). The interface is well laid out, making the process of navigating thousands of documents relatively simple.

DevonThink Pro in action

DevonThink Pro in action

After initiating a scan, DevonThink will automatically import the file and perform an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) process. This converts the image into a fully functional PDF, with searchable and selectable text. For me, this feature was a must-have, as I needed to be able to easily search through the content of the scanned documents. Unfortunately, it’s only available via the highest spec version of their software, and costs a little more.

Searching is very powerful, with results displayed by relevance:

Search Results

Search Results

DevonThink isn’t just capable of storing PDF documents from a scanner. They can be imported directly from your Mac if already digitized, or you can drag and drop almost anything else into the application – emails, web pages, text and images. It’s even able to act as an RSS reader, or run an in-built web server, allowing you to access your documents from anywhere.

It’s taken me a few hours a day, for a couple of weeks, to digitize all the documents I previously had floating around. As you’d expect, scanning a document, shredding the original, and gradually removing all the clutter previously apparent is a very therapeutic exercise.

Don’t shred everything! You’ll might want to hang on to those old academic certificates, an occasional bank statement, and a few utility bills in case they’re needed for identification.

Backing Up

With all this information digitized on your Mac, you’ll want to ensure that it’s well and truly backed up. I take a two-step approach:

  1. Time Machine – This takes care of storing a local backup, which is easy to revert to if any problems occur.
  2. Dropbox – I always like to keep a remote backup elsewhere, made simple through the use of Dropbox. You can either move your working database files directly into your Dropbox folder, or copy them across whenever you’d like to make a backup.

Win a Copy of DevonThink Professional

Devon Technologies have been kind enough to provide a free copy of Devon Think Pro for one of our readers. Keep your eyes peeled, as we’ll be giving it away sometime within the next week or two. It’s a brilliant way to get a head start with going paper-free.

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The combination of a decent, duplex scanner and DevonThink has made a process I was dreading remarkably simple. The workflow it offers is enjoyable and hassle-free. The application and scanner don’t come particularly cheap, but are well worth the investment to keep an office free of clutter.

I’ve been thoroughly impressed and definitely recommend giving DevonThink 2 a try. Even if you’re reluctant to shell out for a scanner, it’s a great way to organize online receipts, statements, e-tickets, and PDF books.