Going Paperless With Evernote And ScanSnap

The Techie Scheky series offers tips and tactics for being more productive and creative through technology (especially with a Mac).

Today’s post is a fast and easy approach for those of us who are constantly battling against a messy desk.

I love Evernote. I hate paper. A big part of my undying love for Evernote is that it has done more than anything else in my life to reduce the amount of paper in my world. While there are many who can get things done with nothing more than a pen and paper, I’m not one of them1. Over the past few years, I’ve looked to rid myself of the stuff as much as humanly possible and nothing has proven as effective as Evernote and my beloved ScanSnap scanner2.

While many use Evernote for a variety of tasks, I use it specifically. It is a repository for all of the paper I accumulate as well as the emails and web clippings3 I would have historically printed and filed away. By using Evernote to store the paper that comes my way during the day, I avoid filing cabinets that quickly become unruly and the piles on my desk that mysteriously seem to multiply.

Over the years, I’ve owned several scanners, but flatbeds and all-in-one models always felt as if they were in the way. It wasn’t until I got something as lightweight and speedy as the S1300 that I was able to make paperless a regular part of my workflows. The ScanSnap takes up little space on my desk, turns on instantly when you flip open the top and can be set to scan directly into Evernote. I also purchased the S1100 for our “cozy” Brooklyn apartment. It lacks a proper workspace, so I needed the smallest version possible, but to be honest, I wish I had gone with another S1300. The additional bulk is marginal and the S1100 can be a hassle with thicker paper stocks4.

Having something close (my scanner sits right next to my monitor) allows me to run paper through the scanner and throw the original in the trash. It doesn’t sit piled up waiting to be batch entered. The scanner is fast enough that I can get it into my computer and get it out of my life without breaking stride. There is also the added bonus that Evernote now enables you to create a link to each note. This means I can scan things I’m currently working on and create a task in OmniFocus that links directly back to files I might need at a later date.5

This setup is a fast, easy and space-conscious way for those of us who are constantly fighting a battle against the paper in our lives We may win the war once and for all!

Come back tomorrow as I will be talking a bit more about naming your files so that you don’t have to bother with things like folders and tagging your notes in Evernote.

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  1. Although those of you who are paper people should check Brad Dowdy’s new podcast The Pen Addict.  

  2. This is an affiliate link, there will be a few of them in this post. It’s cause I’m shameless and stuff…  

  3. I use Mailplane’s clipper for email and the Safari Clipper for getting things from the web into Evernote  

  4. I’ve also heard good things about Doxie for this, but haven’t tried it myself.  

  5. This is a bit of a manual process right now where you have to copy the link and paste it into an OmniFocus task. If anyone from Evernote is listening, it’d be amazing to have this be a bit more seamless.  

15 Responses to Going Paperless With Evernote And ScanSnap

    • There are a few reasons, but I will say that Dropbox is certainly a usable alternative. For me, it’s a few things. I like how easy it is to get OCR in Evernote. What I scan in automatically gets uploaded to Evernote’s servers and processed so all the text is searchable. This can be done on the machine, but it would be a far slower process. I also like the ease of clipping things that I would have to print or convert to a file. Lets say I want to store something out of an email, this is far more elegant in Evernote. And as stupid as this is likely to sound, the app itself serves as a sort of folder for me. I know what I keep in Evernote. If I’m looking for a PDF or a flight confirmation, I know where to go. I currently have other uses for Dropbox and as much as I hate folders, I see how things could become unruly. Just as nvALT is my repository for text, Evernote serves as my filing cabinet.

      • If it wasn’t for OCR would you use Dropbox, Yojimbo, or Together instead? I am currently debating between Evernote and Dropbox+Spotlight. Evernote feels like if I want to open one file, I have to open my entire database wheres spotlight is straight forward to the exact file in the appropriate folder.

        Evernote’s import and clipping features are super, but export out of Evernote sucks. Also, do you think that with time your PDF database can become to heavy for Evernote and make it slow?

        • I don’t think I would use Dropbox alone, simply for keeping things separate and manageable. I was already invested in Evernote by the time I’d heard of Yojimbo and have heard really great things (although I don’t see an iPhone app, which would be a non-starter for me).

          While it does work best in app, you can use it with spotlight (and I often do). It’s annoying that it opens the whole app, but I see this as a minor inconvenience.

          As for the database, I’ve been using it for a long time with lots of input and little pain. When it comes to export. This is the biggest pain point, but the strengths outweigh this weakness for me.

  1. Do you also use another bookmarking/archiving service like Pinboard?  If so, how do you draw the line between Evernote and bookmarking service for web clippings?

    I use Pinboard and want to use Evernote for paperless but I struggle when I hit a decision point of between Pinboard and Evernote for web clippings.

    • I do. I have Pinboard, but I havent really taken the time to set it up well. At the moment, I’m mainly pulling my Instapaper feed and a few other key places where I like links. I’d like to get into it more, but more often than not, I just make sure I send interesting things to Instapaper, even if I’ve read them elsewhere. I find it is the easiest thing to do and the search feature from my paid subscription usually does the trick. I also use the search function in Google Reader for things I may have come across, but didn’t realize I needed until a later date.

      As for drawing the line. I try to be conservative with what I put into Evernote. Most of my web clippings are receipts, itineraries and thinks of the like. If I really want to hold onto a piece, I favorite it in Instapaper and it saves a copy (I don’t love how this works as I have to go back and change the title at a later date to match my filing). Here’s how I look at it. If I would have put it into delicious in the past, it goes into Pinboard. If I would have printed it out and put it into a folder or filing cabinet it goes into Evernote.

      Hope that helps.

      • Thanks for the feedback.  Your approach makes sense.  After some thought I’m breaking my problem down as the following:

        1 ) Bookmark/Article archives (text based stuff I can read or links to sites I want to remember) 2) Visual media archives (typography, videos, webdesign, products, etc…) 3) Paper media (ie PDFs and documents)

        I’m going to try to tackle each with a specific tool for the next 30days.

        1) Boomark/Articles –> Pinboard (I paid for an archive account as well) 2) Visual Media –> Gimmebar (Backs up actual contect to Dropbox) 3) Paperless Media –> Dropbox

        I’ll try and report back on how it goes.


        • Looking forward to it. I won’t lie, I’ve been using Pinterest for the visuals (in my defense, I started using it to research an article :) ). I’ve heard really good things about Gimmie Bar, so I’ll be curious to know how it goes.

  2. Hey Michael, thanks for the post. I’m curious – in order to truly digitize my life, I’ve been faced with the prospect of scanning and entering some fairly sensitive info into Evernote, e.g. Tax documents, bank statements etc. Would you advise just sticking to paper copies for these, since Evernote has fairly poor security/encryption? If not, how do you handle documents like these? Thanks again. 

    • I’ve been using the technique from David Sparks’ Paperless book to encrypt files. It’s clunky, but it lets me store things in Evernote with a heck of a lot more security. I’ve been BEGGING the guys at Dropkey to make their product friendly with Evernote, but no luck just yet. Sadly, better encryption (or at least easier, more secure encryption) isn’t all that easy at the moment, but it’s doable.

      • Awesome – I’m already jumping into “Paperless,” which I had no idea existed. Any way is better than no way! Thank you for taking the time to reply. 

  3. […] 1300 and 1100 – I have a scanner at work and at home that help me remove as much paper as possible from my world. I’m a big fan of the 1300 I have at work. It’s powerful and takes up little space on […]

  4. is there a way to edit pdf’s once in evernote?? like rotate or flip? If I scan in 5 pages can i split them up ???? sorry if these are easy questions im new to evernote… Im using a scan snap s1500..

    • As long as you open the file in Evernote and then save it, the changes should be reflected. This includes editing, rotating or flipping pages. As for splitting, I haven’t done it. My guess is that it would save as a separate file outside of the note. That said, you can always drag the file into the same Evernote “note” after the fact.

      There may be some more efficent ways to scan and name files, but I haven’t struggled to go one at a time.

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