Going paperless using iPhone or iPad and a touch of automation.

paperless with Evernote
I am a great believer in being as paperless as possible and it is extremely rare that I would print anything out. Especially when you have the iPad available to you and you can read directly off the screen in a way that is quite personal, printing on paper has become superfluous. So that is one side of being paperless taken care of, by not printing stuff out that I create either on my Mac or in iOS. There is another side to being paperless that needs to be considered though. That is the paperwork that comes in from external sources such as telephone bill, electric bills and various other documentation. I quite often get the feeling, living here in Spain, that the Spanish really don’t like trees. There is a huge amount of red tape and paperwork for so many parts of Spanish life. So let’s see what we can do to organise this mountain of paper into a searchable digital format.

Evernote is perfect for the job of going paperless

When you add scanned documents into Evernote you will find that there is a certain amount of OCR performed on those documents. It isn’t OCR in the form of being able to grab that OCR text and use it elsewhere, but more in the form of making it so you can search text within the scanned documents in Evernote. There are other applications that you can use to perform optical character recognition on documents if you need to extract the text. For that type of OCR I would use PDF Pen Pro.

free applications


When you have your documents in Evernote it is the search capabilities which really makes it work in terms of going paperless. Like I said, you can search the documents that have been scanned for the text contained within, just as easily as you can search for any other text that you have clipped into Evernote. You can further enhance your organisation and searching by using the individual notebooks within Evernote. So for example, you would create a notebook that is for your house bills and then you can put all of your water, gas, electric and phone bills all within the one notebook. In the automation that is in the video, I show you how you can have Hazel monitor a folder in Dropbox to look for scans of utility bills and automatically put them in the correct notebook within Evernote. The automation will even add a tag to the note that is created.

Keeping a paperless workflow as simple as possible

If the workflow that you have for taking your mounds of paper documents and digitising them is complicated and time-consuming, then it is quite likely that you will not bother to use it. So what I show you in the video, is how you can merely scan the document and name it and the automation will do the rest. We will be using the application on iOS called Scanner Pro and if you want to use something that is free you could try Scanner Mini. Scanner Pro prompts you with a name which starts with the word ‘scan’ followed by the date. So if you leave the word scan and replace the dates with a code, such as P for phone and E for electric, then Hazel will know what to do when it sees the file in Dropbox.

In the video I show you that I made three different Hazel rules, two of them to sort out the bills and the other one as a catchall for other scanned documents to go into Evernote. The rules for the utility bills puts the documents into one particular notebook within Evernote, while the other rule puts those other documents into a separate notebook. I start by having Hazel rename the file with just the year and the month, before it puts it into the right place in Evernote and then deletes the scan file. This is so we have a nice efficient workflow and at the end of it a tidy folder.

Sorting out the nerdy bits of the workflow

Using Hazel is pretty straightforward as it is a simple case of choosing what you want Hazel to look out for, followed by what you want it to do. The geekiest or nerdiest part of the job is to add a small piece of AppleScript which tells Hazel to open up Evernote and puts the document in the correct folder and to add tags. In reality, this is not particularly nerdy, as below you will find the AppleScript text that you need to copy and paste into Hazel. You only have to change the name of the notebook from ‘Bills, to whatever you have called yours and to change the tags to suit.

Hazel in Action
tell application “Evernote”
create note from file theFile notebook {“Bills”} tags {“Electric”, “Other Tag”}
end tell

Paperless with Scanner Pro in action

You put your documents onto a flat surface, hold your iPad or iPhone above the document and be ready to press the button. You can use the grid lines in the application to line it up properly. Even if the image is slightly skewed, no worries because Scanner Pro will de-skew it. When prompted, add the name of the file to the document with the right wording, so that Hazel knows what to do. That’s it! You have gone paperless.

Backing up just in case

Obviously if you’re going to scan important documents then you should without a doubt, backup your computer. You will have your working copy in Evernote and you get a backup by the fact that your Evernote documents are also securely stored on a server. I would also recommend that your Evernote database is part of your Time Machine backup. I also back up the entire computer using the application Super Duper (or you could use Carbon Copy Cloner) and I do that once a week to a separate hard drive.

With the paper that you have scanned, I would suggest that it is a good idea to throw it all into one box that is ultimately destined to be shredded and thrown away. I would probably keep that box of paper for between six months to a year, just in case. That part probably is not necessary, especially considering you have all of the electronic backups in place. You never know though. It could be that you have to present a document in its original form, someplace or other. Mind you, you always could just do a reprint of the document from Evernote. Many will just shred the original straight away, it depends on the document type.