Going Paperless on a Mac

That's it; I've had enough!

In “Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse,” Matthew Arnold famously lamented that he finds himself “Wandering between two worlds, one dead, / The other powerless to be born.” A Victorianist by training, I feel confident in saying that Arnold refers here to the well-known problem of having lots of tools for managing digital information, and for digitizing yet more, and yet somehow still finding oneself overwhelmed by stacks of paper. The journey to a paperless workflow often feels like a two steps forward, 1.8 steps back affair.

We’ve talked a lot about this journey on ProfHacker already: Mark wrote about “Going Paperless at Conferences” as well as “Going Paperless in the Classroom”; Natalie’s written on “Paperless Grading with GradeMark”; and we were so excited about the potential of the Doxie Go portable scanner that Konrad and I both reviewed it (his; mine)!

In my own case, there are generally two obstacles to a genuinely paperless workflow: confidence that I have everything, and setting up as much automation as possible.

Friends, I bring you good news: David Sparks, author of the MacSparky website and co-host of the Mac Power Users podcast, has written a deceptively short e-book, Paperless that aims to provide a comprehensive overview of a Mac-based paperless workflow. It’s “deceptively” short because Sparks has included 32 screencasts that illustrate, in a wonderfully clear way, how to use a wide variety of tools to support a paperless workflow.

If Paperless were boiled down into one sentence, it would probably be: first, turn everything into a PDF, preferably with a Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500M. Once you have your information in a consistent, easily sharable format, all manner of tricks are possible, and Sparks documents many of them.

After a quick overview, Sparks explains how to capture paper on a multitude of devices (with a Mac or iOS device or with a scanner), how Optical Character Recognition (OCR) works. Then he explains how to use naming conventions, along with tools like TextExpander, Hazel, and the Mac’s built-in Automator to have the confidence that you will be able to find your files when you need them. He covers a variety of document-management programs and systems, as well as backup options. Finally, he discusses how to use the documents you’ve digitized across all your devices (including ways to sign PDFs on all the devices). At every step, Sparks is careful to show a variety of different options, withholding his own specific workflow until the very end of the book.

The iBooks version is beautiful, with integrated screencasts. Here’s a sample page:

Paperless screenshot

Click for full-size

The only reservation I have about the book is that some sections seem to have been cobbled together out of reviews of various apps and products. The upside of this, however, is that Sparks explains exactly why he makes the workflow choices that he does, and gives you options for making different ones.

Paperless is a terrific primer on simplifying and strengthening your digital workflow, making it easier to manage information and to be sure that you’ll have access to it when you need it. The book is available for $5, either as an iBook (optimized for iPad reading) or as a PDF. The PDF version includes all the screencasts in a separate folder, so that you can read the document in the most convenient way. It would’ve been cheap at double the price.

Photo “THAT’S IT; I’VE HAD ENOUGH!” by Flickr user Rob! / Creative Commons Licensed By-2.0

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