How to Use a Scanner to Get Organized

Person using a flatbed scanner

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There are a lot of good reasons why digitizing paper documents can be a huge help when it comes to organizing your home office (or, for that matter, your home). First of all, you can get rid of a lot of extra paper that's crammed into drawers and files, or taking up valuable desk space.

Digital files (even PDFs) can be converted into searchable files with the use of optical character recognition (OCR) software that typically comes with the printer.

That means that not only is your information not taking up any room, it's also much easier to find than it would be on paper. And you can save your digital files however you like--on CD or DVD, on a flash drive, in an online storage facility, or all of the above. So you can be sure that when you need something, you can get your hands on it.

Create Folders and Subfolders

When you start digitizing your home files, it's the perfect time to create an organized set of files that will make your life simpler. Think about the categories of paperwork you need, and set up a folder for each. Credit-card receipts in one folder; car insurance paperwork in another; phone bills, grocery receipts, home repair bills, and so on, can all be given separate folders. And within each folder, create subfolders for each year (or month). It's a lot easier to start off with an organized system and then simply add new paperwork to the right file as you go along than it is to keep trying to rearrange the system each time a new receipt gets scanned.

You'll Need OCR Software

Make sure that your scanner or printer came with OCR software (ABBYY FineReader software seems to come in the package with many of the printers and scanners we test). If you don't find any, don't panic. There's a good chance that you already have some decent OCR software already installed on your computer, as long as you're using Windows. If you have Microsoft Office, you already have software that you can use with your scanner to create editable documents.

And at Least a Document Scanner

Of course, that brings up another important point: You need to have at least a document scanner if you're going to make this work. It needn't be expensive, or fancy. If you don't have one, now's a good time to look for one; start with these Reviews of Photo Scanners and Document Scanners for some best buys. If you don't want a separate scanner, an inexpensive all-in-one printer will do the job perfectly well.

Keep on Top of the Paperwork

So here's the hard part. Getting the system set up is not too tricky; even scanning your paperwork won't be too tough. What's hard is making sure that you automatically do it each time you get new receipts or paperwork. Otherwise, the papers will start to pile up again, and you'll feel as though you've been wasting your time. So stick with it!