How to Use a Scanner to Get Organized

Digitizing paper documents can be a huge help

What to Know

  • Before digitizing your files, create folders and subfolders to organize the files.
  • Make sure the scanner or printer supports Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software and that you have OCR software installed.
  • The process is different depending on whether you want to scan a document on Mac or scan a document on Windows.

Digitizing paper documents can help when organizing your important paperwork. Digital files, including PDFs, can be converted into searchable files using optical character recognition (OCR) software that typically comes with a printer. That means your information doesn't take up room, and it's easier to find. Also, you can save your digital files on CD or DVD, on a flash drive, in an online storage facility. Here's how to organize your scanned documents.

Person using a flatbed scanner
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How to Use a Scanner to Get Organized

Here are some steps you can take to organize your business or home using a scanner. You'll need a document scanner to make this work. It doesn't need to be expensive or fancy. If you don't have 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.

  1. Go through your paperwork and decide what you can digitize and what you can safely toss.

    This will likely take some time. Work in small increments if needed.

  2. Before digitizing your files, create folders and subfolders to store the files. Think about the categories you need, and set up a folder for each. Put credit card receipts in one folder, car insurance paperwork in another. Phone bills, grocery receipts, home repair bills, and so on can be placed in separate folders. Within each folder, create subfolders for each year (or month). It's easier to start with an organized system and add new paperwork to the right file than it is to rearrange the system each time a new receipt is scanned.

    To create a new folder in Windows, right-click the desktop and choose New > Folder. Repeat this step while inside the new folder to create a subfolder. To create a new folder in Mac, select File > New Folder, or press Shift+Command+N.

  3. Make sure the scanner or printer came with Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software. This allows you to scan documents into PDF format and edit the files. There's a good chance decent OCR software is installed on your Windows computer.

    If OCR software isn't installed on your computer, ABBYY FineReader and Adobe Acrobat Pro DC are popular choices.

  4. It's time to scan your documents. Exactly how you do this depends on the type of scanner and software you use.

    Lifewire has guides for scanning documents on Windows and Mac.

  5. When you're done digitizing documents, keep on top of the physical paperwork. Make sure you automatically scan documents each time you get new receipts or paperwork. Otherwise, the papers will start to pile up again.

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