(Almost) Paperless Office

I’m not 100%, but I’m close. My working life is now mostly on-screen. And, as of yesterday, there’s no longer a five-inch stack of business cards on my desk.

Truly, I don’t use my full-sized color laser printer more than once a month. I carry around very few file folders, often, none at all. Just about everything is digital, easy to find, easy to search, Dropbox-able and email-able.

The biz cards presented a conundrum. This stack from a trade show, that one from four years of office meetings. My old systems–looseleaf notebooks with plastic insert pages, and a desktop filebox–were overwhelmed.

So I took the ultimate step: scanning business cards into some sort of database (in my case, Bento).

It worked. Not perfectly, but well enough to rate a good solid B-plus.

There are several available systems. I used the Neat Receipts Mobile Scanner for Mac. The scanner is about nine inches wide, maybe an inch high and two inches wide. There’s a large open slot that can be used to scan 8.5 x 11 pages (a nice convenience), receipts (hence the product name), and, for me, business cards. Each card is individually placed into the slot, and there’s a button marked “scan”–easy enough. I had some trouble because I connected the mini-USB cable to my Mac keyboard; the scanner requires more power than the keyboard can provide, so it must be plugged directly into the computer (an inconvenience).

The software grabs the image, quickly implements an OCR run (Optical Character Recognition), and places each bit of information in an appropriate field in its database. For some cards, the OCR does a perfect job. Usually, there are a few missteps, easily corrected because (a) the card is displayed alongside the database record, and (b) just about any item on the card can be manually dragged (and re-recognized) into your choice of database fields.

My several work sessions were amazingly productive–for three reasons. First, I was able to scan several inches of cards into the database in just a few hours (including my output from the Neat database to my Bento database). Second, the process itself required me to edit the batch of cards, to throw some of them away. Third, as soon as some cards were scanned, I copied the information and wrote a re-introduction email (“Hi, we met in 2008, thought I’d get back in touch…”)

And, perhaps best of all, I’m no longer accumulating random business cards in rubber-banded piles. Now, as soon as I collect a few cards, I scan them into the database.

Oh–one more note–if a business card presents a hyperactive multi-color design, don’t bother scanning because Neat will become completely flustered. Just type the information into the database.

Again, I’m not 100%, but the combination of hardware, software, and a new compulsion keep everything in order gets me closer to a 21st century workflow.

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