Friday, September 07, 2012

Answers to Your Paperwork Questions

I'm going to answer your questions here regarding your paperwork questions.  Any new Questions will be updated and posted at the top.
Updated 10/10/12
1) I loooooove Evernote. But it never occurred to me to use it for this purpose! I just tested taking a pic of a doc with my phone in Evernote and it worked! The text in the picture WAS searchable. This method is much more likely for me to actually implement because I have a serious procrastination problem when I have to scan things (computer and scanner are in different rooms, etc)
Don't you just love that Evernote recognizes text in pics.  I take "snapshots" of websites, magazine articles and hand written notes all the time.  One of the most under utilized features of Evernote is its powerful search engine.  In the future i will be doing a complete series on how and why I have Evernote set up the way i do and how I try to maximize its use. 

2) what benefits does the premium Evernote account have that inspired you to upgrade? 
For me it is the monthly upload increase and capacity, even greater search capabilities and speed and sharing capabilities.  here are all the wonderful features you get with a premium account 

3) Google Drive intrigues me. Did all your former Google docs move in there? I have Google docs and am wondering if that is all different now. Must look into it. 
Google Docs converted to Google Drive. When I did the "upgrade" all my documents were there as always.  The two additions that i really liked with the upgrade were the desktop and iPhone/iPad apps.  For the desktop it allows me to drag recently scanned documents directly into the appropriate Google drive folder without having to actually upload files.  Having an app on my idevice makes it so much easier to finds things I need when i am out and about.  

4) thank you so much for taking the time to write this all up. You have given me some great new ideas. Paperwork is THE biggest frustration in my home management efforts
I am glad you are finding these posts helpful.  please keep the questions coming.  I love sharing what I have learned and want to share this freedom with everyone I possibly can.  You are not alone on the paperwork frustrations and i have certainly learned the hard and long way that it doesn't have to be that way.

I also received the following tip for those concerned with using any online storage sites:
We back up everything to 2 external hard drives.
We have not ruled this out for our own family as well.

Here ya go:

Do you have desk time 7 days a week?
No, I typically only have desk time Monday-Friday.  My only usual exception is if something comes in the mail on Saturday and I needed it to finalize something else.  OR, if I have a crazy week, I will finish up a few final things on Saturday.  Sunday is reserved for worship, fellowship and rest.  

How does that look in your daily schedule (ie when and for how long)? 
This does vary, but typically it takes me approximately 30 minutes to initially handle my paperwork each day.   I take care of everything I can while my youngest two are eating breakfast and handling their morning chores.  Then, all the things that are pending the mails arrival I handle for a few minutes after lunch.  Anything that is pending a phone call I will either handle as the call comes in or call when we are done with school for the day.  I will go into even greater detail on this when I do my post on my daily/weekly paperwork.

Is that day's file empty when you end your desk time? 
Yes, I reach "Inbox Zero" on my desk.  I process every piece of paper, every day.  Hopefully to completion, but if not, I move it to pending for the next day.  At the end of the week, all my daily folders are empty in the expandable file folder ready for the next weeks paperwork.  

 Will you be posting more details on your paperwork system? 
 Yes, I believe I am going to turn this into an entire series.  Not only to answer questions, but to give more specific details in certain areas. 

I was just wondering more on what was in the daily/ weekly folders. 
 While I give a general overview of the daily/weekly folders here, I plan on doing an entire blog post to better explain this part of my system.

AND more about your miscellaneous ones! ;)
 I finally got that one done tonight.  You can find it here.

All that Misc. Paperwork

Ok, in my last post I introduced my paperwork system.  In this post I would like to discuss the miscellaneous stack of paperwork that we set aside in the last post.  This is all the papers, magazine articles, business cards, notes on scratch papers.  I have to say, this can be the most overwhelming stack as there isn't just a neat little category in which they fit.

While I no longer have my misc stack to show you, I can explain the process I used to make it disappear.

Tools I recommend:
You can always use your printer's scanner like this one OR
you could get this wand scanner that I am dying to get or this one which is also highly recommended. 

And if you want the Rolls Royce of scanners it seems to be this dual sided scanner.

Now that I am going paperless I have found Evernote to be an INVALUABLE tool.  If my paperwork does not contain any identifying private information I keep it in Evernote.  This includes all of the following: warranties, magazine articles, online articles, recipes, any and all home school resources, farming resources and much more.  Because of the volume and the extent to which I am using Evernote I have invested in a premium account.

Google Drive
Finally, I highly recommend a secure online storage system.  Since my ultimate goal is to go completely paperless I looked for something that I could feel confident in keeping my family's private documents.  I chose Google Drive (formally Google Docs) for several reasons.  First I was already using it.  Second Google had recently upgraded to Drive which made it much more versatile.  Third, it has a drag and drop feature that I love.   Forth, I could easily share documents with others as needed.  Finally, it met the security measures that I needed.  Not only does it require a password to enter it that expires at least every 30 days per device, but I have it set up with a secondary security features that sends a validation code to my iPhone that I then have to enter before getting into my Google account.  That means if someone were clever enough to guess my password, they would also need my cell phone to get the validation code.

I will tell you, I don't recommend these tools lightly.  My scanner has become my best friend.  lol and now that I am putting this stuff in Evernote and Google drive I am actually using it!  How's that for a concept.  Evernote has an AMAZING search engine.  It will search and find info from my scanned in, hand written notes.  I have tested it.  It will search text in PDF files and in pics.  How I keep Evernote organized will have to be a blog post all on it's own.  

So now that you have all your tools in place let's take a look at how I tackled this project.

Because there were no pressing matters in this stack the only way I arranged it was so that it didn't fall over.  Yes, it was that tall.  Every day after I finished my daily priority paperwork, i would take ten items off the top of this stack and handle.  That's right ten items a day.  Did it take longer to handle it this way? Yes!  Did it seem manageable to handle this way? Definitely!

Out of those ten items, I pulled the items I knew I wanted to keep and I scanned them.  After I scanned the item, I sent it to either Evernote or dragged it into my Google Drive folder. After it was successfully scanned and sent to the proper program I through the paper version in my paper recycling sack and deleted the hard copy off of my pc (only if I had sent to Evernote)

Next I would go through business cards.  Some of these I had for years from booths I had visited at different events.  So first I would look up their website and see if the company still existed.  If they no longer existed, I tossed the card. If they did exist I would find the item that interested me to begin with and I would "clip it" into Evernote with the Evernote Web Clipper.  Then I would toss the card.  If the company no longer appealed to me, I tossed the card and moved on.

Next, hand written notes.  If it was a brief note I would just create a new note in Evernote and type in the information.  If the note was long then i would scan in and send to Evernote.  And many times I would just toss it.

The kids pictures they have drawn or colored for me I scanned and sent to Evernote and recycled the original. If I came across any photographs, I put them with my scrapbook stuff.  As I came across recipes I evaluated whether I would ever truly make the recipe.  I thought I would like to make it then I scanned it in (I scanned very few in), if not I would chunk it. 

It probably took me two weeks to go through this paper (Monday-Saturday).

I would be happy to answer any questions you have so please feel free to fire away.

Monday, September 03, 2012

How to manage your paperwork... that it doesn't manage you.  

I wish I had taken pics when I began this journey at the end of July.  I have a very large dining room table and it was completely covered in paperwork.  I had so much paperwork I was completely paralyzed.  Think complete and total mental and emotional meltdown paralyzing.     

So here are the steps I took to conquer my paperwork. 

First, I purchased cute file folders.  Some that made me smile and think happy thoughts.  Might seem ridiculous, but it gives me something to look forward to as I pull out paperwork and work on it.  I did find them on sale for a very incredible low price.  It takes a total of 22 file folders to set up your system exactly as i have it.

Next I used my handy, dandy label maker to created January-December labels, Monday-Friday labels and Week 1-5 labels.  I used two expanding files that I already owned and loved.  To hold my monthly/weekly folders I use a 12 pocket plaid one and to hold my daily files I use a 7 pocket solid one.

Now that the fun part was done i got down to business.  The first thing I did was divide all of my paperwork into major general categories: bills, medical, my special needs son, farm, school and misc

Next I laid out the 12 monthly file folders.  I took each stack of papers and went through every single piece of paper and made a decision.  If I knew that the item had a definite future action (ie March 2013) I put it on top of that months file folder.  If it didn't have a future action but did require action I put it on top of July (because that is the month this all started for me). Finally I was left with this misc stack.  You know you have one.  Items ripped out of magazines, business cards collected, dates to remember, notes jotted on scrap paper, etc.  I set this aside because I had special plans for it (not the trash).  I then put the monthly file folders in the expanding file folder- two months per slot. 

Next i pulled out the current month.  So to begin I started with July, but my pictures will show September.  When i started this I had two and a half weeks left in the month.

Then I pulled out my five weekly folders.  Since I knew i didn't need Week 1 and 2 I filed those away. Knowing I had such little time left in the month I got real with myself.  I took my stack of papers and divided into two stacks- Emergency and non emergency.  You have two understand that my emergency pile was over two inches thick.  

I took the non emergency stack and put it in my August file folder.  Next I took my emergency stack and started prioritizing.  I had to realize my time restraints based on other priorities around me that didn't involve paperwork.   so I divided my emergencies in half.  The first half went into Week 3 and the second half went into Week 4.  I reserved week 5 for carry over since it only had a couple of days.  I filed my weekly file folders in front of my monthly file folders. 
Next I pulled the current week.  And took a deep breath.  While this all sounds super time consuming.  It is only time consuming in setting up the system and going through everything the first time.  This morning i went through September, divided into weekly folders and divided this weeks folder into the daily folders, took pictures for this blog and it might have taken me 20 minutes. 

So next I lay out my daily file folders and start sorting my weekly paperwork.  This is how it looks for me.  Bills automatically go on Thursday because Thursday is payday.  If anything related to an appointment I put it on the day of the appointment.  If I have anything pending from the previous week (ie waiting on return phone call, waiting for something in the mail) I automatically put that on Monday.  If I know I have appointments I try to limit the paperwork I assign to those days so i don't overwhelm myself.  If I am working on a special project that isn't a top priority I set that for Friday because that tends to be a light school day. After I have everything divided up for the week I put that in my expandable file for my daily file folders.  
Each morning when I get to my desk I pull the days file folder, set aside pending items and wait for either the mail to arrive and then handle or a return call.  If the mail comes and I don't get the info needed to complete the paperwork process then I quickly file it until the next day.  If I get to the end of my desk day and haven't received a return phone call I decide whether I have time (based on other activities I have going)to handle making a call or deferring until the next day.  So the rest of my daily items I handle as quickly as possible in the morning or if it is a more time consuming project I will handle it while we are taking a school break.

I know this post has grown terribly long so I will talk about the "misc" stack in another post.  If you have any questions just post them below and i will answer them as quickly as possible.  

View Part 2 here 
Answers to questions are here