Notes on sorting Paperwork

Published: Jun 23, 2020, last updated: Jul 1, 2020
Reading time: 4 min
Tags: Formats, Guides, Minimalism, Snippets, Software, Windows

Intention

The purpose of this whole project ties in with digitally having copies of things. This makes searching and sorting much, much easier.

The only physical paperwork I keep are certain important documents (like birth certificates, physical driving licence, etc).

Hardware

I’m using a Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 as my scanner of choice, it was recommended by the Paperless project and it folds away neatly when not in use.

I initially intended on this hardware being used wirelessly, which I’m sure it is capable of; but for the once a month or so I go through my paperwork I doubt it’s worth the hassle setting it up.

Software (or the lack of)

Preface: I’m doing all of this on Windows. I’ve attempted to get this working nicely on Linux, but my results scanning with sane were terrible, even when tweaking input it was slower, with worse quality, wouldn’t feed multiple sheets and had to be manually initiated from the command line for every scan.

So, on with the software. The only real software that’s required is the ScanSnap Manager from Fujitsu. It’s a little bulky but for it’s girth it will (attempt to) auto-rotate and OCR the document with pretty high rate of success. Only around 5-10% of documents require any manual intervention in my experience.

One point worth noting is the ScanSnap software will add two autorun entries to your system startup. They can be removed with the following commands:

reg delete "HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\WOW6432Node\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run" /v "ScanSnap WIA Service Checker" /f
reg delete "HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\WOW6432Node\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run" /v "ScanSnap OnlineUpdate Watcher" /f
del "%programdata%\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\StartUp\ScanSnap Manager.lnk"

In the past, I used Paperless to automatically OCR and pseudo-sort my documents, but this had a high failure rate (~75% of documents couldn’t be parsed), was quite heavy-weight software and was complete overkill for what I needed.

Nowadays, I just scan the files to a single PDF document and organise away in a folder structure. Files are generally sorted well enough that I don’t need to ever manually search for file contents as I always have an idea of what I need. Worst case scenario I believe you can grep strings from OCR’d pdf files anyway.

Naming

When it comes to naming my files, I follow a few rules to help keep things organised:

Duplicates

If you’ve read my notes on sorting pictures post you’ll know that I try to remove duplicates, however with paperwork I don’t bother de-duplicate the files for a few reasons:

File manipulation

Once scanned, I rename all my files to their titles are applicable (see above), then I manually check each one for blank, rotated and out of order pages. I upload these to my server and then manually sort any files that require attention using qpdf. Below are some basic commands to work with documents:

Deleting

qpdf input.pdf --pages input.pdf 1-9,26 -- outputfile.pdf

Splitting

qpdf input.pdf --pages input.pdf 1-2,4 -- outputfile1.pdf
qpdf input.pdf --pages input.pdf 3,5-6 -- outputfile2.pdf

Rotating

qpdf in out.pdf --rotate=180:1,4

Decrypting

qpdf --password=yourpassword --decrypt input.pdf outputfile.pdf

OCR

For files that I didn’t scan myself, sometimes they will require manual OCR’ing. For this I use OCRmyPDF:

ocrmypdf -l eng input.pdf output_ocr.pdf

Lower case filenames

mmv '*' '#l1'

Folder Structure

Lastly, and the key to keeping things easy to work with, my folder structure looks something like this:

.
|-- computing
|   `-- provider
|-- finances
|   `-- bank-name
|       |-- correspondance
|       `-- statements
|-- household
|   |-- appliances
|   |   `-- appliance
|   |-- council
|   |-- insurance
|   |   `-- year provider
|   |-- purchase
|   |-- recycling
|   |-- renovation
|   |-- utilities
|   |   `-- sorted by provider
|   `-- voting
|-- personal
|   |-- business-cards
|   |-- certifications
|   |-- driving-licence
|   |-- gym
|   |-- travel
|   |   `-- year location
|   `-- workplace
|       |-- contracts
|       |-- interviews
|       |-- p60
|       |-- pension
|       |-- tax
|       `-- wages
`-- transport
    |-- insurance
    |   `-- startyear-endyear registration provider
    |-- mot
    |   `-- year registration
    |-- purchases
    |-- repairs
    |   `-- registration
    |-- roadside-assistance
    |   `-- year provider
    `-- road-tax
        `-- year registration

This is all kept backed up on cloud storage, as you’d expect. So finally, at the end of all this, we have sorted, digital-only paperwork, backed up online.