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paperless Keeping Track of Loose Papers at Work During a Busy Day

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I use Evernote a lot for both home and work, but there is one area that I struggle with.

Take today for example. Instead of being at my desk all day as I usually am, I was in meetings most of the day. Each meeting had handouts and also required me to take a few notes. When I got back to my desk, my boss had also left a few documents for me from notes he took in a separate meeting last week. I'd typically just leave all of these papers organized separately on my desk (in different piles) for quick reference, but I'm getting tired of trying to keep track of everything and losing the odd page from time to time. The simple answer is to use Evernote more but I have a few questions:

1) During a crazy work day I don't always have time to spend 10 minutes in the printer room scanning all the loose papers that arrive at my desk and then emailing them to myself to scan into EN. I don't want a pile of papers on my desk, but I also don't want to take time out of a crazy work day to scan and organize everything into Evernote if it's just reference papers and jotted notes that I won't need a week from now.

2) I work in a Decision Support department so we receive a ton of one off data requests which means I meet a lot of people who work for different departments. How do I organize all the people and reports I work on ? Large projects are easy to tag and maintain but again, what should I do with the pile of misc weekly paperwork that is largely one-off stuff....If I create a tag for each meeting topic or reference note I'd have an inordinate number of tags by the end of the year!

Basically, I just want some ideas on how to file the miscellaneous meeting notes, reference documents and other various documents that end up accumulating as a mountain of paper on my desk each week.

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Hi. Those are two tough questions: how to scan in stuff you don't care about and how to keep track of information that may not matter.

1) Write the date at the top right of the first page of each set of papers as you receive them and put it in a pile (take out the staples) sorted by day (landscape orientation day one, portrait day two, landscape day three, and so forth), and scan it in once a week in batches for each day. At your computer, open the files, and use the date written in the upper right to date them: "120705 reference work". This will get it into Evernote according to one sorting method (chronological) and will give you some keywords to sort with as well. There is more about this on my site, but I think the point here is to get that stuff off your desk, into Evernote, and searchable. Why waste time organizing stuff you probably won't need?

http://www.princeton.edu/~cmayo/minimalistorganization.html

2) I would write the name of the person/project/date on any papers associated with the note(s) holding this one-off project. That stuff can be scanned separately, or with the batches above. In your note, at the bottom somewhere, put a random code like kjhssfg23s. If you are prepared ahead of time, you could even write this code onto any scanned papers. Paste this code into notes related to the project, and keep one note as a master index of all these one-off projects (I call this an "index" note). In there, put the relevant information (person, project, date, etc) with the code. No mess, no fuss, and it is all organized. Again, I have written about this on my site.

http://www.princeton.edu/~cmayo/evernote-organization.html

There is nothing wrong with notebooks and tags, but if you are going to use them, save them for the stuff you care about. It sounds like you just want to get the information into your account with a minimum amount of effort, because you may never use them again, but want access just in case. I think my approach fits this kind of use case well.

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Thanks - I think I'll be able to use some of that advice. Now that I'm at work and can take a glance at the papers on my desk I may be able to elaborate on my issue a bit more. Here's an example of a few things sitting on my desk at the moment.

  • A page with handwritten notes from a meeting I was in earlier this week. It's of no use to me at the moment, but when I get some time to work on my tasks from that meeting I'll want to refer to it again. Right now it's sitting on my desk with all the other paper where it's at risk of getting lost or accidentally tossed out. However, this is a one off project that really only requires about an hour's worth of work, so it's hardly worthy of getting it's own tag in Evernote and I don't really want to run to the printer room (albeit 20ft away) to scan it in.
  • A few pages that my boss had in a meeting last week and took notes on for me to act upon.
  • A few sample reports to look at later and possibly modify

I think I would like to scan all of this stuff so that I don't lose track of these hard copies and so my desk is mostly clear of "paper pile". I'm just going to have to work at a system that files all this crazy, one off stuff in a way that allows me to find it. GrumpyMonkey, you had some great ideas so I'll likely incorporate some of those.

Maybe even a notebook called "Notes of the moment" and I just lop everything in there. I'd just have to be diligent about cleaning the old stuff out at the end of each week so I don't get notes from 2 years ago in my "Notes of the moment" book. Haha.

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Hahaha. Glad I could help :)

In my opinion, the biggest barrier to getting organized is doing it. Your reluctance to go to the printer and scan it probably has as much to do with the scanning as it does with how you are going to file it. Does it go here or there? What should I title it? How should I tag it?

The goal with my system was to get rid of this barrier on the front end. My assumption is that most of what I put in Evernote will never get much use, but I still need it just in case (it is amazing the kind of stuff I have in here, and the things I have actually gone back and found), so they all get the same treatment: YYMMDD + keywords in the title. No tags. No fiddling around with notebooks (you could put them in your "Inbox" notebook if you'd like). Evernote OCRs this stuff, so the longer they sit on your desk, the less benefit you get out of Evernote, and the more likely you are to lose them! So, dump that stuff in a scanner and move on :)

Going forward, you might want to adjust your workflow. I started taking notes on my iPad last year as an experiment, and I think it worked out well. I recommend GoodNotes or NoteTaker HD (Penultimate needs a zoom box, and I am hoping their next update will bring it).

http://www.princeton.edu/~cmayo/reviewhandwriting.html

No iPad? Here is something cool from Japan!

http://d.hatena.ne.jp/utsuki/20110212/1297500829

The cool thing about "Shot Note" is that the paper is a small size and is easily photographed. You can write notes on it, take a photo with your phone, process it with Jot Not (I prefer Scanner Pro), and send it on to Evernote without leaving your desk. If your pockets are a little deeper, you could get a ScanSnap, put it on your desk, and get these notes processed more quickly. You don't have to use this small paper size (I like it myself), but I do find A4 a little more difficult to photograph.

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In your initial post you said you don't have the time to "spend 10 minutes in the printer room scanning all the loose papers".

Since it is adversely affecting your job performance, why not submit a request for a small ScanSnap scanner to be used on your work desk. And if you travel, you would could take it along with you plugged into the USB of your laptop.

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If you have a smartphone with a camera or a tablet with one, perhaps you could take digital pictures of the papers and put them into Evernote.

On my iPhone I have an app called JotNot that makes the phone work like a scanner, and allows me to send the scanned document right into Evernote. I use it mainly for capturing receipts, but it would be fine for the sort of papers you describe.

I'm lazy, I almost never tag and I try to put what I need in the note title. Date (i.e. 20120705) and a keyword or two ("book receipt," "xyz committee," "smith budget discussion," etc.)

I also don't fret about putting things in Evernote that I'll probably never want. If I have a piece of paper for which I have to ask myself "should I scan this or not?" I just skip the question and scan it. It takes longer to decide not to keep something, than it does to go ahead and keep it. Am I afraid that I'll clutter up Evernote, or run out of space? No. Even if I never look at something again, the data archaeologists of five thousand years from now will be intensely interested in it. :)

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I also don't fret about putting things in Evernote that I'll probably never want. If I have a piece of paper for which I have to ask myself "should I scan this or not?" I just skip the question and scan it. It takes longer to decide not to keep something, than it does to go ahead and keep it. Am I afraid that I'll clutter up Evernote, or run out of space? No. Even if I never look at something again, the data archaeologists of five thousand years from now will be intensely interested in it. :)

So true. One of the reasons I developed my system was to avoid thinking about all of this -- I just scan everything and title it. If I read it later, fine. If not, fine. I am OK either way, and I don't worry about it, because I haven't expended much effort. Of course, I have things that I want to organize more, and I do that, but I enjoy spending time on stuff that matters :)

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One part of your post got my attention: "However, this is a one off project that really only requires about an hour's worth of work, so it's hardly worthy of getting it's own tag"....wel...than what *is* worth tagging? Projects that take 1:15 hr? Projects that take 2 hrs worth of work? If it's a project, it means it takes more than one action to complete. If it's a one-action-thing, well than it's just one action and you just do it whenever the time and energy is appropriate.

But for any other (series of) actions, I would say, tag it anyway. What's the worst that could happen? Tags without notes? You can easily eliminate those with this Applescript.

So the thing is: You want to get rid of the paper? Scan it all in. Don't want to scan those one-offs? See the piece of paper as a temporary placeholder of the action assigned with it. Capture that in Evernote or your taskmanager of choice and throw the paper out. Does the paper have any information you *might* want to use later on, is it reference material for a case on a future moment? Scan it and tag accordingly as reference material.

Good luck!

Frank Meeuwsen

Founder of Lifehacking.nl, the website on working and living smarter

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