Ask LH: How Can I Make Scanning Less Boring?

Ask LH: How Can I Make Scanning Less Boring?

Dear Lifehacker, I’m trying to get the chaos that is my paperwork under order, and using your Spring Cleaning Week special to springboard me. In particular, I’d like to digitise all of the varying important-but-life-clogging paperwork detritus around me. Is there any way I can make it less boring?

I know scanning is the easiest way to get high-quality images onto my system, but to be honest, waiting for that scanner head to warm up and then run down the page is like scratching nails on a chalkboard (I use a Brother MFC9000 series which is fast-ish). I’ve tried taking photos, but while quick it’s nowhere near the quality I need, especially for tax. There has to be a better way! Any suggestions? Thanks, Scanned Goods

Picture by Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Dear SG,

I’m not going to lie to you: scanning is tedious work. But there are a few steps you can consider to make the process a little less time consuming.

Upgrade your scanner. The MFC9000 is five years old, so a newer model may well give you speedier scans. If a lot of your financial documents are double-sided, investing in a duplex scanner can also save a lot of time. If you have an older model, check the manufacturer web site to see if there’s a newer driver, as this may improve performance.

Don’t make the resolution too high. Scanning at a higher resolution (more dots per inch or DPI) can make sense for photographs, but is overkill for printed documents. It also slows the process down. You definitely don’t need more than 600dpi, and for most purposes 300dpi will be more than sufficient. Using a lower resolution will make your file size smaller, but drive space is so cheap these days that time, rather than size, should be your primary consideration.

Prepare batches of documents before scanning. I’ve always found it more effective to sort documents into like groups (all bank statements, all electricity bills) and then scan. Often the sorting takes longer and requires more concentration than the actual scanning, especially if you have to remove staples or take photos out of albums. Having prepared groups, you can then use batch scanning mode to rapidly scan in documents with minimal concentration — and watch TV at the same time if you wish. (If your scanning software doesn’t have a batch mode, Lifehacker favourite IrfanView does.)

Pay someone else to do it. You can always pay a child, cousin, neighbour or professional service to scan your documents. Clearly this needs a little consideration; you might not want a stranger checking out your tax returns. However, if the tedium is too much, then it’s a great way to keep a bored university student occupied for a few hours.

Set an appointment on your calendar. Conquering your existing pile of documents is one challenge, but you also need to regularly scan as you get new bills and other documents. The most effective way to do this is to book time on your calendar. Combine it with a reward — finish all your scanning and order a pizza — and it will become a task you’ll look forward to.

If readers have other suggestions for simplifying scanning, we’d love to hear them in the comments. Scan ahoy!

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • Absolutely get a scanner that has a sheet feeder and one that does double sided through the sheet feeder.

    Have one that automatically saves the files (pref to PDF). Then just drag and drop the scans into Evernote and file and tag them there.

    For simple, quick scans then get a Doxie scanner. (I scan the snail mail as it comes in the door, then “file” the paper in a box that I never have to look at again). The scans are easily dealt with in a batch days later, and then sent to evernote to be tagged and filed.

  • +1 for a sheet feeder thing. I haven’t got one, but I really would like one after seeing my folks use their photo scanner. Just put a photo face-up near the opening and it gets pulled through, scanned and saved as a JPEG in a folder, or to an SD card.

    As Jodie said, save the file to PDF and tag / organise it later. Copying files to and fro is much less time consuming than lifting lids, putting documents down etc.

  • Dunno how to make it less boring, but being able to do it in batches will mean you can go and do something else.
    Neat Desk has a couple of scanners with this is mind, one specifically for receipts, then other for documents. A bit pricey, and don’t appear to be in Oz, but they are designed for this very thing – unattended scanning.
    Alternatively, you could pick up an old HP PDF sender, with tray. It’ll require a bit of setting up, but once you’re done, you’ll whizz through your documents.

  • MFC 9000 i s a duplex scanner. I remember old photocopiers at uni that used to just “flash” and bang… the image pops out less than a sec later. Scanners are so damn slow!

  • No, no you can’t. Sometimes, things are drudgerous and soul destroyingly boring. You need to come to terms with the fact that not every little thing needs to be engaging, or inspiring, or interesting, or fascinating. Dear lifehacker, I hate to poop, please suggest something. Dear lifehacker, I hate waiting, what can I do to change the way I feel about standing in line? Dear lifehacker, I have no idea about the realities of life, why is it that some things just suck. SOME THINGS JUST SUCK YOU SIMPLETON. GTF OVER IT!!!

  • I’ve just signed up for a trial with You send yor scanning off to them in their prepaid envelopes and they do it all for you. Works out cheaper than buying a scanner (at least the plan I chose does) and I don’t have to do the scanning!

  • I’m a Mac user, and I’m a huge fan of the Fujitsu ScanSnap s1500m Scanner + Paperless (it’s like iTunes for Documents). I’m able to scan in 30 page documents (duplex) in minutes… I’d suggest checking out getting the scanner from the US and importing it into AUS for MUCh cheaper (I got my s1500m from B&H Photo)

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