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!


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