Taming the Bits of Paper

Easily capture those small pesky receipts

Scannable logoFor all the wonderful computer programs, apps, wizards, bells and whistles, that are constantly being devised and updated, there is one area of everyday life that never seems to change – all those bits of paper that you have to keep, sort and file. Everything from rail ticket receipts to supermarket receipts for the office coffee supplies. Often these are for relatively small amounts and we are often tempted to think “oh, forget it. It’s not worth processing the receipt just so that I can claim my money back”. Or, as my mother used to say “the game’s not worth the candle”.

The key, I think, is to have a system that is so quick and straightforward that we don’t put off doing it until it becomes a nightmare to sort out. Even if we don’t complete the task in one hit, the important thing to do is to capture the raw data in enough detail that subsequent recording into a final format is quick and easy. If the initial data capture is anything more complicated than the easiest and quickest possible then we are apt to put the task off “to get on with more important things”.

Receipts for scanning
Figure 1. Receipts ready for scanning
Since cameras came to mobile phones I have tried several “apps” that aim to capture pieces of paper quickly and easily (receipts, for instance). However, they’ve never worked for me as they’re just a bit too time-consuming and a bit too complicated. I don’t want to have to engage brain before using such an app: I just want to be able to do it on auto-pilot and within a few seconds.

I think I may, at last, have found something that fits the bill. For a long time I have been singing the praises of Evernote. It’s not perfect, but it’s a great way of quickly capturing all sorts of data that may need to be accessed later without time-consuming and complicated searches.

The app I’ve just discovered is Scannable. – and it works very neatly with Evernote.

Take a look at the three pieces of paper on my desk (Figure 1). To scan them all into Evernote:

  1. Arrange the papers the right way up with at least a 3 inch gap between them (as in Figure 1).
  2. Open the Scannable app and point the phone at the first item.
  3. The app then automatically puts a box around the item (defining its boundaries).
  4. It then makes a shutter sound as it captures the area defined by the boundaries.
  5. Move to the next piece of paper to be captured and wait for steps (3) and (4) to be repeated.
  6. Repeat steps (4) to (6) until finished.
  7. Tap on the tick at the bottom right of the screen (see Figure 3).
  8. Tap on the “share” or “upload” icon (the box with the arrow pointing out of the top edge).
  9. Tap on “Evernote” as the destination.
  10. Either choose the default notebook offered or search for a better notebook into which to place the scans.
  11. Make cup of tea.

Scannable - screen capture 01
Figure 2. Scannable is about to define the borders of the item
Scans ready to send
Figure 3. Scans ready to send to Evernote or elsewhere.

The steps outlined above are much much easier to carry out than to write down.

The big advantage this capture software has over similar ones that I’ve tried in the past is the automatic definition of the area to be scanned and the automatic capture of the scans. Steps (2) to (6) above are really very quick and easy.

The scan arrives in Evernote as a pdf file with one page for every item scanned. Obviously, you can then annotate the note containing the pdf with any relevant information.

You don’t have to send the scans to Evernote. They can be sent as email attachments or exported to other apps, for instance.

Scannable is free: just search for it at the Apple App Store.