Click to view You're not going to spend another tax season scrounging around for receipts and digging through your filing cabinet for the remains of dead trees, wondering if you're claiming everything you should. No siree! Next year, all your tax documents - heck, all your important paperwork - will be converted to PDF files and organized into search-based folders. Your receipts, ebooks, scanned newspaper articles, tax forms, gadget manuals and client contracts will be available at your fingertips whether or not you're by your filing cabinet.
And you can organize them using iTunes .
Yes, I know iTunes isn't a document organizer, but it does a surprisingly good job at it anyway. Using iTunes' Smart Playlists and its PDF support, you can build a document library where PDF's are automatically sorted into keyword-based lists. Let's get started.
What you'll need to digitize your documents as PDF's
- A scanner. Document scanners are small, sleek and super cheap these days - some as low as 50 bucks - so pick one up to digitize dead tree material like newspapers, magazines, or paper receipts. Your scanner software will most likely provide an option to output the scan to a PDF document. If you're going to digitize stacks of paper at once, you'll want one equipped an auto sheet feeder. (Hardware's not my forte, and the model you get depends on your needs and budget - but this thread has some recommendations from your fellow readers.)
- A print-to-PDF program. Windows users should download the free CutePDF writer for the ability to print office documents, email messages, images and web pages to a PDF file. (Seriously, CutePDF is a must-have.) Mac users,printing to PDF is all built into to OS X , so you don't need to do a thing, except choose PDF from the print dialog.
Create a separate iTunes library for your documentsStrange bedfellows, your 1099's and those Beck MP3's, so you'll want to create a whole new "all business" iTunes library for your PDF's. To do so, hold down the Shift key when you launch iTunes (Option for Mac users), and hit the Create Library button from this dialog:
- By default, when you add PDF's to your iTunes library, iTunes copies them into the folder where it keeps its data, leaving you with two copies of the document on your hard drive. It also creates artist and album subfolders, which don't apply to your PDF's (they'll all be "Unknown Artist" and "Unknown Album.") To keep your PDF where you originally stored it, in the iTunes Preferences pane, the Advanced tab, uncheck "Copy files to iTunes Music Folder when adding to library" and "Keep iTunes Music folder organized."
- Remove all the music-specific fields from the default listing, like Artist, Album, and Last Played by right-clicking on the column header and unchecking them:
Develop your tag vocabulary and create Smart PlaylistsOnce you've added a few PDF's to your iTunes library, you want to organize them into virtual folders - actual playlists. The advantage playlists have over folders is that one document can live in more than one playlist - so that 1099 form from 2006 can live in the taxes list, the 2006 list, the income list, and the 1099 list.
You could manually create playlists and drag and drop your PDF's into them. Even better, you can use Smart Playlists that dynamically populate based on keywords. For example, I renamed the PHP Manual PDF "PHP Manual (ebook code)" then created a Smart Playlist for ebooks, all PDF's where name contains the word "ebook":
Like all tagging systems, you'll have to develop a vocabulary that works for you and stick to it to make sure all your PDF's appear in the Smart Playlists they should. For example, for tax documents, I name them by year, purpose (income/deduction), and form number (1099, 1098, etc.) So it's easy to see all of 2006's 1099's, or all my income documents overall.
Add your playlists to folders
If you want, you can use any of iTunes' music metadata fields, like Artist, Album, Genre and year to slice and dice your PDF's, but to me that's taking the "shoving a square PDF file into a circular music file slot" too far. I stuck to adding keywords to the name of the document only. That way, if someday I want to use another program and all my PDF's have keywords in their title, they'll still be easily searchable. (Also, Spotlight, Vista's Saved Search folders and Google Desktop will all find PDF's with keywords in their title - but not other iTunes metadata fields.)
"But PDF's aren't music files": Why - and why not - iTunesMy three requirements for choosing a PDF organizer were: that it's free, cross-platform (at least Mac and Windows), and that it supports tagging (so that one PDF could be "filed" under several "folders.") iTunes fit the bill on all these counts.
However, there are serious drawbacks to using iTunes this way. There is no in-iTunes PDF viewing or previewing - no PDF reader at all, in fact. You'll need to use Adobe Reader, FoxIt or Mac's Preview to actually open the documents. Lastly, iTunes cannot search the contents of a PDF, which also hurts me deeply. (However, Google Desktop Search and Spotlight can.)
If these drawbacks are a no-go for you, there are alternatives. Mac users married to the O, S and X should check out the
Update: $34 Yep . Windows users who are willing to spend some cash, Rick recommends PaperPort (which goes for about $200 if you didn't get it with your scanner.) As far as I know, PaperPort does not support tagging. A similar application to PaperPort is previously-mentioned, free DocsVault .
Finally, Lifehacker readers have some fantastic input on how they're digitizing and organizing their paper documents. What's your favorite way to get the job done? Let us know in the comments.