My paperless(-ish) office with OneNote and NAPS2

Screenshot of NAPS2 application. Two documents have been scanned and are shown side-by-side.
Screenshot of NAPS2, the scan to PDF application I use alongside OneNote

I’ve started using NAPS2 to convert paper documents to PDF to store in Dropbox or Microsoft OneNote as part of my paperless(-ish) office approach to productivity.

Predictions about the paperless office have been circulating for over 40 years now. And yet here I am in 2018 sitting next to a four-drawer filing cabinet containing letters and documents about everything from my house rental and utility bills to health records, university qualifications, and work-related documents.

OneNote

A couple of years ago I decided to try to keep an electronic copy of my most important (or frequently used) documents and after comparing the relative benefits of Dropbox, Google Drive, Evernote and Microsoft OneNote, I finally settled on OneNote (with Dropbox as a backup in some cases) and started scanning.

OneNote stores its files in OneDrive, which I wasn’t using for much else—and given that I subscribe to Microsoft Office 365 I have about 1 TB of cloud space* at my disposal.

[* Disclaimer: There is no such thing as the cloud, it’s just someone else’s computer.]

I like OneNote because:

  • I can view the PDF on the page, I don’t have to wait for it to open in Acrobat Reader.
  • The documents synchronise between my desktop PC, laptop, tablet and mobile phone, so I can access them wherever I am and away from home.
  • I can annotate and highlight the document using the draw functionality of OneNote.
  • I can type notes on the same page, which are searchable.
  • OneNote has built-in OCR (optical character recognition) capabilities which means I can right-click the PDF print-out embedded within OneNote and extract editable text from the document to the clipboard to be used elsewhere—that can save a lot of typing.
Viewing a PDF of a scanned MOT test certificate for my previous car

Scanning

I’m fortunate to have an Epson flatbed scanner on my desk. It came bundled with among other things the Epson Copy Utility which allows me to use the scanner with a printer (or PDF writer) much like a photocopier.

But recently I’ve found the Epson Copy Utility to be increasingly unstable. Often, midway through scanning a document the application will crash and tie up the scanner requiring me to either hunt down the processes to cancel in Task Manager or reboot the PC, which is often quicker. Though, to be fair, the application is over 11 years old and is a 32-bit application running on a 64-bit system.

Hunting around for an alternative, I discovered NAPS2—Not Another PDF Scanner 2, which is also an open source project, which I wholeheartedly support. So far, the results have been superb and I haven’t lost a single document yet

For those who understand this sort of thing, NAPS2 supports both WAI and Twain. It allows you to reorder the scanned pages. It will save to PDF or image (it supports multiple formats including bmp, gif, jpeg, png and tiff). It supports built-in OCR. Or you can simply print the document—including send to OneNote straight from NAPS2.

My experiences so far

Having been trying to live a more paperless office experience for over a year now, I can’t see me wanting to give up my filing cabinet anytime soon (there are still some documents that I would want to keep in paper format) but this has certainly enhanced my productivity.

Before I started scanning, I decided on a document structure within OneNote. I store all my documents within the same notebook but in different groups and sections. I try to keep these as consistent as I can with how I have organised my filing cabinet, which helps me locate the hard copy when I need to. And I adapt and extend the structure when it seems sensible for me to do so.

When I started scanning documents to PDF and embedding them within OneNote, I didn’t simply start at the front of my filing cabinet and work my way through. Instead, I prioritised those documents I thought I might need most often. Whenever I am out and realise that document X or Y would be useful in OneNote, I add a task to Todoist to scan it when I get home.

What I should maybe do next is then use this as the basis for determining which documents to recycle or shred from my filing cabinet.

Having my key documents available wherever I am has been invaluable. Hurray for mobile phones, OneNote for Android and 4G network connections.

Overall, while there is a little overhead in sitting scanning documents as soon as they arrive—although many companies like insurance and utility companies now use PDFs via email as their primary documentation—I have found this approach to be entirely worthwhile. It keeps all my documents together, I can access them whenever and wherever I need them and I feel much more organised as a result.

Lean Agile Edinburgh meetup at Royal London, March 2018

You can watch the recording of the live stream above.

  • 14:33 Introductions
  • 18:45 Welcome from Royal London (hosts)
  • 23:50 Kathy Thomson—Explain and explore
  • 42:00 Krish Bissonauth—CIA model
  • 1:24:00 Greg Urquhart—What does Agile even mean now?

Last night I took the train down to Edinburgh for my second Lean Agile Edinburgh meetup.

Started in June 2013, Lean Agile Edinburgh is an informal and social monthly meetup to discuss and share all things agile, lean, kanban, scrum, etc. At most meetups we have talks, workshops/activities or Lean-Coffee discussion sessions.

Yesterday’s meetup was kindly hosted by Royal London at their new offices at Haymarket Yards in Edinburgh, a short hop, skip and a jump from the railway station. Last month’s was hosted at the other end of Princes Street, in the Amazon Development Centre Scotland offices at Waverley Gate.

The evening began with an opportunity to network and chat with folks over pizza and refreshments, before we took our seats for three excellent presentations.

Explain and explore

The first session was a very hands-on, get out of your seats and move about exercise lead by Kathy Thomson, a scrum master at Royal London.

We were each given a postcard and pencil and invited to answer the following question in either a word or short phrase: “What does agile transformation mean for you?”

I wrote something like, “Iterative change that is collaborated on by a team towards a shared goal”.

With our postcards completed we were invited to stand in a large open space to the near the presentation area, and turning to the person next to us explain our answers.

Next we were invited to exchange our cards with someone else, and then someone else, and so on until we had effectively shuffled the cards. I ended up on in the middle of the room. This was the ‘explore‘ part of the exercise.

And then again we were to pair up with the person next to us and explain to them the card we were holding. Which, obviously, was now not our own card. Interestingly, I felt less defensive about explaining this card. And I appreciated seeing someone else’s perspective on the same question.

Somehow, I ended up with two cards for this one! And I can’t remember either of them.

And then we were off around the room again, quickly exchanging cards, and pairing up to explain our new cards to one another. Mine simply said, “Pace”.

It was a really interesting and useful exercise, even with a room of about 60 people.

Control Influence Accept model

Returning to our seats, Krish Bissonauth, an Agile coach at Royal London, introduced us to the Control Influence Accept model (or CIA model).

This is a versatile problem-solving and stress-management tool that identifies three ways to respond to challenges:

  • Control—identify the elements of the situation over which you have control.
  • Influence—identify the elements over which you have no control but which you can influence.
  • Accept—identify the elements over which you have neither control nor acceptance, which you will simply need to accept and adapt to.

I loved the Clarke Ching quote he finished with. It spoke about social comparison—why do your Facebook friends’ holidays and kids look so much better than your own? It’s simple: their lives are just like ours but they only share the good stuff. So it is with books we read and presentations we experience about Agile and DevOps: we see the good stuff and we feel bad.

His message: stop comparing yourself to the “Facebook” versions of Agile and DevOps, and start comparing yourself with how you were doing three weeks ago, three months ago, three years ago, and feel proud of the all the hard work you are doing and the progress you have made.

What does Agile even mean now?

The final talk was by former Skyscanner product delivery director, and current Agile 4-12 consultant Greg Urquhart.

There was much in Greg’s talk that resonated with me, but it was what he called his “cut the Agile bullshit-o-meter” slide that I found most helpful. He had set himself the task of limiting his definition of what agile is to just five bullet points. This is what he came up with:

  1. A culture of experimentation constantly generates validated learning.
  2. Teams have missions, mastery and the autonomy to act with no strings attached.
  3. Software is frequently delivered to users. We learn its value through serious use.
  4. Teams and resources align beautifully to strategic objectives at all times.
  5. Minimum viable bureaucracy.

If you’re not doing these five things, he argued, then you’re not agile.

Towards the end of his talk he advocated for what he called scientific engineering (learning work) and argued that this more than lean and agile (knowledge work) would bring about the most effective and productive change.

This aligns with another talk I attended recently in Perth at the Scottish Programme and Project Management Group conference, where one of the speakers encouraged all the project managers and business analysts in the room to start to get familiar with big data and data analysis. It’s what the most valuable companies in the world are doing—Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook. They are using data (massive amounts of data) to design and refine their products.

I walked away from last night’s meetup feeling encouraged and more animated. It has certainly given me a lot to consider, a couple more tools under my belt, and a little more clarity about the direction I want to take my career.

Thanks Lean Agile Edinburgh.

Kiwi for Gmail—initial impressions

For the last few years, I’ve been faithfully using eM Client as my preferred way of accessing my Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Contacts. But this past weekend—having vowed to myself that during 2018 I wouldn’t change any of my productivity tools and instead just focus on getting stuff done—I made the switch to Kiwi for Gmail 2.0 and I have to say that I’m delighted.

Gmail as a native, windowed desktop app... kinda
Gmail as a native, windowed desktop app… kinda

Move away from eM Client

Since Google upgraded their calendar to Material Design I’ve been hugely impressed and have found myself using it almost as much as eM Client’s API view of the calendar. I now prefer the default web app view more than the desktop client.

Similarly, I’ve also found myself using the Gmail webapp almost as much as eM Client, find it to be a little quicker but also feeling that I should get to know the web interface more because it’s the default view.

But what really tipped me over the edge towards moving away from eM Client is how long it takes to open Google Contacts.

Move towards Kiwi for Gmail

I had used Kiwi for Gmail before, but version 2.0 seems to have been a cosmic leap forward compared with what I remembered of the first iteration.

Kiwi for Gmail appears to be a wrapper application that quickly—very quickly—loads the default Google web apps, with a little magic thrown in for good measure.

One of the most immediate is that I now have immediate access to five different Gmail accounts, without the need to log out of one before checking the other.

(This feature is only available in the paid-for version, which is currently on special offer for free with the code: WikiForFree.)

I now have immediate access to five Gmail accounts
I now have immediate access to five Gmail accounts

I’m really looking forward to Gmail getting the Material Design treatment. This will take Kiwi for Gmail to another level.

In the meantime, I’m going to see how I get on with Kiwi for Gmail. But for what it does, I can’t see myself going back to eM Client any time soon. I’ll try to remember to report back after a few months to give an update on how this experience is going.

Trello coloured lists for Tampermonkey updated to v4.x

Coloured lists make identifying their purpose quicker at a glance
Coloured lists makes identifying their purpose quicker at a glance

This evening I updated a script I first wrote back in March 2014. I wrote about it on the old University of St Andrews web team blog.

The script, which runs in the browser using an add-on such as Tampermonkey, lets you define Trello list titles to search for, and then apply a background colour to it.

Continue reading Trello coloured lists for Tampermonkey updated to v4.x