Paperless Principal Part 2: Memos

Automatically file memos away for safekeeping using TextExpander and Hazel.

The Memos

In our district, we are quite lucky in that the district administration has decided that all our memos go out in digital format. So, we get weekly emails, on Fridays, from someone at the district office. These emails give us everything we need to know to do our jobs. There is a lot of info to keep track of, and it is easy to fall behind and not remember everything. Luckily, memos are pretty standard. Ours look like this:


However, the naming scheme is not standardized yet, and it is difficult to find them once you have looked at them. Here is what they look like in my email.

Unreadable Memos
Unreadable Memos

The problem I run into is that I have to really search hard to find the memo after I have received it and read it. I want to be able to enter a search term in Spotlight and have that file pop up somewhere close to the top. If I search for anything that was in a memo in my mail program, I won’t find it. I have to find all the memos, and then go through all those that I am afraid to delete to find the specific memo.

We get these memos in Word, Excel, PDF, or whatever other format happens to be needed for that memo’s purpose. The main memo that explains what other memos might be follows the formatting above. For our purposes, however, it doesn’t matter much. Each department also has all the information for that department in the same place in the same format. The top-right corner has:

  • Department Name
  • Person sending Memo (a director)
  • Contact information for that person

In addition to that, each memo has “MEMO” typed at the top and center of each memo that goes out. If we didn’t get these all digitally, I would use the same process I outline below, but the renaming would take place by highlighting the department name, and using ScanSnap’s software to rename it according to what I had scanned, and then it would file it immediately.

What I Need From My System

I have two requirements for memos:

  1. Know what the memo says (I actually have to read it at some point)
  2. Know where to find it if/when I need it later.

How to Make it Happen

Here is the workflow for the folders:

Email -> Downloads folder -> Action Folder … -> Memos -> department subfolder

I save the attachments from my email and Hazel recognizes that it came from an email with the subject “Friday Memos”, and so it dutifully sends it to my Action Folder where the memos will wait for me.

The action folder is where I take action. That is where I read the memos and then rename them. It is important that I don’t get behind on this step for my workflow and for my continued employment. The ellipses in the workflow above show that I need to interact with them before they can move on.

Once I have read the memo, I rename it using TextExpander. The updated version of TextExpander allows for some great fill-in forms, which means that you can type a string (mine is /memo), and you then it will pop up with a list of options that you have predefined. For this case, it looks like this:

Aggressive Expansion
Aggressive Expansion

As you can see, there are many options to choose from. That looks like it would more difficult, but since I am already renaming by typing, I just type the first couple letters of the department and it selects that automatically. In the screenshot above, I was renaming a memo from the Department of Civil Rights and Accommodations, and so I typed “/memo ci [enter]” and it renamed it “2012–07–01 - memo - civilrights”. Pretty slick, if I do say so, myself.

Once it is renamed, in the action folder, a Hazel rule recognizes its new naming pattern and sends it off to the Memos folder. Then, in the Memos folder, a Hazel rule sorts each memo automatically into the subfolders as seen below.

The Filed Memos
The Filed Memos

In this picture, you can see that I got three memos on the same day from the Department of Partnerships and Community Service. The Hazel rule is set up to add a number to the end of the filename if the filename already exists, which means that it is easy to see what got processed first.

Why go to all this trouble? Because it took a few minutes to set up initially, and now I know where to go whenever I have a question about something I saw in a memo. I can typically remember that I saw something in a memo, and I can usually remember where that memo would have originated from. Is this perfect? Probably not. What would you change?

Have a Good Life.