Submitted: The Two Sides Team October 22, 2012
Some believe that the paperless office is not that far off…
October 19 2012
by Douglas Merrill – Forbes
Some believe that the paperless office is not that far off,
according to a Business Week magazine article. Funny thing is, that
article was published during the heyday of platform shoes, K.C. &
the Sunshine Band, and leisure suitsotherwise known as 1975.
No question about it, weve come a long way since then in terms of
how we use paper to store and distribute information. If nothing else,
voicemail doomed all those little pink While You Were Out slips an
administrative assistant would leave on your desk.
Even so, as much time as I spend in the digital world, Im not about
to give up on paper. There are times when digital tools, whether its an
iPhone or tablet app, or something else, just arent as effective or
efficient as paper, at least for me.
For starters, paper helps me get stuff out of my head. When I have a
zillion thoughts jumping around, I feel so much better when I scribble
them down on paper. Once I do, I can stop worrying about them. Even if I
dont actually do anything about them, my stress level drops. I can
focus. Yes, I know I can write this stuff down on a computer or my
iPhone. But somehow, its not the same. Paper just feels more definitive
Another benefit: I can write something down in a small notebook just
about anytime or anywhere. Thats not true with my laptop, which I dont
always have with me, or my iPhone, which can be awkward to type on (and
Siri doesnt always get what Im trying to say).
Paper helps me problem-solve, too. When Im churning on a complex
problem, I write things out on huge Post-it Easel Pad sheets. Sometimes I
place the big sticky sheets all over my office or living room wall.
Then I move them around into different arrangements. I even tear off
pieces and tape them into different sections. If Im lucky, a Eureka!
moment happens, because moving those pages around helps my brain make
connections and see solutions it might otherwise miss. Here again, I
could do this on a computer. But I dont own a computer screen the size
of an entire wall. And having all that space to rearrange my thoughts on
paper is freeing. It lets me see much more information in one glance,
I also prefer paper when I need to read and react to something. For
example, when writing my book, I printed every chapter multiple times. I
marked up drafts of each chapter and wrote notes in the margins. This
process helped me see things I might have missed reviewing the chapters
on a computer screen.
You might be surprised to learn that I prefer to receive financial
statements and bills in the mail, on paper, as opposed to signing up for
electronic versions. Heres why: A statement that comes in the mail is,
by default, easy to review. Just open the envelope. Plus, the statement
arrives once a month, serving as a visual reminder that its time to
view my statement and, unfortunately, pay my bill. I could receive email
notifications instead, which would prompt me to go to a website, log
in, and review or download my statement. I have to take multiple steps
in this scenario to get at the same information I can simply get by
opening an envelope, however.
Do I read every piece of paper, mail or otherwise, as soon as I
receive it? Of course not; who does? Instead, I arrange papers on my
desk in stacks according to my goals and contexts. One stack might be a
variety of mail offers I want to save, like a film festival calendar.
Another might be financial documents I need to review (and later shred).
A third might be magazines I want to read on planes, during those
no-devices-allowed take-off and landing periods.
My system of arranging paper in stacks frees me from having to take
action on any one piece when its inconvenient, or my mind is on
something else. Also, these paper stacks serve as their own reminders
that, oh yeah, Ive got stuff to do. If these pieces of paper werent
sitting on my desk, I guarantee Id forget about them.
Paper isnt a perfect system for receiving or storing information, of
course. Whenever you have a lot of information arranged in no
particular order, paper isnt your friend. You cant, say, quickly
search for something stored on paper, like you can in a digital format.
Paper notebooks, documents, and file folders take up a lot of physical
space, too. Information on paper isnt necessarily available to you
wherever you go, as a file stored in the cloud would be. Instead, you
have to predict when and where youll need that paper document in the
future. Otherwise, youre out of luck. And you cant easily share your
paper documents with others like you can, say, a Google Docs file.
The key is to think about your goals for the information you receive
and need to keep. Let your goals determine if you should use paper or
some digital format for that information. Figure out when youll most
likely need that information, how youll use it, how long youll need to
keep it, and with whom you may want to share it.
If nothing else, dont keep using paper or digital tools just because
its what youre used to. You might really, really like the
gratification you feel when physically scratching through an item on
your to-do list with a pen. But if youre too often losing that list or
leaving it at home when you need it at work, its time to go
paperlesswithout the leisure suit and platform shoes, preferably.”
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