This might seem like a strange thing to say, but I am not a fan of the word “paperless”.
It creates an unrealistic expectation, and even worse it creates a false binary state. You either want to get rid of 100% of paper (“Go paperless!”) or you only like and feel comfortable using paper (“You’ll pry my Moleskine out of my cold dead hands!”).
For better or for worse, paperless is the term everyone uses, so we’re stuck with it.
What Does Paperless Actually Mean?
I like how Kevin Purdy recently put it in a recent episode of the In Beta podcast:
When you pledge to go paperless, you’re pledging not to create more paper for other people or yourself than you need to.
Paper generation is definitely a great place to start. If you are not printing documents for yourself and if you can send documents to others electronically, you will be surprised how much you can cut down.
Usage vs. Storage
I like to think about paper from two perspectives: what do we use paper for, and what do we do with it after?
Myself, I like to work as digitally as possible, but I have recently started using paper notebooks more.
I know many people, including many DocumentSnap readers and Paperless Action Plan students who couldn’t imagine giving up their paper. My friend Mike Vardy makes the case effectively in his post Why Paper Works.
On the flip side, I was at a conference a while ago with Tim Grahl from Out:think, and Tim is the man as far as going all-digital. All his note-taking was on his iPad and incredibly useful and reference-able.
The question becomes: what do you do with your documents and other paper when you are finished actively using them?
Bringing It All Together
To me, here are the facets of “going paperless”:
- How can you reduce the amount of paper that you create and send to others?
- What paper do you currently work with? Can you move any of it to digital?
- How much of your paper do you need to keep? Can it be digitized?
- How can you find the information that you need when you need it?
- How can you protect your electronic information in multiple places?
Paperless is a term that has unfortunately become both highly idealized and highly divisive, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
Let’s just forget about the actual term and focus on what is important: making our lives and work easier, less cluttered, and more effective.
(Photo by rosmary)
I’m even less of a fan of the “less-paper!” term. ↩
See the printing industry’s goofy response to Hellofax’s Paperless 2013 campaign. ↩