Submitted by: The Two Sides Team November 20, 2012
Some believe that the paperless office is not that far off…
This article, written by Douglas Merrill, originally appeared on the Forbes.com website.
'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 suits, otherwise known as 1975.
No question about it, we've 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, I'm not about to give up on paper. There are times when digital tools, whether it's an iPhone or tablet app, or something else, just aren't 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 don't 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, it's not the same. Paper just feels more definitive and cathartic.
Another benefit: I can write something down in a small notebook just about anytime or anywhere. That's not true with my laptop, which I don't always have with me, or my iPhone, which can be awkward to type on (and Siri doesn't always get what I'm trying to say).
Paper helps me problem-solve, too. When I'm 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 I'm 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 don't 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, too.
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. Here's 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 it's 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 it's inconvenient, or my mind is on something else. Also, these paper stacks serve as their own reminders that, oh yeah, I've got stuff to do. If these pieces of paper weren't sitting on my desk, I guarantee I'd forget about them.
Paper isn't a perfect system for receiving or storing information, of course. Whenever you have a lot of information arranged in no particular order, paper isn't your friend. You can't, 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 isn't necessarily available to you wherever you go, as a file stored in the cloud would be. Instead, you have to predict when and where you'll need that paper document in the future. Otherwise, you're out of luck. And you can't 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 you'll most likely need that information, how you'll use it, how long you'll need to keep it, and with whom you may want to share it.
If nothing else, don't keep using paper or digital tools just because it's what you're 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 you're too often losing that list or leaving it at home when you need it at work, it's time to go paperless, without the leisure suit and platform shoes, preferably."