Paperless Office

I’ve been moving along the path of the paperless office. I use PDFs as much as possible and I try to scan and store anything that I’m not going to be needing immediately. Many people advocate moving to an entirely electronic storage system for papers, books, bills, documents, and whatever else clutters up your home or office. I am in favor of that, to a degree. I have not moved to going with electronic billing for monthly bills such as electricity and gas because I’ve found that I am much more likely to lose an electronic bill than one that arrives via the postal service. With a paper bill, I can slap it in the “inbox”1 and when I get to it, I file it. I have a physical piece of paper reminding me that something needs to get done; this is useful.2 I would be delighted if I could get rid of these things, if only to clean out my filing cabinet.

However, I am not a proponent of the paperless office. There is still no technological substitute for printing out a document and reading it with a pen in hand, making notations or corrections; marking items checked or missing. I have also found it much faster and simpler to be able to go to a filing cabinet, look under “Wellls Fargo”, and pull out the last mortgage statement, if I need it. An equivalent electronic system would require more time3 and clicks.

I was amused by this posting from the Unclutterer blog, advocating for no printer in an office. Frankly, as an engineer who deals with paper plans, I literally could not avoid printing things. My final product is usually paper plans or paper documents and while I do a great deal of checking and working on the screen, it’s been my hard-earned, painful experience that if I don’t print it out and look at it, mistakes will slip by. Also, just because something looks good on a screen doesn’t mean it’s going to look good on paper.

Also, getting back to something I mentioned above, there’s no technological substitute for paper, pen, highlighter and ruler for doing plan checks. Here are two clips of something I did just yesterday:

20110721171845735_0002

20110721171845735_0001

These two sheets along with another two documents had to be cross checked against each other, and a third list, to ensure that items and quantities were agreeing with each other. I know that I could not have done this on a screen4.

So, for the foreseeable future, until they invent a Kindle or iPad that I can write on with the same fidelity as paper, my printers won’t be going away.

Update: Here is my paperless office.

Paperless Office

  1. the area to the left of my computer []
  2. I am toying with the idea of trying this again. I may create a new email address that is solely for the receipt of bills, with its own folder and action list []
  3. occasionally you need to pull that document now []
  4. I know this because, in 20-20 hindsight, I realized that the way we set up these sheets was the absolute worst way possible for doing the kind of cross check I am describing. The only way it could have been worse would be if we shredded the sheets after soaking them in octopus ink []
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