Is paper all bad? Absolutely not.
Is everyone trying to eliminate paper? Nope.
So, when is it okay to use paper? Read on…
Despite the predominance of projectors, laptops, iPads, and shared filing systems, there just seems to be no substitute for a stack of handouts sitting on a table when you walk into a meeting room or the feel of a piece of paper fresh off the printer.
I don’t think that the total death of paper is here. Hard copy files often exist while projects or other matters are actively being worked. Additionally, there are a few documents that a company is legally required to retain in hard copy format.
However, today’s work environment has required all of us to reorient ourselves toward paper.
Our processes and people create paper. This is reality.
Below are three “classes” of paper that exist in most companies:
- Paper we print out
- Handwritten Notes
- Meeting handouts
Read the list of things to “Do”, “Consider”, and “Avoid” below each class to see how this reorientation toward paper can occur.
Class 1: Printed copies of emails, documents, or other electronic content
- Recognize that what you have printed is a convenience copy and is likely not the official business record
- Shred/recycle the printout once its convenience value is lost but no later than your company records management policies dictate
- Using the “one-in-one-out” rule: when you print out and file the most recent version of a document, shred the oldest version at that time
- Using dual screens. You can have a reference document on one screen and your working document on the other, thus reducing the need to print out the reference document
- Keeping the printout past its convenience value
- Maintaining vast “libraries” of printed out reference material that can be readily reproduced electronically
- Saving convenience copies of files that someone else is accountable for, especially after a project is over
Class 2: Handwritten notes
- Take notes as you normally would during a meeting or conference call. It helps you process information and remember what was discussed.
- Make notes on draft versions of documents if that’s how you do your best work.
- Changing your note-taking practices to a laptop or tablet/iPad in lieu of a pad of paper. Your notes will be legible, more complete, and easily uploaded into your electronic filing system.
- Using Track Changes mode in Microsoft Word to record revisions, comments, etc. on drafts of documents.
- The habit of keeping almost every scrap of paper on which you have written something. Most times, handwritten notes are only good for helping you remember your action items. Once the actions are complete or transferred to your to-do List, then the handwritten notes are trash.
- Keeping handwritten notes separated from the topics/projects to which they refer. If you have notes pertaining to a project, they belong in the project file, not attached to a legal pad with handwritten notes on various other topics.
Class 3: Meeting handouts
- Send calendar invitations with the agenda and handouts attached. If the handouts need to be reviewed prior to the meeting, say so
- Secure a meeting scribe to take notes on a laptop during the meeting. It helps absolve participants from the need to take copious notes of their own.
- Distribute the notes and action items within one business day of the meeting
- Proposing meeting parameters that include a statement that we no longer need to produce hard copy meeting handouts – at all.
- Having the meeting scribe collect all handouts at the end of the meeting for shredding, scanning, or inclusion in the meeting notes.
- Walking out of a conference room with a stack of paper in your arms. At a minimum, make a detour to the shred bin before going back to your office.
What are you doing to be more paper-light in your meetings and business practices? Email me and share your successes.
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Melissa Gratias (pronounced “Gracious”) used to think that productivity was a result of working long hours. And, she worked a lot of hours. Then, she learned that productivity is a skill set, not a personality trait. Now, Melissa is a productivity expert who coaches and trains other businesspeople to be more focused, balanced, and effective. She is a prolific writer and speaker who travels the world helping people change how they work and improve how they live. Contact her at email@example.com or 912-417-2505. Sign up to receive her productivity tips via email.
Bravo! Your advice is both progressive (i.e., move to digital) and practical (i.e., adapt in roles as helpful to people) and, for this reason, is an example of the form of initiative that can be adopted quickly by individuals across organizations.
As well, it is worth noting that you do not speak of “driving change” (as in driving over people to force unrealistic adoption), implying nonexistent deterministic power over people, and rather describe an approach that facilitates a systemic emergence of improved practices as they individually help organization members.
In the Humaneering Technology Initiatives’ tests of similar approaches, the consistent outcome is a steady increase in productivity, without the sudden and dramatic initial decline in productivity that typically results from forced-change initiatives.
On a personal note, I find that I and most of my colleagues are naturally wired to work with paper. We don’t generally file paper documents, of course, yet to fully comprehend highly conceptual and technical thinking we routinely find that doing so is facilitated by making physical notes on paper copies.
Because of your obvious empathy, I and others can know that you understand and appreciate what we find works best for us.
Thanks, James. Many people are more comfortable with the tactile nature of paper. As you likely know, one recent study showed that students who take handwritten notes fare better than those who take notes electronically. https://www.npr.org/2016/04/17/474525392/attention-students-put-your-laptops-away
Another excellent offering, Melissa! One change in behavior that has helped me is to move to a “bullet journal” method for to-do lists and note taking. Instead of increasingly higher stacks of loose sheets or Post-Its with a scribble here, list there or a phone number who knows where, my notes are bound in one compact volume in chronological order. Paper and not digital, but it has neatened my desk and my thinking.
Outstanding, Ed. Your clients must appreciate your efficiency!