Sunday, October 04, 2009

I'm Paperless

If you just want the punchline, skip down to “The Punchline.”

My past, paperful existance

Well, at least at work. For years, spanning previous employers and jobs, I've been moving more and more to a paperless office.

My paperful existence hit a maximum probably sometime maybe in the mid 90s. At that time I think I had either two or four lateral file drawers of files that I carted around everytime I moved offices or desks. In addition to that was a too-large collection of magazines, journals and books.

There was a while on the Emory campus when a friend of mine had stuffed away a large portion of this stuff in a storage room on the fourth floor of the Candler Library, when I moved into a smaller cube arrangement. (And note that the “smaller” cube was a generous 10x10 = 100 square feet!).

Eventually another friend delivered those old boxes and cases to me on several hand carts and I went through and cleaned them out. I finally eliminated almost all of that paper, retaining only some of personal, historical interest.

Paper starts to decline

By the early to mid 2000s, people were generally sending documents as email attachments meaning that there was no reason for paper. During those years I used paper as a presentation medium. I might print something to take to a meeting then throw it away. If anyone gave me something on paper in a meeting, I still threw it away after the meeting (with only rare exceptions). My expectation was that they could always give me another copy if I needed one, and would somehow share or make it available electronically if it was important. I don't recall that ever actually causing a problem.

(For anyone shocked at this use of paper and worried about trees, I reminded them that paper is a major industry of Georgia and that trees are grown on vast tree farms solely for the purpose of making paper. Good grief!)

In my last job at Emory I basically had no paper documents at all. There were just a few in a handful of folders, probably five or less.

The Punchline

In my current job the amount of paper I use is zero. On very rare occasions I print something out to look at it with a highlighter and not on the screen, but usually destroy that copy pretty quickly. Anything important is always on-line.

The nice thing about this is that there are no papers on my desk. Period. I have no file folders and nearly nothing in any drawers. In fact my desk is pretty much empty except for a couple of astronomical pictures stuck up and one or two bits of interesting detritus folks have insisted on giving me. In fact, I could move to another desk with nearly zero effort.

Except for Notebooks

There is one exception of note here. For nearly 20 years I've taken notes in, believe it or not, notebooks. I don't ever use legal pads but always some kind of bound notebook with pages numbered and dated. At the time I began that practice, it mercifully eliminated the unending stacks of miscellaneous pages from legal pads, and whole pads, that I somehow never got around to filing.

At Emory and for most of those years I not only used those notebooks for meetings but for all the work I did. Later, I only used them for meetings and moved other note-taking on-line in a practice I still follow today.

Having on-line notes searchable and available is of almost immeasurable value! (Of course, accidentally deleting a chunk of them is of almost immeasurable damage! Since, uh, that event, I've used a version control system to make snapshots so I can always step back through any changes. Currently I use Bazaar for this and all personal version control).

As a result, I only take occasional notes during meetings, and sometimes notes about ideas and such that are more graphical than textual. When I left Emory I had reached 85 notebooks of accumulated information, though the most recent was always the most important and useful—one reason that notebooks work so well for this. Now, I barely use one composition book per year.