The dream of having a paperless office has been around for decades, yet it seems that as each year passes, we end up with more paper, not less.
Case in point: when my district went to an all-online job application system, instead of getting 250 hardcopy pages in the mail, I’d have to print 500 or so pages of application materials. Going electronic actually created more paper.
That’s consistent with the findings of researchers Abigail Sellen and Richard Harper, whose book The Myth of the Paperless Office gives a fairly clear spoiler in the title.
Sellen and Harper found that email actually increases paper usage by an average of 40%, and if you think about other ways that digital tools can generate information—such as assessment reports—it’s no surprise that we’re inundated with paper.
What About Scanning?
But we’d all like to have less paper lying around, so why don’t we just scan it all?
There are, in fact, good reasons not to scan everything. Sellen and Harper introduce the idea of affordances—the practical benefits of paper, such as the ability to actually flip through a report that you’re holding in your hands, versus simply scrolling through a PDF file.
Chances are that most of your paper doesn’t need to be scanned, because it:
- Doesn’t require any action, or
- Requires action that needs to be done on the hardcopy itself, like filling out a form, or
- Doesn’t get any easier or less time-consuming when converted into digital format—like reading
So what can you do with it?
The Paper(Less) Office Makeover
Over at The Principal Center, I’m offering a free 7-day online course called The Paper(Less) Office Makeover:
You can start this course any time, and you’ll get a new lesson every day. There’s a PDF workbook—which you may want to (GASP!) print—and a video for each day, to help you implement high-performance systems and strategies for managing paper less, even if you can’t manage less paper.
- The essential tools to keep within arm’s reach so you can optimize your paper-based workflow
- How to use digital tools to keep track of your paper-based work, without lots of scanning or duplicated effort
- The real reason most paperwork sits around far too long
- How you can cut your filing time (and your secretary’s) by 99%, without making it any harder to find what you’re looking for
- How to “snooze” a hardcopy document so it shows up precisely when you want to see it—even weeks or months from now—and it’s off of your desk in the meantime