Getting paper under control

Where is this paperless world we were all promised for so many years? Why does it seem that I have just as much paper to deal with now as before?

I’ve come across some good ideas when it comes to paper management and tying my tools together. Here we go…

Scan all the things

Whether it’s using my phone or my printer/scanner, converting the paper to zeros and ones solves the biggest issue I have: keeping from losing things. I commonly recommend using a mobile app connected to cloud based storage to capture your paper into a digital format. The rationale behind this is if you’re a notebook user like I am, it’s difficult to use a flatbed or sheet-fed scanner to process bound materials.

If you have a large amount of unbound materials (or don’t mind cutting your notebooks apart) getting a sheet-fed scanner or a multi-function printer that offers the same capabilities can go a long way. I use the Brother MFC-J491DW printer/scanner combination for my work and it’s been a reliable go to tool. I wish it had the ability to do double-sided scanning, but being able to scan directly to OneNote has been invaluable for me.

Paper doesn’t need to be permanent

Dovetailing off the scanning idea, we need to get over the concept that since paper is a physical thing it should be kept, filed, and stored. Only those things that the original (provable as such) documents are required for such as mortgages, taxes, etc. truly require retention as paper documents.

Bound notebooks introduce an additional level of difficulty in this mental challenge. When you’ve captured things in a bound notebook, you have all the other things you’ve captured in the notebook to deal with as well. Even if it’s only one page because it’s a nicely bound material there is a greater hesitancy to discarding that collection of paper. I’m going through that exercise now with notebooks I have written in over the years for various work engagements.

Part of my cleanup has been to allocate time to go page by page through a notebook, scan any pages worth keeping, and then actively get rid of the notebook. Unless there is an exceptionally good reason to retain a notebook, I have taken to tossing it into my lit fireplace for destruction. Not only is this more secure than the trashcan, it gives the process a sense of finality and closure as I move on. I’ll readily admit it’s a hard step to take and it doesn’t get any easier each time but I remind myself it’s for the greater good.

Recognize paper’s value as an abstract medium

Unless you’re spending your time completing forms all day (and if you are my thoughts and prayers are with you) you’re probably starting with a blank sheet of paper to work. We so often will by paper in various formats, structures, layouts, weights, colors, etc. trying to find what will work to help us get our work done. I recommend trying the following as an experiment in productivity.

Rather than using lined paper, legal pads, or notebooks, start with plain, blank sheets of paper. Get yourself a paper line template to place under the paper as you use it. You’ll also find these called penmanship templates or you can make one yourself using something as simple as a word processor. The key is to have the lines dark enough to see through the top page when you place a blank sheet of paper on top of the template?

Now why go to all this effort? This way you can have as many different lettering templates as you like, from ruled lines to graph paper to meeting minutes and more. Since you’re using generic paper for all these things, it makes it easier to mentally get comfortable with grabbing a sheet, doing what you need, and then moving on. There’s no emotional attachment to a notebook; no compelling reason to retain that sheet of paper when it’s outlived it’s usefulness.

Digital alternatives

Many are making the move to digital alternatives, whether they be iPads and Apple Pencils, Android tablets with styluses, or e-ink based devices like the Remarkable 2 to eliminate their reliance on paper. This approach definitely has it’s strengths and weaknesses. Personally I’ll never reach a point where the feel of a good pen on smooth paper doesn’t bring a smile to my face and a creative spark to my mind, but to each their own.

Paper is more than a physical problem

Taking time to come to grips with how you feel about paper as part of your productive systems and then integrating that thinking into the lifecycle of said paper can make all the difference when it comes to keeping it under control. Are you ready to manage your paper?

2 thoughts on “Getting paper under control

  1. I like paperless but how do you organise it? Do you separate your bills from your medical documents or does it all go in to one big black hole folder and you rely on good look (or OCR) to find anything again?

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