Exaggerated dreams of the “paperless office” have been around for so many years that they’ve even spawned their own jokes (“The paperless office will become a reality about the same time as the paperless toilet”). But according to a recent article in the New York Times, […]

Exaggerated dreams of the “paperless office” have been around for so many years that they’ve even spawned their own jokes (“The paperless office will become a reality about the same time as the paperless toilet”). But according to a recent article in the New York Times, we may finally be reaching the point where the paperless home is a reality for some cutting-edge people. Given that many web workers see no distinction between home and office, it’s worth thinking about what it takes to be a paperless web worker.

In many ways, going paperless comes easy to the web worker. Our correspondence is naturally via e-mail; our reference materials are online or increasingly available as e-books. But there are some particular ways to leverage technology that can help reduce the need for paper even further.

More Monitors = Less Paper – We’ve discussed the productivity benefits of multiple monitors in the past, but if you have sufficient screen real estate, they can cut down on your paper use as well. Instead of printing out reference documents or design sketches to refer to while you concentrate on part of a complex project, you can spread them out over your virtual desktop. With enough screen space, there’s no need to use paper for temporary copies of things.

Scan and Shred – Even if you’re not generating paper yourself, you probably can’t keep it from coming into the office. But you don’t have to hang on to most of it: scanners like the Fujitsu ScanSnap can quickly turn just about any paper into searchable PDF files. My own daily workflow now includes running incoming paper mail through the ScanSnap and then through a shredder. Recycle the shreds and you can at least cut down on the trees-to-filing-cabinet pileup. You may want to check with your accountant or lawyer about the advisability of hanging on to a few things, like signed contracts.

Backups Rule – As you move towards the paperless world, you need to take backups more seriously than ever. You really don’t want a hard drive failure taking out essential tax documents just before you get audited, or destroying the only copy you have of a customer’s design documents. Take the time to put together a solid backup strategy with multiple layers of on-site and off-site defense.

I don’t think I’ll ever go 100% paperless in my own household: I’m too much of a sentimentalist to get rid of cards that were handmade by the kids, and there are over 5000 printed books on my shelves. But in my web work, I’m already there. How about you?

  1. I have been championing the paperless for some time. Not only on http://homeofficewarrior.com, but also on my other blog, http://homeofficelawyer.com A paperless office and the home office are a natural fit. Not only is it a great way to save on file space and wall space. It anables the home office worker to always have their office with them when they are not in the office. It also enables me to collaborate with my virtual assistants and share the office files with them without the need of having to use “real” paper. I have also found that client/customers appreciate the paperless approach too. We exchange documents via email and paperless fax on a daily basis. And, with the paperless office, using tools like basecamp also work hand in hand.

  2. Oops. The URL to the Home Office Lawyer Blog should have been http://homeofficelawyerblog.com Sorry about that.

  3. I sometimes quite like paper for my creative process…

    Sometimes it’s very nice to be able to stash the phone, the music and the steady deluge of moving pictures in a draw…

    And just disconnect.
    But still get somewhere.

    Very liberating.
    That being said – give me colour e-ink, with obscene battery life, capacitive touch and some kind of wireless and I doubt i’ll be completely loyal ;-)

    For other stuff though?
    Paper isn’t really necessary. Though I do love my books still.

  4. Personally I like having a notebook with me at all times to jot down ideas. I’m not always in front of a computer screen and I like being able to put some of the thoughts that come to me on the subway(for example) down. In the end a lot of these thoughts do end up in the computer though. Very slowly I think the paperless office is becoming more of a reality.

  5. I’ve tried doing work with both paper and without paper and my personal experience is that I work better if you use less paper and more computer/laptop. The only drawback of not using paper — up till now — was that I couldn’t take random notes but my new cellphone has solved this problem too. The moment I need to remember something or the moment I am hit with a new idea I record it into my cell phone. Of course I miss writing on the paper but I think it is a small price to pay if you want to save paper and consequently, trees.

  6. I think that we should go paperless. The problem is that more and more companies are following the Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) method of doing business, which asks companies to keep paper copies of what they have, just in case they get audited.

    Having more than just one backup copy, whether it be digital or paper-based is always a good idea.


    Richard Rinyai

  7. Hrm. I just moved down to Silicon Valley for 3 months (part of YCombinator). We have 3 people working out of an apartment with a whiteboard. Looking around, I notice that not ONE of us has drawers, paper on their desk, or a trash can nearby.

    It’s do-able, I think. :-)

  8. The NY Times article mentions a growing number of cheap, document fed scanners, yet the only one that gets any mention is the Fujitsu ScanSnap. It looks great, and it’s cheaper than it’s predecessor, but $295 isn’t that cheap.

    Anyone know of any inexpensive (<$100) document fed scanners?

  9. I cannot emphasize enough how pleased I am with the Fujitsu ScanSnap for scanning documents. I’ve owned about 10 or 12 diffeent scanners over the past 10 years, and this is hands down the best for that purpose. I’ve scanned probably 30,000 pages on this thing and been extremely happy.

    You will still need a flatbed scanner for photos and things like that.

  10. Great update on a long gone by pipedream. Though , I must say , the mighty Oprah has been talking allot about getting rid of toilet paper…you know , a quick shot from the ‘ol fountain. And we all know about her power of persuasion over popular culture…”Oprah commands ye!!!!!!”

    I have also been using notebooks to jot down ideas and find that , recently , I have started to combine this with my cell phone recorder to put the noodle through it’s paces. The ideas eventually do end up in front of my camera , and then into my movie editor , so I would say that I am 50-50 on the paperless front. That’s allot of trees! Ah….trees ;-)


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