Where Paper is Still King

As web workers we’re all equipped with computers and bandwidth and software galore. But despite these natural advantages, and the persistent myth of the paperless office, I don’t know anyone who has actually abandoned the technology of previous millenia entirely. Sometimes, paper is just too efficient, too user friendly, too easy to pass up. In my own life, it creeps in to many corners:

Quick notes: Sure, there are virtual sticky note programs everywhere, but I still keep a pad of the real physical sort and a pen on my desk, and they’re stuck to my monitor, my fridge, and probably my cat at any given time. Between zero-friction data entry and ambient in-my-face data availability, paper rules for this application.

Task List: I go back and forth on this one; I’ve been seduced into trying dozens of task list and GTD applications on various computers. But as we’ve written before, there are plenty of reasons for using paper to keep track of your planned activities. Sometimes the old reliable ways are the best.

Calendar: Another case where quick random access away from the computer can be key, though right at the moment I’m back to keeping mine on the computer. There are some mighty enticing paper calendars to be had, though.

Business Cards: Does anyone out there actually scan in paper business cards and convert them to some electronic format? I sure don’t. If you gave me a paper card, it’s sitting in a stack, sorted, with all the others. If I deal with you often enough I’ll eventually enter the information on the computer by hand, but for occasional contacts paper is plenty good.

High-Level Architecture: I don’t know how many programs I have around to do UML diagrams and ERD diagrams and wireframe UI mockups and the like. It really doesn’t matter. When I’m starting in on a new coding project, the first boxes and arrows and lines always appear on a big sheet of paper as I noodle around to figure out how the major pieces will fit together.

For me, in the end, it boils down to efficiency. Web work isn’t about using the web for everything. It’s about living in a faster-paced working world where I use the tools that help me get the job done as quickly as I can. When those tools are paper-based I might feel a bit sheepish, but I forge ahead anyhow. There aren’t any prizes for getting your whole world into the laptop.

What about you? What areas of your working life do you still use paper for, whether you feel guilty about it or not?

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