Advertising
Advertising

How to Go Paperless: Bury the Paper Before it Buries You

How to Go Paperless: Bury the Paper Before it Buries You
Paper Stack

The paperless office concept has been around since the 1960s or ‘70s, much like the flying car. For many people, this has been little more then a myth. How can we get rid of the paper while our offices are filled with photocopiers and fax machines and the postal carriers and couriers keep bringing in reams of the stuff daily? What about the need to keep receipts for accounting and tax purposes? And what about the contracts and other legal documents? It is hard, but getting easier to do every day.

Well, the short answer is that in a normal office environment today, we can’t really do it 100%, certainly not in one simple step without burning down the building. But there are some simple steps that we can take toward the goal of not having to constantly manage piles of paper at home or the office. A few decisive steps applied over enough time can dramatically reduce if not eliminate the paper.

Advertising

Before going through the specific steps, we need to consider there being two kinds of paper documents: those we need to retain for the longer term (let’s call them records) and those that are transient in nature (call them working files). Different approaches work for these two basic kinds of papers or documents. The nature of your office and work has a great deal to do with which type of paper you can reduce or eliminate the most easily. A legal, accounting or medical office will likely have a harder time making its records paperless than an ad agency or political campaign office would. Decide which of the paper reduction steps you take and in what order you take them based on what you do and the importance of the various records and working files.

Advertising

Ten steps toward converting your office to a paperless one:

Advertising

  1. Begin with the end in mind. Be clear on your objectives so that you can target your conversion most effectively. For example, if efficiency is a more important objective than environmental, don’t try cutting your paper volume in half by recycling paper through the copiers to print on the backside. Double-sided copying easily jams the machine and often confuses whoever gets handed stuff printed on both sides. We found increasing the efficiency of the records management system much more important than reducing the number of working papers. By targeting the records management, the working papers reductions naturally followed.
  2. Decide on a date for a switch from paper-based to paperless for everything going forward. Chose a date far enough ahead that everyone can work toward. Not everything needs to be switched at one time. Don’t worry about converting old records until you have time to get around to doing something about converting them. Many of them can probably be kept without any changes and discarded once they get to a certain age.
  3. Establish an electronic records retention system and get comfortable using it before becoming committed to it. We didn’t go out and get an expensive or complicated system installed then make a hard conversion. What we did early on was to create a filenaming system that automatically sorts itself chronologically in most file directories. Just like the filename for this article which begins 20071106_1600… This is simply the metric system of year, month, day and time to the nearest minute or hour based on a 24 hour clock. If we save a version of this file on one person’s laptop then email it to the office, it gets filed automatically by whomever receives it. Revisions are easily handled by simply superimposing a new date/time at the beginning of the filename. We started doing this long before the switch date.
  4. Place a filename on every document worth keeping. In our office, if a document does not have a filename, it gets named or tossed out. This is true whether it is a paper or electronic document.
  5. Retain a paper file as the primary record for anything before the switch and the electronic record as the primary record for anything after the switch date. This is not a complicated thing. In our office, like most offices, there is often more then one copy of the important things around. We got into the habit of knowing where the record was then tossing out or deleting duplicates once done with them, especially for the paper duplicates. We get comfortable knowing that anything prior to January 1, 2005 worth having a record of has a paper version someplace and everything afterward can be found on a server.
  6. Inform your clients and suppliers of your paperless orientation. Come out of the closet and let everyone know because most people find it great. This does not mean you should beat up a client who wants you to send hardcopy proofs or a signed original instead of an electronic version. We tend to give clients whatever they want. However, we do beat up our suppliers. Our lawyers were some of the toughest holdouts but they eventually learned how to send everything electronically and scan documents that had to have signatures on them.
  7. Keep your technology and systems simple and compatible with what most people use. The great news is that PCs and MACs use file systems that no longer conflict with each other. There are still problems with using different types of graphics and multi-media formats but these are diminishing. If we stick to the basic formats, most people can deal with them. Be careful about using fringy formats, especially for records that need to be retained long term.
  8. Check and upgrade your older files from time to time to make sure they remain usable. CDs or tapes are a problem. They deteriorate and some of the earlier formats are no longer supported. We keep our records in live formats. Maintaining a backup server is no harder or more expensive than keeping an inventory of off-line storage media. Paper records deteriorate too if printed on acid paper or stored in a bad environment.
  9. Adopt an “If in doubt, throw it out” policy. We tend to be a bit quicker than most to toss out stuff we are not sure of. The odds are that since we only tend to ever look at maybe 1% of the records we store, there is a high probability the stuff we are deciding whether or not to keep is not worth keeping.
  10. Recognize and reward those who help meet the objectives. Whether someone becomes able to electronically edit or deliver documents on the fly or is finally replacing an old Remington manual typewriter with a computer, take the effort to show how this produces positive impacts, whether on the bottom line or the environment.

These were some basic steps we used and recommend that can help you make the shift. We reduced our paper consumption about 95% over the past five years. If you have already made shifts toward a paperless office and have some other ideas, please let us know by posting a comment. Or let us know if you had any problems in trying to create a paperless office.

Advertising

More by this author

The Golden Rule Of Referrals: Learn to Give a Perfect Referral Burn The Business Plan: Write a Book Instead How to Give a Killer Evaluation Increasing your Credibility in 30 days: How to Brag without Bragging How to build your business before quitting your day job

Trending in Featured

1 How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques 2 How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators 3 How to Master the Art of Prioritization 4 How to Find Your Passion and Live a Fulfilling Life 5 What to Do in Free Time? 20 Productive Ways to Use the Time

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on September 18, 2019

How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes.

I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

What to Write Down

Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

Advertising

Dates of Events

Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

Names of People

Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

Theories or Frameworks

Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

Definitions

Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

Arguments and Debates

Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

Advertising

Images

Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

Other Stuff

Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

Your Own Questions

Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

1. Outlining

Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

Advertising

For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

2. Mind-Mapping

For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

Here’s the idea:

In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

3. The Cornell System

The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

Advertising

About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

The Bottom Line

I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

More About Note-Taking

Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

Read Next