When is paperless a bad thing?

Saving the planet is a very good reason to go paperless: Paperless billing, Paperless Post, paperless office. But when is removing paper from our lives actually hindering our productivity?

In your business you may be expressing this in various ways, for example having a policy of never printing out an email, or having a cloud based filing system rather than a paper-based job bag system. And how does it express itself in your own personal organisation? Do you have a paper diary or an online one? Do you keep your contacts in a rolodex or in your email account, Evernote or CRM software? Do you take meeting notes in a note book or on a tablet? Most of us will be erring more and more towards paperless in our personal organisation. One main piece of advice in this transition – make it quick and don’t overlap for long – that is where the problems start to creep in and you find yourself saying to your colleague/friend/partner “Ah yes sorry I missed that appointment because I forgot to look in my paper diary”. Don’t double up, don’t use two systems, find one system and stick to it, even if it feels like a pain to begin with you’ll get used to it in a few days/weeks.

So, assuming we have all managed to whole-heartedly transition into the paperless world with a streamlined online system that is synced with our business and personal life, or at least getting that way, why is there a sudden surge in the market of paper journals, diaries and organisers? Is this just hopeful sentimentalism or nostalgia? Are we missing the weight of it in our handbags? I’d like to argue it’s not just a throwback trend, there are other arguments to support paper in your organisational life, as long as it’s used well and in the right context…

There are many studies supporting the use of pen and paper note taking in a learning environment to help you process information rather than ‘mindlessly transcribing’, A study from 2014 where laptop users were pitted against pen and paper note takers showed that ‘longhand [pen and paper] notes not only lead to higher quality learning in the first place; they are also a superior strategy for storing new learning for later study’.  This translates to certain types of personal administration too. Mostly not the fact storing kind – as technologies now mean most forms of data are so easily stored and recalled that this renders the rolodex and paper diary extinct. However the more cognitive, theorising and immediate sides of note writing and recording information could still be used with effective results. Below I’ve written a list of tasks that I would recommend using paper for and some that I would not:

Use an organiser/journal for:

  • Setting goals
  • Writing an immediate to-do list which will be obsolete in 1 week
  • Taking notes during a networking event, meeting or lecture
  • Jotting down immediate thoughts/musings for long term planning, strategy or creative work

Use a synced online system for:

  • Recording contacts (perhaps after you’ve re-read your notes from your networking event)
  • Calendar appointments (perhaps with to-do list items pulled from email or your immediate paper to do list)
  • Recording any financial or organisational planning data
    Large strategy and planning documentation (once you’ve done some musing on paper)
  • Pretty much any fact or thought that you need to keep for the future

So go wild and get the most desired paper based organiser on the market right now but don’t be tempted to use it for recording important reference stuff, instead embrace its ability to help you get motivated and engage better with who or what you are learning about in the moment.

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