I used just 3 simple steps to become paperless - stop producing, stop receiving, and stop collecting. Keep reading if you want further explanation the first step. I know it is not quite as easy as one, two, three, especially if you are a paper lover like I was. It will take constant effort to transition away from all the paper. Let’s get started.
Start with Why
As Simon Sinek says in his inspiring TED Talk, along with his book, we should start with why. You need to know why you are putting yourself through this transition. Just like a diet, the goal is to be healthier, but why do you want to be healthier? To live longer? To thrive, not just survive? To have more energy? To look better, or to boost your confidence
Like a goal to be more health conscious, know why you want to improve your digital fitness. If you're like me, you might have a desire to change an industry. Maybe you want to simplify. Maybe you want to push yourself to learn something new. Maybe you want to save time and become more efficient. Maybe you want to help save the planet. These reasons, and more specifically your own, can all help you go paperless.
Whatever your reason, take a few minutes and write it down. Don’t write it on paper, start the transition now. Write down your reasons to go digital and make this list your background on your PC desktop or your phone. Check out Canva for a simple free background maker.
What's Your Paper Weight?
Now that you know your reason, you should know how much paper you use and where it comes from. In other words, what is your paper weight? On average each office employee uses 100 lbs. of paper a year or 10,000 sheets. I helped someone who printed roughly 50,000 sheets a year to cut the habit, so I know you can too.
For a week, track your paper usage. Every time you use a piece of paper, add it to your list. To keep track, use a notepad app on your phone or try out the free excel app (iOS/Android). (If you want to keep the diet analogy going, you could actually go as far as using a simple calorie counting app (iOS/Android) on your phone. Remember, each calorie represents a page.
As important as writing down the number of pages you print, is documenting the activity that produces those pages. Those activities are the actual processes you will need to shift to a digital solution before you go paperless.
What are Your Top Producers?
After you have tracked your paper production for about a week, list your top producers. My top producers included:
- Note taking - I carried around a portfolio to write down my notes. These were notes I rarely revisited.
- Tasks - I relied on sticky notes to track all my tasks. I placed a sticky notepad in my back pocket and spent more time sorting through my to-dos than actually doing them.
- Document storage - If I wanted to read something later, I printed it out and put it in a stack, a stack that I never returned to.
- Plans and specs – The construction industry uses one of the most ineffective ways to communicate information in construction drawings, and after we receive these plans, we just love to hang onto them, even if we are no longer working on the project.
Some other processes you may have to work towards digitizing include:
- Agendas/meeting minutes - How many of us still print an agenda prior to every meeting for every attendee and then print out the meeting minutes afterwards? Most of the paper agendas/minutes are a complete waste. And don’t get me started on the meeting itself.
- Paper checks/monetary transactions – Fewer and fewer transactions take place using paper (like receipts) and paper checks, but they still exist today.
- Proposals/reports – Many clients still require the submission of paper copies of all reports and proposals, which creates duplicate effort and inefficiencies.
- Working copies – We often print out documents to confirm the visual once printed, or because “I can just read better when its printed."
While this is by no means represents a comprehensive list, it will help you get started. I am confident you have additional producers to add to the list I provided, and if I am missing something important, please include your feedback in the comments below.
Get Going Already
Prioritize your list of producers based both on the number of pages produced and, more importantly, the ease of eliminating the producer and finding an alternative digital solution. When prioritizing, select the producer that will provide the quickest return. You need quick wins to get into a habit and stop the cycle. Once you have established your priority list, begin to eliminate each producer one-by-one. Below are examples of alternative methods for each of the processes.
- Note taking - Digitizing note taking is critical to successfully becoming paperless. I use Microsoft OneNote because it integrates with both my work and my personal life. OneNote allows access to my notes on any device. OneNote has apps for my phone, my Microsoft Surface, and the Web. Best of all, OneNote is free and includes 5GB of storage. Other great apps to try include Evernote and Google Keep.
- Task list - Finding a replacement for my sticky notes was not easy. I tried everything from Outlook tasks to Google tasks to find a suitable way to remember the milk, to other apps of the month I stumbled upon. Nothing seemed to stick until I tried Trello. I think this program stuck because it works the way my mind works. Trello uses boards and lists with tasks flowing from list to list as they progress. Other great apps include Wunderlist, Any.DO, Todoist, and Microsoft To Do. You can also just use a note taking app.
- Document storage - Finding a replacement for the filing cabinet is critical to your conversion to paperless. First, think about a cloud storage solution. I have used just about every cloud storage platform out there. As I finished my dissertation, I finally standardized on one platform, Microsoft OneDrive. This is due to a deep integration with Microsoft Office and Office 365. OneDrive allows for online and desktop co-authoring of documents. Some other options to evaluate include Google Drive, Box and Dropbox.
- Article storage - As stated above, I used to print out every article that I wanted to keep for later. Now, I use Pocket. Pocket is great because it lets you save content from many different sources to read later. It typically converts the content into an easy-to-read format and will even read the content aloud if you choose that option.
- Plans and specs - In our industry, digitizing plans and specs is a necessity. Bluebeamhas quickly become the industry standard. Bluebeam can typically replace multiple high-priced tools. Bluebeam allows for collaboration through its studio. PlanGrid is another option worth considering. You could also use something as simple as Microsoft Edge to provide mark-ups to plans.
- Agendas/meeting minutes – Agendas and minutes should be included with the invite, along with a note stating the need to conserve paper and that no printed agendas will be provided. If you choose, it is possible to tie your OneNote notebook directly to the invite.
- Monetary transactions - We are reducing our reliance on printed money. Why not use your credit or debit card? Consider mobile payment methods such as Android pay, Apple pay, PayPal and Venmo. In fact, mobile payments are typically faster than using the chip in your credit card. Try it out a few times and you may actually love it.
- Proposals/reports – This is probably the one of the most difficult to eliminate and may be one of the last processes to transition as we often have client requirements. With that said, talk to your clients during the RFI period in an effort to determine if an electronic submissionis acceptable. If not, that’s okay for now, we can let it be our last producer.
- Working copies – Rather than printing out a working copy, think of the electronic version as your final draft. It is likely that the consumer of the information will be using a device to consume the information anyway. If you need to work through a thought, consider a white board and snap a picture of it using office lens (iOS/Android).
While some hardware such as a two-in-one or tablet PCs may make the transition to paperless easier, having one is not completely necessary. I was able to transition to paperless with a Dell laptop and a smart phone. It is all about motivation.
You're Just Getting Started
Stopping the production of paper is only the first step to paperless. The hardest part is making the decision to be paperless. While it may only reduce your paper use by about 50%, you will begin to notice the benefits of having less paper in your life. After you begin to transition, let me know how you're doing. If you have any additional producers, let me know so that I can add them to the list. Next week, I will review my second step and help you stop receiving paper. Are you ready?