How I went paperless

My story

I went paperless about 10 years ago when I had a staff job at a tech company. I had a nice row of books in the upper cabinet of my cube – CSS, Javascript, project management, etc. I realized, however, that Googling was easier than flipping through pages of a book.

I donated the books. Then I called the facilities department to remove the overhead cabinets that the books were in. I did not realize it at the time, but I was starting on my path to an almost paper-free existence.

The next day I opened my file drawers. There was nothing there that wasn’t in the company file server. Files gone. File drawer, gone. I was not going back.

Now how about that desk. Tape dispenser? Nothing to tape anymore – gone. Fluorescent light? No paper to read anymore – gone. Stapler – gone. Scissors – gone. Calendars, folders, pencil holder full of pencils-all gone. I added a plant and lava lamp in the space I freed up.

I got a nice monitor and got used to doing everything on-screen. About this time I also started working standing up, which I will cover in a different post. (Chair – gone.)

My transition was not without withdrawal.  I yearned for my red pen, which I used to mark up technical documents. I also loved to make sitemaps on the wall by doing screenshots, printing them and pinning them up. These were machine age habits. Wasteful.

If you are still paperful and want to consider going paperless, here are my suggestions.

Get yourself lots of pixels

This is the only expensive part of a paperless lifestyle. You want a big, bright, crisp, beautiful wall of pixels. Get yourself at least two high fidelity monitors. I have a 27″ mac with 5k monitor. Next to it sits a separate Dell 27″ 4K monitor.

Ebay is your best bet for the external monitor. I got mine used at a fraction of the list price.

Now you have a wall of crystal clear desktop in front of you. That’s the primary enabler to a paper free world.

Get in the cloud

I realized that one of the upsides to doing work without paper is that you have access to everything wherever you are. However you need to do more than work on your computer to accomplish this; you need to work in the cloud-meaning some big company’s server.

Use software that pushes everything to the cloud. For me, that means using mostly web-based applications – Google Docs and Sharepoint, for example. But you can also get applications that are installed and synced with the cloud. Microsoft Office 365 will allow you to install apps like Word, Excel and Outlook, giving you options to save and work in the cloud.

When everything is in the cloud you can access it with your phone, chromebook or tablet, in addition to your computer.

There are other advantages too. If your hard drive crashes, everything in the cloud is safe. Sharing something with a team member is as simple as sending a share URL. Co-authoring of documents is enabled too.

Make lifestyle choices

Once I went paperless at work, I found myself going paperless at home.

There is a well worn path from the mail box to the recycle bin. I opt out of all bills and statements, especially IRA/401k statements, which come in giant envelopes and are never read.

My kids asked me to buy them a printer because their teachers wants their homework printed. After a call with the principal, they were offered the school office printer for their homework. I mainly objected to having my kids print their homework because if did not feel it was a healthy habit to teach. I believe paperlessness is more respectful of the environment and more efficient.

Get a chromebook

Sometimes it’s nice to have a device you can type on while you are on the road, outside or even in a greenhouse. For me it’s a Chromebook.

I spent barely over $200 on mine and got a robust device that lasts for years, has a longer battery life than a laptop, never gets viruses and gives me access to everything I need.

Allow yourself moments of weakness

While I am pretty much paper free, there are still a few things that I like.

  • My sketchbook
  • Sticky notes
  • The Sunday New York Times

I still order family photos for my mother. I have them shipped directly to her place.

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