I’ve lost count of the number of articles and blog posts I’ve seen on ‘Going Paperless’ as if that were an end in itself. Is it necessarily good to cut out all paper from our lives? If so, why?

I love some forms of paper: my Moleskin notebook, personal letters, hand-made Happy Fathers Day cards, cookery books, some fiction & ‘tactile’ non-fiction books, and the Weekend FT for a start.

Before diving into any new project or course of action, the approach here at Muse Stories is to always start with the question, Why? And that means going back to your personal Vision.

A core part of my Vision is to spend all my time doing what I want to do, and none of it doing what I don’t (within reason.) Because some of what I like doing costs money then anything that either cut my costs or improves my cash flow (& profit) is generally a good thing. This applies equally to my personal and business activities.

The Strategy

We will be exploring many strategies for those who share the Vision I outline above. The one I want to kick-start right now is The Paper Strategy. The going-in position is:

  • Keep the paper we love: this is of course a matter of personal choice & I’ve already given some examples of mine
  • Some documents simply have to be kept in paper form, e.g. passports, birth certificates
  • Less paper in our lives will save us time, e.g. manual sifting & searching, preparing accounting and tax returns
  • Producing and storing less paper will save us money, e.g. less paper, ink, storage space, mailing
  • We can collaborate more effectively & flexibly with business partners, suppliers, contractors & assistants using digital technology rather than paper, e.g. reviewing & commenting on each others work using an online tool – from anywhere, at any time
  • Better service to our customers by using digital technology rather than paper, e.g. by having fast, searchable & location-independent access to relevant information
  • Paper is more effective than technology for some things depending on the nature of our business & our personal preferences, e.g. as Malcolm Gladwell concludes in the New Yorker, the solution is not to use less paper, but to keep less
  • Less paper is good for the environment
  • Recycling is good for the environment – Wikipedia notes that recycling 1 short ton (907 Kg) of paper saves 17 mature trees, 7,000 US gallons of water, 3 cubic yards of landfill space, 2 barrels of oil & 4,100 kilowatt-hours of electricity: enough to power an average 3 bedroom European house for 1 year.

The Action Plan

1. Identify what really has to be kept in paper form & for how long: personal & business

2. Stop generating more paper, e.g.

  • Opt out of direct marketing mail
  • Stop printing to paper & print to PDF instead
  • Keep ideas, lists & medium-term notes electronically (keeping my beloved Moleskin for short-term notes)
  • Scan business cards
  • Ask for digital only receipts & scan the the rest
  • Turn off all paper statements, e.g. bank statements
  • Digital-only billing, payments & accounts
  • Never ask for or keep paper receipts when using personal debit card

3. Identify & quickly setup, easy-to-use & great value technology for:

  • Scanning: double-sided, fast, multi-sheet feeder
  • Searching via OCR (Optical Character Recognition)
  • Encryption
  • Digital signage – to reduce having to print, physically sign, copy, scan, and mail paper
  • Storage & backup
  • Access to information from anywhere, anytime – where ever there’s an internet connection
  • Offline access from anywhere, anytime – for ‘working documents’
  • Shredding

4. Setup a workflow for the paper that needs to be kept to:

  • Scan, encrypt, store & back up – for the really important stuff
  • Store the paper somewhere safe, organised & accessible
  • Only keep the latest ‘version’ of the paper, e.g. insurance policies

5. Do a one-off scan, store & back-up, for all existing documents that need to be kept but not as paper

6. Shred all sensitive paper that does not need to be kept

7. Recycle all shredded & non-sensitive paper that does not need to be kept

What happens next?

Over the coming weeks and months I will be acting on The Paper Strategy, testing out the assumptions and reporting back on this site.

What’s works for you? What would you like to work for you? Is there anything you’d like me to add to the list above?