The Quest For The Paperless Office

Going Paperless

Here's the big question: Could we go paperless if we wanted to? Paper, paperless, what's the difference? asks Brancatelli: "I don't want to be all paper or all paperless. I want to be efficient."

Winston agrees: "You need to choose your tools and, sometimes, paper is the best tool."

Chew on this scenario. I talk with organizer Hemphill, and in the interview, I make a half-dozen pages of notes. I could make them on screen in Microsoft Word, but I'm not so swift a touch typist. So I scrawl them on paper, the old-fashioned way. Afterwards I could fire up the scanner and feed this material into my computer, but why? My scanner-a cheap, home model-is slow, and for files to be readable, they're huge. Scanning would take at least 15 minutes from start to finish, and soon scanned output would gobble up my hard drive. Sure, I could eliminate this paper, but that would put me well over the edge of tech-extremism.

Another plus with paper: "Some people feel better holding a piece of paper in their hands," says Winston. It's a peculiarity of human nature but it seems that even if our schedule is meticulously kept in a software program, we just feel better if we print it out.

Paper has value, in other words. Sometimes it's more efficient, often it leaves us feeling more secure, but still, what can we do to stop its malevolent multiplication to the malignant point where it breaks movers' backs, hogs an expanding share of our diminutive office spaces, and eats up an expanding share of our supplies' budget? "What we want to do isn't necessarily to eliminate paper but to tame it," says Hemphill, and that indeed is a goal we all can jump on.

The plain truth is, too much is definitely too much-so how can we cut back on our paper consumption? A real pro at this is Sam Greengard, a homebased business writer from Burbank, California, who says, "I generate almost zero paper. I got to this point in early 1999 when software tools advanced to the point where I thought a paperless office was completely feasible. Let me point out," Greengard, who is also the president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, adds, "that I haven't gone paperless to save tree-though that's a nice result-but to gain efficiency and speed."

What are Greengard's top tips for going paperless?

Junk your fax machine. "Use Jfax to send and receive faxes via e-mail," advises Greengard. Pay $12.50 monthly and you pick your own area code. A free version-with most of the strengths of Jfax except your area code is the luck of the draw-can be had at eFax. Either way, faxes come to you as e-mail attachments-and you print out only the ones you want hard copies of.

"Use iHarvest to collect and store Web pages, and it lets you search Web pages by key word," says Greengard. Note: iHarvest is a freebie archiving system for Web pages, and signing up takes only minutes.

"I just don't print and I try to avoid scribbling info down," says Greengard. "I create notes and tasks in Microsoft Outlook, and I use the Journal [a tool built into Outlook] to keep track of incoming calls." Whoosh, he eliminates the myriad little pieces of scratch paper that clutter most desks (and always get lost!).

"I use a Palm V for taking data on the go," says Greengard. That means there's no need for a paper organizer or printouts.

"I create invoices in Quicken, then use Adobe Acrobat to create an attachment I can e-mail to clients," says Greengard. This is the only one of his suggestions that involves any technical complexity-and it's not much, just using Acrobat to create a .pdf file that's viewable on any computer. This step also produces a real benefit, Greengard says. "Clients receive the invoice a few days sooner than if I mailed it to them, so I get paid faster.

"Doing these things lets me work faster," says Greengard. "It's a lot easier to find the information you need inside a computer."

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