working paperless

Working Paperless – Part 1 Origins

In Books, Productivity, Time Management, Tips and Tricks, Working Paperless, Working Smarter by hardorsmart3 Comments


This is Part 1 of a series of 4 Blog Posts on Working Paperless. You can expect these parts:

  1. How it all started (that's today!)
  2. Why I work paperless
  3. How I work paperless
  4. The Tools that I use

Where it all started

Cai Lun

Cai Lun

In A.D. 105, Cai Lun invented the composition for paper along with the papermaking process. Johannes Gutenberg developed the printing press in the fifteenth century. Since then people started to produce printed paper on a large scale. But, time has passed. Evolution has done its work. Therefore the question is: Do we still need all this paper, or is it time to start working paperless?

Johannes Gutenberg

Where my paperless journey began

I've been working paperless for almost five years now. Although it was sometimes hard not to take a piece of paper and a pencil I forced myself to find solutions in another way. I did that because I wanted to make it work, no escapes. Still, I started working paperless without drawing too much attention. Because I wasn't sure it would work, I decided to try it out before I told anyone. But of course, people started to notice. They never saw me holding a pen anymore, and when they handed me some document, I asked for the digital copy. So it didn't take long before people started to ask.

The funny thing is that as soon as you tell people that you work paperless, they start explaining to you why it wouldn't work for them, and why we can never replace paper. I guess that’s just a classic case of denial. It’s also a little frightening to stop with something that you’ve been used to all your life. And that was also what I noticed when I started working paperless. The thing is that you’re biased to use paper. It’s like second nature. When you stop using paper, you will notice that you search for exact replacements. Any new technique must act exactly like you’re used to when using paper. That, of course, is quite stupid. You’re not looking for a replica. You’re looking for a better option. Consequently, that alternative will differ from paper. If it won’t, it will be paper.

Lessons from the past

History shows a lot of examples where we had problems adapting to new technologies and possibilities. Remember the first cars? They still looked very much like carriages. There were no horses; that was the only difference. It took us some time to realize that the new technology opened new possibilities. A similar thing happened when computers entered our lives. I’m convinced that in the future people will laugh when they look back and see how much we were printing at the beginning of the digital age. They will probably have a hard time understanding that we thought that printing made things real.

Start Today!

In fact, working without paper is far easier than you would expect, and it opens a lot of possibilities that you don’t have when using paper. In this short series of Blog Posts, I will explain how I do it, and I hope you will learn a thing or two. But the best advice that I can give you is: start today. Yes, that's right, the simplest way to accomplish working without paper is by starting to do it, right now. And of course, you won't accomplish this in one day. You will probably encounter your first obstacles, and you will find your solutions. Working without paper is an evolutionary process (like so many other processes). Start today, and you will notice that soon there is hardly any paper left in your life.

Confession: One exception to the rule

So let me first explain what it means when I tell you that I work paperless. Isn't there any paper left in my life? No, there's still paper in my life. But in my work, the only reason I sometimes carry paper around is when somebody else can't give me a digital copy or needs me to give him or her a real document. Therefore the reason for me to have something on paper at work is always somebody else.

You're probably wondering why I explicitly talk about work. Is it different in my private life? Yes, it is. And that is because I make one exception to my rule of not having anything on paper. And that is: I still like to read books the old-fashioned way. Although I do read books on an e-reader too, I somehow just love the look, feel and smell of a book so much that I still prefer to read paper books. And I also love to look at the books in my library. That probably makes me a little bit schizophrenic, but hey, nobody’s perfect. And, although it hurts, I’m convinced that books will also disappear in time.

Having confessed that, I can now tell you why and how I work paperless. Stay tuned for the next post: Part 2 Why.

See you there!



  1. Pingback: Working Paperless - Part 2 WHY - Hard or Smart

  2. Pingback: Working Paperless - Part 3 HOW - Hard or Smart

  3. Pingback: Tools for Working Paperless - Hard or Smart

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