Filing Systems – Part 3: Paper vs. Paperless

paper-vs-paperless-buried-in-paperwork-blog-180In today’s world, it is no longer necessary to bury ourselves in piles of paper. Advancements in technology now give us paperless options for accessing, collecting and storing our information safely and securely. Still, both paper and paperless systems have their pros and cons to consider. So how do we know which one to use? Filing Systems – Part 3: Paper vs. Paperless, provides some insight into which factors can help us decide on the most effective system for serving our individual needs.

In Part 1, we covered the history of filing systems and their basic progression through the ages leading up to present day. In Part 2, we learned about the challenges we face with the deluge of information, constantly coming at us from all directions. In this Part 3, we ponder the use paper vs paperless filing systems and discuss a little bit about each one. How do we determine when to print out a piece of information and when not to? Should we keep the information we’ve printed out or can we use it as scratch paper? Let’s see if we can come up with a few helpful ideas!

paper-vs-paperless-man-with-paper-blog-175The Convenience of Paper

While a “paperless” system is the Holy Grail which everybody talks about, few are able to achieve it. Almost everyone leaves paper trail. Realistically, paper is often extraordinarily convenient and is also a stable means of restoring and retrieving information. The very physicality of paper gives it storage and retrieval properties unlike the electronic files and documents in the virtual world. In short, it is very hard to beat a piece of paper.

However, if I printed out everything stored on my hard drive right now, the volume of paper generated would be massive and would likely fill my office and my house 10 times over. There would simply be too much volume to store efficiently for quick and easy retrievability.

Paper vs. Paperless

We are now in a quandary with paper vs. paperless. Do we stick with paper or opt for electronic paperless filing? Perhaps the real question is what role should each medium play in our day to day business processes. Many people do not have a very good grasp of filing methods and lack filing discipline, thus they don’t have a firm idea about how to use the various media forms effectively to satisfy their file storage and retrieval needs.

To Print or Not to Print?

paper-vs-paperless-computer-files-blog-190At this point, my own situation would serve as one good example for the role paper has in an otherwise electronic filing system. To start, my space is extraordinarily limited. I also frequently travel, thus creating the need for my data to be portable. These needs favor electronic filing. So, when do I decide to print something?

There are several primary needs driving my paper vs. paperless choices. When I have to go to a meeting and provide written information to others, I will print out the most essential documents. Sometimes I need printed copies for reference, to get me through the “unplugged” parts of the meeting. Printed sheets serve attendees the same way. I also print information when I need a quick, easy, portable version. When information displayed on the computer screen causes too much eyestrain, like a schematic diagram for instance, I will print a copy for better readability .

paper-vs-paperless-man-filing-paper-blog-175Whatever my reasons for printing out a piece of paper, at some point I will also have to determine if it is beneficial to keep it. The logical question here will largely depend on the reason why I printed it out in the first place. If my printed copy is something I’m going to address again in a follow-up meeting, I can save time by holding onto it. A paper copy is useful for jotting down related comments and notes between meetings. If the print is for a course I teach regularly, likely I will save time by keeping it in the file. If I think I can reuse the printed information, I will keep in the file. If I know for certain I won’t need the print again, I will shred it.

Asking the Right Questions

Being environmentally aware and cost conscious, I never want to generate and store any more paper than necessary. Like all businesses, I store my files on hard drives and also on internet cloud-based file hosting services such as Dropbox. Occasionally, we temporarily lose access to our electronic files. Systems crash, the internet goes down or there’s scheduled maintenance. If any of these events happen on the day of the big meeting or a scheduled class, it’s often the paper copy, which saves the day and supports those events. I determine my paper vs. paperless choices by keeping these factors in mind and by asking myself a few more questions:

  1. paper-vs-paperless-system-down-blog-190Can I save future time and effort by keeping and filing this piece of paper now?
  2. Do I need to print out this information to make my life easier or less stressful in some way?
  3. If I don’t have access to my electronic files, will having a retrievable paper copy, on file, save the day?

If something is important enough, often I want the physical printout as a reminder to help me find the invisible electronic information. If the information involves follow-up or is information I revisit regularly, such as when I teach a class, I will print it out and keep it. It may sound trivial but my schedule is much too busy to have to search for and print out the very same information I did last week or last month when I’m fairly certain I can use it again.

Asking the right questions will help us make the right choices. Taking a few extra moments to be more thoughtful and print out paper copies only when necessary helps improve the environment, saves money reduces frustration and saves storage space. No one wants to be buried in piles of unnecessary paper.

paper-vs-paperless-paper-files-blog-175The Best Solution

So what percentage should be physical and what percentage should be electronic? Quite literally, I believe I print out only a fraction of 1% from all the data I have stored electronically. This translates the proportion of paper to electronic media storage to fall somewhere around 0.1% paper and 99.9% electronic. This combination works best for me. Everyone will have their own driving factors and questions to answer. Your needs will differ based on your individual circumstances.

The decision of paper vs. paperless is an interesting point to ponder; the point being much more than philosophical and converging rapidly onto the practical. In order to meet the wide paper-vs-paperless-electronic-files-blog-190range of needs we’re faced with each day, the truth is, we need both filing systems. We can establish the most effective combination of these systems by knowing what our driving factors are and by asking ourselves the right questions. Paper and electronic systems compliment each other and provide backup for each other. It’s wonderful having both options available to serve our needs.

Stay tuned for the final installment in our Filing Systems Series, Filing in the 21st Century.

Andy Pattantyus, CPIM is president of Strategic Modularity, Inc., a systems engineering consulting firm that works with clients on process oriented Lean Transformation projects, including initiatives to improve administrative workflows. Andy is also an active member of APICS-SFV and The ACA GroupIf you would like to get in touch with Strategic Modularity, Inc., contact Andy here

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