Going Paper Free

I wrote this article for a blog at work, but thought a slightly tweaked version might be of interest to a few people here.

I’ve never been a great fan of printing, so when I was asked to pick a project for the Green Pledge at work I thought a month of not using paper at work would be a good one to go for. The pledge was for the month of November, but I found myself sufficiently weaned off paper that I’ve carried on with it for what is now (at time of writing) over 5 months. I found it fairly easy, although it has been hard at times to get the message across to other people that I didn’t require printed meeting minutes or copies of documents they had already sent me by email.

First off, I don’t think this initiative would have worked anywhere near as well if I didn’t have an iPad. I’ve been using my iPad to take notes at meetings for a while, and from November I stopped carrying a paper notebook completely. On my iPad I have access to my email, internet access if I’m on campus, and I have automated the creation of separate documents for each meeting I attend with an agenda and space to type minutes. This has ensured that I don’t miss action points, and that I have a searchable record of each meeting I attend.

I also think the strategic move to Sharepoint in my workplace has helped. With Sharepoint I can access all my sites and documents using my iPad, and as long as I’ve got an internet connection then I have access to all the information that would normally be printed out and handed around.

But there were some things that were more challenging, and I thought it was worth documenting those challenges and how I tried to overcome them.

1. In order to recruit new staff we have to have various bits of paperwork printed out and signed. This makes sense to me, but I did resent having to complete a document that I knew would be printed out as soon as I submitted it. We’ve got an online eRecruitment tool, and I’m not sure why management and budgetary approvals can’t be handled without paper. There is also another recruitment related issue in that we have to photocopy and sign proof of ID for all candidates. I can do all of this on my iPad, but there is a stated requirement for a paper copy. I’ve not really got a solution for this one, other than to continue to campaign for systems that do not require printing and photocopying to work.

2. We still have printed rotas in our office, which are stuck to the wall each week. I moved these over to Sharepoint early on in the process, but they are still getting printed out as well. I found it really useful being able to access these from anywhere, but I can see why there may still be a need for a paper copy at times.

3. Most people I meet with now know that I don’t require a printed agenda, or minutes of the previous meeting. It took a bit of work to get to this point, but once I explained what I was trying to do (and why) then people were generally fine. However, some people did really not understand why this was a good idea, and/or could not see how it was possible to work without paper. This includes people who have work iPads. As part of this initiative I moved all of our team documentation to Sharepoint, and I now chair and document meetings from my  iPad. At time of writing I’ve not taken paper to a meeting for over 5 months, but unfortunately I have left with the occasional printed document. They have all been either reused by my team, or recycled, but I need to get better at refusing them in the first place.

4. Carrying an internet enabled device with me at all times bought with it a few new challenges. I could check email anywhere, and would also see notifications from Twitter and Facebook when I was in meetings. I largely fixed this with discipline, and also by turning notifications off for anything except work email. I also think that an iPad is much better than a laptop for using in meetings, as the angle an iPad is used at doesn’t present the same physical barrier as a laptop screen does. Also, it’s a lot quieter to type on.

5. I discovered that I spend a fair bit of time in meetings fiddling with my pen. As I don’t carry a pen now, I found myself needing something to do with my hands when I was not typing or talking. Carrying a stylus round helps that, but there is still a lot of temptation to scratch that itch by checking email or Twitter.

I think this was a really worthwhile experiment, and one I plan on continuing with. The only challenge is to come up with something else to do next year.


I’m generally regarded as someone who is quite organised and productive, which still baffles me from time to time because I don’t think I’m that organised at all. Most of what I’m writing about here seems fairly instinctive to me, but in the hope that it might help someone ready this then I’ll try and outline how I organise my day, and how I maintain at least a demeanour of getting things done.

My first rule is to get up when my alarm goes off, and to automate as much of my early morning routine as possible. I do the same things each morning, so it shouldn’t require much thought at all, and generally it doesn’t. I can be up and out of the house in about 20 minutes, as long as there is nothing to disrupt my routine (one of my cats bringing me a gift is the usual suspect for that). I then have a 25 minute walk at the start of my commute, and I tend to use that to listen to music and think about the challenges of the day ahead. This is followed by a 25 minute train journey, during which I read either the Metro or whatever book I’m currently reading on my iPad. By the time I get to work I’m wide awake, and focused on the day ahead. I then have a cup of coffee and start work.

A few years ago I did an exercise where I recorded everything I did for a week, and tried to match time slots to specific sorts of task. I’ve repeated this regularly for a few years now, and I have a fairly good idea of how to plan my day to get the best out of the time and energy I have. Solitary tasks such as writing, answering email, and tasks that require technical focus get done first thing in the morning while I’m wide awake and the office is quiet. I then put aside two slots for meetings – a morning slot for collaborative work, ideas generation, and meetings where I need to contribute a lot, and then an afternoon slot for meetings where I need to be present, but am not one of the main contributors. The rest of my day I work though my todo list, and my email inbox (both of which which I like to keep as close to zero as possible).

I also automate as much of my working week as possible. I have set weekly meetings with my manager, my co-worker, my team, and my direct reports. I also have set monthly meetings with a variety of other people and teams. All of my meetings are recorded in Google Calendar, and the agendas appear in Evernote 15 minutes prior to the meeting starting, thanks to the magic of IFTTT. I then make notes in Evernote on my iPad, and move any action points to my todo list as soon as the meeting finishes. Minutes are then archived to a workbook, so that my Evernote inbox contains only my todo list and things I am actually working on at that moment.

I used Google Calendar to organise everything I do (and everything I plan to do), and go back afterwards to ensure that how I spent my time is accurately recorded. This allows me to track how much time I spend on tasks, and how my work and personal schedule change over time. I also colour code everything, and have separate calendars for work and my life outside of work, which I strongly recommended as a compartmentalising exercise if nothing else.

I’m not a great fan of clutter, although anyone who has seen the inside of my study might debate that fact. I like to keep a clear desktop (physical and virtual), and I’ve been largely paper-free since November 2013, which has helped both with the reduction of clutter and with general productivity.

Updates and upgrades

This weekend I have been making sure that all my devices are running the latest version of their OS, and also that they are fully backed up (and that the backups work).  This is something I try and put aside some time to do every month or so, and whilst it can be dull, it at least means that everything is working as efficiently as it can do when I am going through a period of being busy and productive.

I also updated this blog to the latest version of WordPress, which is so far looking good on my iPad (although I have not tried it on a computer yet).

I am hopeful that soon I will be able to write about the next version of Mac OS X. I am running it on about half my machines now, and am so far liking it a lot. It is not a revolutionary upgrade, but it also feels familiar enough to not slow me down.

The start of something new

Today I started using my new iPad mini to do as much of my writing as possible. I wanted to see if it could replace my laptop for short non-work trips, and was interested to see if writing on this device would seem natural, or if the user interface would get in the way of my creativity.

So far I have found it a pleasant experience. I can’t type quite as quickly yet, but I am sure that will come in time, and it already feels quite natural to type on the built in keyboard. I would certainly consider using this as my only device on short trips, and whilst it is hardly a great effort to carry around my MacBook Air, it would also be nice to travel supremely light on occasion, and the iPad mini fits the bill perfectly.

Other things I’ve been impressed with so far are the streaming capacities when I am connected to my home network. I can stream music and movies to and from the iPad, and can also use it to get music from Amazon cloud player to my Apple TV. Web browsing is also a delight, and I think this device could easily replace my laptop for the sort of casual browsing that I generally engage in after a busy day at work.

There are still things I need a laptop for, but I can see myself using this iPad a lot over the next few months – especially as I am travelling so much.