It's time to face it - printing is ridiculous

Forget saving the environment. Printing at work is a ridiculous waste of time.

Printing

Photo: waithamai (Some rights reserved)

1. Printing at work is ludicrous

A few months ago, I needed to print and sign forms for our internal electronic expenses system. And yes, I love irony. But I haven't printed at work since.

I don't print because this significantly increases my personal productivity. Don't get me wrong. I love paper and books. Lemony Snicket[1] said it best:

Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.

2. And handwritten work notes are ridiculous

But I sat in a meeting (last week) that involved a lot of very serious people scribbling furiously on legal pads. And I thought - what an incredible waste of time.

Because here's the thing. It's not real if it's not stored in electronic form. If it's important, we type that information into an electronic device. We avoid wasting time typing our hand-written notes.

So let's not write things down. Let's just type our meeting notes into word documents. Or whatever application suits our workflow - there is no law against just typing an email to yourself that contains your meeting notes.[2]

Whatever works.

3. Wireless technology required

Why is going paperless possible now? Always-on wireless technology. The ability to pick up our laptops, and take them with us to any meeting anywhere. Your organisation does let you do that, and provides you with global wireless internet access (and backups). Doesn't it?

And yes, I find that I also need a smart phone for tasks, and a tablet as a replacement whiteboard (or to add a copy of my signature to a pdf document if required). But that's it.

4. But I need to print large documents! Fallacy.

I am a lawyer, so I printed work documents on an enormous scale for over a decade. For example, when I moved law firms, I archived walls and walls full of floor to ceiling bookcases full of printed files.

Don't get me wrong. I am not proud of destroying rainforests. But my point is that choosing not to print is a productivity issue. Not an environmental issue.

Put simply, I am more effective if I don't print, and there is no need to print to be effective. Even when dealing with huge numbers of huge documents.

5. And I need to hand write notes, and print to double check my work! Also a fallacy.

Lawyers trained at large firms always double (or triple, or quadruple) check their work. For example, I was trained to:

  • print out a Microsoft Word document;
  • hand write changes to the document;
  • ask my secretary to type those changes into the Microsoft Word document (while always tracking changes);
  • email the document to the client (and the other parties involved in the transaction); and
  • finally, print out the document (and the related email) to go on the file.

But we achieve the same goal (i.e. spot typos, errors, and outright mistakes and gaps in logic) if we make our changes to an electronic copy of the applicable document. And we can then move on to something else (preferably overnight), and then re-check the document one more time (preferably the next morning) before we send it out.

6. Don't print. You will never go back.

I stopped printing documents and, after a month or two, did not miss having paper copies of those documents. Even for enormous documents with multiple attachments.

I do have a soft spot for books and the antiquated. Really. For example, Moleskin notebooks are beautiful. And I have friends who write notes and diagrams in these notebooks, and then use their phone cameras to digitise those written notes. But I think that it's time to recognise that printing at work (and possibly even writing pen and paper work notes) is a ridiculous waste of time.

So I challenge you to not print for three months. And if you are bold, I also challenge you to refrain from writing with pen and paper during this three month period.

Oh, and yes, it would also be great if we cut down fewer trees.


Footnotes

[1] And yes Josh, I did just quote Lemony Snicket (from Horseradish). That's $5 you owe me.

[2] Well, actually, there are some laws that apply in relation to regulated industries (for example) that restrict the transmission of highly sensitive information over the internet (including via email). But these laws only require us to change our workflow (i.e. potentially change which apps we use to type in notes). But these laws do not change the general principle - that we can type instead of write on paper.

This post originally appeared at iainmclaren.com. Thanks to Josh Morris for reviewing an early draft. These opinions are mine. They are not necessarily those of my employer. And this post is not legal advice. Seek it if you need it.