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Paperless is Now Practical

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"@#$%!," you say? "Paper will never die," you claim? You love books? "I can't read on a computer"? Maybe. But today I'm telling you that I'm 95% paper-free[1].

I've just about cleaned up that drawer--you know, the one you shove papers into to clean up your desk. The one you haven't sorted in a year (or a decade). The one that stores the "I know it's in there" files. I'm recycling 99 out of 100 documents and I'm scanning the rest. From now on, except for the books I already have, my office will be virtually free of paper.

Of course, almost everyone is somewhat paperless already (i.e., who hand-writes a thesis or uses a manual typewriter anymore?), but few have made it as far as I have. OK, I'm a techie, so obviously, this makes it easier for me to get rid of paper, right? Not so. Until recently, I had paper everywhere: Post-Its, legal pads, wire-bound notebooks, copies and copies of printed files, and even my very special 11x17 graph paper notepads ("big ideas need big paper"). I wasn't very good at filing, but paper still dominated my work style.

So what has changed? Technology has advanced to overcome the biggest hurdles: 1) portability, 2) availability, and 3) ability to write in the margins.


Until just the past few years, technology was simply not convenient to port around. Whether you were going to class, a meeting, or home, taking your laptop could seem like a burden. Even when you got there, it was often easier to use a printed document rather than booting up your computer to read or type. Laptops were great computers but not a great replacement for paper.

If you know me or have read my previous Reboot entries, you know I have and love my iPad. Its size and weight make it as easy to carry as any notepad. I can even fit it into the sleeve of my winter coat. It lies flat on the table just like any pad of paper, and it is with me almost everywhere I go--and when it's not, my iPhone is. Mobile technology is now as portable as paper.


An iPad is great paper replacement technology but only if you can get to the documents you need. Until recently, many of your files only existed as physical papers inside your desk or file drawer. If you did have them in digital form, getting to them wasn't always easy or quick.

The adoption of new technology is occurring very rapidly, and most everyone is trying to be more efficient with their time and resources. A side-benefit of environmentally-friendly practices means a quick search of email or a website often provides me with digital handouts for meetings or classes. If digital handouts aren't available, it only takes a few seconds to use the iPad's built-in camera to make my own. Google Docs stores all of my work-related documents and can be used on my computer, my iPad, my iPhone, or even from your device should I need to use it. The combination of cloud-based storage, wifi or 3G networks, and my iPad means my entire office is with me everywhere I go.

Writing in the Margins

"Fine," you say, "an iPad is really cool and I can get to my stuff, but it's still not the same as paper and pen." You're right--it's better.

In the past week, I've thrown out thousands of papers with hand-written notes--obviously, my preferred method of note-taking. Although I can type on my iPad, typing will never replace the visual connections I can make with a hand-written comment or an arrow or circle. I couldn't go paperless until I could write in the margins.

There are all kinds of iPad apps for note-taking: typing, sound recording, mind mapping, hand-writing, hand-writing recognition, and many more that I haven't had time to try out. I use a mixture of hand-writing apps and will outline their respective strengths below. I do use a stylus[2] for writing on my iPad. With these apps and a stylus, I can write just as neatly as I can on paper, as big or small as I want, and with any color that suits me at the time. I can switch to a highlighter, I can erase, and I can even snap a picture of a whiteboard to paste inside my notes. On a blank page or on the handout itself, I can write on anything.

When I'm done, I don't have to remember to save, it backs up automatically "to the cloud," and my entire library is protected from casual snooping.[3] No more trips to the photocopier, if I want to share my notes. A few taps and I can email one page or a whole notebook to whoever I choose.

Paperless may not be for everybody, but it is now practical for some. And once you go paperless, you won't go back. Ready to give it a try? Contact your Tech Admin to talk about it.

My Favorite Apps

NoteShelf Penultimate

UPad Notability

My Favorite Styli

Every month or so, I think I find a new favorite stylus, but none of them have been perfect. Here are some of the good ones:

Elago Stylus Slim

* Rubber tip
* Replaceable tips
* Comfortable
* Rubber tips get spongy over time and sticky if people touch them
* $10
* Might try their new bigger "Grip" version someday

Pogo Sketch Pro

* Both foam and rubber tips
* Replaceable tips
* Very comfortable
* Tips not very thick and I feel that I am tapping on the glass too much
* $25

Next one I'm going to try:


* Brush tip
* $27
* Tried an earlier version that was smaller (too small)

Add me to one of your Google+ Circles. I occasionally post on new apps and styli.

[1] I'm stuck at 95% until the rest of the world joins me.

[2] Yes, I know, Steve Jobs claimed a device that required a stylus was a failure. I simply prefer a stylus for writing, but it is good to know that my iPad is not a brick if I lose it. I purposely don't carry a pen or pencil to meetings anymore to make sure I stay the course.

[3] All of us need to take the protection of private and otherwise important data seriously. Whether you use an iPad, a laptop, or only paper, make sure to practice safe methods to secure your files. Contact your Tech Admin to learn about what works best for you.

1 Comment

Jamey - I've been thinking about trying to use my iPad for notetaking but haven't taken the plunge. Thank you for the great tips! I'm going to give it a try...

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