Fear of Paperless Failure

August 6, 2009 at 3:25 pm (Helpfulness, How-To, office, paperless)

No one said being paperless, or even paper-less, is easy. In fact, it’s just as much work as a paper filing system just in different areas. The payoff, however, is in productivity & time spent, something a paper filing system can’t and won’t ever offer.

 It’s tough being paper-less and takes a lot of effort.

I speak with a wide array of people on Twitter (follow me @thepaperlessasstnt) on the topic of paperlessness as well as keep my ear to the ground regarding paperless office processes and the frustration people encounter when launching into or maintaining their beautifully implemented paperless processes.

The #1 reason people don’t go paperless is simple: FEAR OF FAILURE.

We fear computer technology will fail us. We fear electricity will fail us. We fear we will fail ourselves by not being 100% paperless 100% of the time. We fear failure at the root of everything. We let our fear incapacitate us. It’s time to let that fear go because fear of failure is detrimental to our mental well being as well as the planet.

I know there is no manual to help us all out so here are my top tips to letting go your fear of failure when trying to go paperless:

1. OWN IT. – Own your fear and own the fact that sometimes you’re going to be imperfect (that’s a good thing!).

2. TALK ABOUT IT. – Sometimes all we need to do is get a fresh perspective. Talk to people who are paperless about the good and the bad. Ask them what works, what doesn’t; Learn from their mistakes.

3. GIVE YOURSELF SOME LEIGHWAY! – Nothing in life is all-or-nothing. If it is, it shouldn’t be. Just because you want to go paperless doesn’t mean you can’t afford yourself the luxury of still maintaining the use of the occassional sticky note or to-do list that is written out. Fundamentalist paperless folks, while they have honest intentions, are intimidating. They scare me, too. Please don’t become one of them by just doing the best you can.

4. CLEAN OFF YOUR DESK & TAKE A STEP BACK. – Physical clutter creates mental clutter. When you’re feeling overwhelmed and like you’re being buried under a mountain of paper – it’s because you are and YOU are creating that mountain. In this electronic age, there’s a true zen to be discovered when you have a streamlined, clean desk. Weigh your options. Would you rather feel like you’re being smothered with your own paper or like you have a solid paper-free system that will make that feeling disappear? It’s always ultimately up to you. 

5. KEEP ON TRUCKIN’! ‘Nuff said. 🙂

Bonus tip –

ALWAYS PREPARE FOR THE UNEXPECTED – Fear of technology failure is a simple indicator that you do not have a continuity plan in place. When you know you’ve got a backup plan that will work even when your technology isn’t, jumping off the paperless deep end is refreshing.


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Love for Unclutterer

July 14, 2009 at 6:13 pm (Helpfulness, How-To, office, paperless)

I love Unclutterer. It’s possibly my favorite place for regular reading. I stare at my RSS like a junkie waiting for my Unclutterer fix some days.

Yesterday was no different. Yesterday, they ran this tasty morsel:

Professional organizer Deb Lee runs a neat feature on her organizing blog every Friday, titled “Fact Friday.” This past week, she featured a statistic from 1992 that I found to be fascinating:

“In a recent survey of 200 executives of 1,000 of the nation’s largest companies, respondents were asked: ‘What percent of time do executives waste because they or their assistants can’t find things?’ The median response was 4.3 hours a week, based on a 40-hour week.”

[When Time’s Money, Organizing Pays Off · Penny Singer · New York Times · November 29, 1992]

Computer usage and digital search functionality have certainly increased and improved since 1992, but I doubt that this statistic is much different today. Now, we search for things like old e-mails and mis-named documents instead of paper memos and proposals.

While I mean this with the most love possible, I have to politely disagree. My paperless functions have saved me an unreal amount of time. The trick is proper implementation. If your processes are poorly implemented then of course you’re going to mis-name documents and emails- which is why I’d like to highlight today my file naming system that helps me stay organized.


Everything I touch gets named in this format. We use Sunbelt Office Supply for great prices on our regular day-to-day office supplies. I place an order and get an invoice back then it’s named something along the lines of this:


or this:


This way even if I were to mis-name something, in the file name I can still visually cross reference and ID what I’m looking for. Typically if AP has a question about an invoice they’ll give me the amount or the invoice number, possibly just the vendor and the date. I can do a simple, easy search for any of those items and pull the requested invoice with ease. My boss, the VP of Operations, seems pretty pleased when he asks something of me and I’m able to produce it in a little under a minute and have it to him via email in less than 5 minutes. Repetition of this type of activity, at least for me, HARDLY adds up to 3-4 hours a week. By my estimate I’d say procurement of documents takes me a total of 30 mins to 1 hour a week, if that.

I’m a bit more anal-retentive/organized than most so I have all of my paperless information sorted out by vendor  then year then paper type (invoice, work order, packing slip, etc) but the argument could be made that even organization such as this is but a luxury with indexing.

Anyhow, call me blindly optimistic but I will be a sad, sad GenY employee if my paperless functions didn’t save me time and, in a round about way, increases my productivity. When I come across a more updated statistic than one from 1992, I’ll post it without a doubt!

Have a happy and productive week!

The Paperless Assistant

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Paperless: Imperfection is a good thing!

June 16, 2009 at 6:18 pm (Helpfulness, How-To, Nudge)

Over at Virtually Organized this morning there’s an amazing post called “Want to Do More With Less? Become an “Imperfectionist”” that really has me motivated this morning to be productive but more importantly has me thinking about how imperfection is a crucial part of working in a paper-less environment. Here are the key points author Debbie provides to accepting imperfection and my notes in italics relating it to my paperless office experience:

1. Strive for excellence, but work to avoid perfection.

It’s tough enough to get participation in the workplace for any initiative. When you strive for paper-less excellence the quality of the service you provide is going to increase and your work will be better as a result. Anyone who’s ever had a perfectionist manager knows that when you strive for perfection, that is when you mess up the most. My hypothesis is that it’s due to the stress of KNOWING you HAVE to be perfect. 

2. Reduce unreasonably high expectations.

This is a biggie for those who are blazing the paperless trail. It’s hard not to get so wrapped up that our expectations of other people go through the roof. Be careful of being condescending to high-volume paper users about their paper consumption. Knee-jerk reaction for a lot of people when someone is being condescend is to automatically reject whatever it is they’re saying. This is not a good way to a)set an example and b)get participation in the paperless initiative for the long term.

3. Seek simplicity.

A lot of the perception I encounter about paperless is that it means things are more complicated. There are more steps to the process therefore it’s difficult. I completely disagree. Paperless puts everything in easier search parameters and I’d rather not sacrifice my productivity at work searching through filing cabinets for something I’m not even sure I know is there.

4. Ask for help.

For the paperless, help from others is another extremely crucial element for success. If you’re not vocal about your intentions, it’s hard to ask for help later if you need the help desk folks to locate an e-document gone lost somewhere on a server (for those in a smaller office and who don’t use a 3rd party for their e-document management).

5. Fake it.

In reality, my work is 90% paperless. I still use post-its for things and there’s still the element of incoming paper (mailed invoices, adverts, etc). I guess this part means “faking it” by announcing you’re paper-less even if you aren’t 100%. Today’s business environment hasn’t yet flexed it’s desire for paperless the way it will, it’s still important for you to “dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” If you act the part of the paperless, you eventually will play the part of paperless. Patience. 🙂

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Lunch & Learn: Paperless Ops Pitch Review

June 11, 2009 at 5:45 pm (Helpfulness, How-To)

Well, it was a no-go on the topic of me teaching a paperless work processes “lunch & learn” series however I’m happy to report I’ll still be doing “lunch & learn” tutorials on some common application functions we do here in-office. For example, I’m working now on doing “Lunch & Learn: Excel Basics”, the way I’ll work in my paperless objective is to insert it where it’s available during these sessions.

One way I will do that will be to teach people how to print to file or PDF when they’re about to print out their Excel sheet. I’ll put in a few minutes on how-to save not only to PDF, but also how to save their Excel sheets onto their personal user drive on the intranet.

In other news, this single article has given me the most valuable information I’ve come across in terms of quanifiing the cash resources used for one year of business proccesses paper for an office of 100 people. We are currently at 117-130 (depending on if you count contractors) so this really hit home:

But let’s look at the REAL COST OF PAPER (written by RCC Consulting) written back in 2001.  I think this is a very imformative look at what paper costs to an office of 100 people.


“The price of paper is cheap. Right. Wrong. When you consider the real cost, paper is extremely expensive. A number of factors must be taken into account to measure the cost of paper and the savings that can be achieved by instituting a paper reduction program. These factors include copying, faxing and storage costs. Let’s look at a typical office with 100 employees to calculate the total cost of paper.

Let’s assume that this office purchases approximately 10 million sheets of paper or about 50 tons. This seems like a lot but if you look at your own purchases you will find that 10,000 sheets of paper per person is a reasonable number and could even be conservative for most offices.

The cost of this paper is relatively minor at .003 cents per sheet for a total cost of approximately $30,000.00. Now let’s look at how that paper is used. Generally this paper is used for photocopying (45%); printing (35%); faxing (5%) and mailing (5%) with 10% being wasted. Approximately 30% of this paper ends up in filing cabinets. 95% of this paper will have to be disposed at some point.

Now let’s look at the costs associated with each of these activities:

– Photocopying and printing generally costs about 3 cents per page. This price includes the capital cost of the equipment, toner, and maintenance but not necessarily the time spent waiting at the copier for your turn.

– Fax costs can vary depending on the distance the faxes are sent but in most organization fax costs can be about 40% of the monthly telephone cost. In our office let’s assume the annual telephone cost is $50,000. If fax costs are 40% this would be about $20,000 per year. Since 5% of the paper or 500,000 sheets are faxed annually this equates to 4 cents per copy for telephone costs.

– 5% of the paper or 0.5 million pages are mailed or couriered. If we assume that 10 pages are included in each envelope this would be 50,000 envelopes sent out each year. Assuming that 90% are mailed and 10% sent by courier this means 45,000 are mailed with an average postage cost of 60 cents and 5,000 sent by courier at an average cost of $10.00 per delivery. In addition the cost of each envelope is 5 cents.

– Then there’s storage costs. Let’s assume that each drawer of a filing cabinet holds 7,500 sheets of paper. One years worth of paper could be stored in 100 filing cabinets. This is calculated by taking the total paper times 30% divided by each 4 drawer cabinet which would hold 30,000 pieces of paper. Each filing cabinet takes up 3 square feet and let’s assume that office space leases for about $60.00 per square foot. This comes to a total cost of $18,000.00. Adding the cost of filing folders and tabs etc. our cost might be $20,000.00 or approximately .0067 per sheet. This assumes that the filing cabinets are cleaned out each year and replaced with new files. In most offices files generally have to be kept for seven years, however some files can be moved to archives. Since this cost is relatively small let’s assume the long-term cost of storage is $10,000.00 per year, for an average of 5 years for a total life cycle cost of $50,000.00. This gives an average cost of .0167 for the 3 million sheets in long term storage. Assume disposal costs of .001 per sheet for the total 10 million sheets.

Activity Cost per sheet No. of sheets Total Cost

Paper purchases                  10,000,000                   $30,000
Photocopying                       4,500,000                      $135,000
Printing                                    3,500,000                      $105,000
Faxing                                       500,000                         $20,000
Mailing                                     450,000                          $27,000
Courier                                    50,000                             $50,000
Short term storage              7 3,000,000                  $20,000
Long term storage              3,000,000                      $50,000
Disposal Costs                      10,000,000                    $10,000

Totals                                                                                    $447,000

©2001 RCC Consulting

Even though we aren’t the first Logistics company to go paperless, I’m hoping we can be in the top 5. We’ll see though.

Hopefully yours,
The Paperless Assistant

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Lunch & Learn: Paperless Ops Processes

June 10, 2009 at 1:26 am (Helpfulness, How-To, Nudge)

I came across an article today in my RSS that really got me thinking: 

“Over 50 percent of baby boomers print for archiving while less than 30 percent of young workers print.”

If that is the case, in order to reduce the burdensome money-suck known as Operations printing, wouldn’t a savvy office manager attempt to target baby boomers’ regular print jobs for process refinement? How would one go about that?

The answer seems clear to me, though I have been known to be more industrious than I’d like to admit: Teach a class about implementing paperless work processes to everyone.

I’m going to pitch it to my boss in the morning and see what he thinks. We’ve been throwing around “Lunch & Learn” ideas for the past couple of weeks, why not use the opportunity to reduce our departmental expenses while providing productivity enhancement classes as well?

The first step I’ll take will be to check with IT once I get the green light to make sure they can support people’s e-processes once they’re taught how to do it. 

Secondly then I’d do an applications audit with IT to see what tools are available to use such as capability to install “print to pdf”, get to know details like size limits on user drives which would host the paperless documents, etc

I’ll stay focused on getting the OK first, though. 😉 

I’ll keep you updated!

The Paperless Assistant

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The right tools for the right job

May 11, 2009 at 6:45 pm (Helpfulness, How-To, Nudge)

The office intranet; Most technologically up to date companies have them,  if you have access to one, USE IT!!

Just this morning I found out I had administrator privileges on the company intranet page. By golly, I’m about to use this tool because in terms of resource saving and as a wonderful Nudge, this is great.

The concept of “choice architecture”, which is really what Nudge is all about, is about giving people only the set choices in a certain context that result in a desired outcome.  What is indeed manipulation, is also a positive way to increase positive results when implemented thoughtfully,  used responsibly, and presented respectfully to your co-workers.

In this case the nudge will be adding the content I need to proliferate to the intranet so that the likelihood my info/memo email will be reduced thus drawing upon less physical resources (paper, printer use, printer toner) because the information people would normally want to print out in my email will not exist in the email, but on-line. My emails from this point forward will reference a link and minimal text. Adding the additional step will hopefully reduce the number of pages printed because it’s so easy to print emails but not as easy to get the email, click the link, wait for IE to open the page, read the info, THEN print the information.

I have the great luxury of having the Director of IT’s support in my desire to go paper-less.  When I sent an email this morning asking if I was able to utilize the company intranet page I specified, I was delighted and surprised to see his response; Here’s the exchange, in case you’re wondering how to get this information and from whom:

Good morning Senor!  

Do you have any problem with me utilizing intranet space to put information I need to proliferate instead of me sending content/graphic heavy emails? Seems like it would resolve a lot if I just send text emails that reference a link, not to mention I am trying to go as paperless as possible. That said, it’ll reduce the number of times my info memo/email is printed if the bulk of the content does not reside in the email.
Thoughts? I wanted to come to you first before I took the idea and ran with it. 🙂

The Paperless (Executive) Assistant


Good morning!

Currently, you are an Administrator on that particular intranet site.  You are more than welcome to modify the website as you see fit. 

Thanks for the effort of obtaining paperless.  We should all be a lot more conscious.

 Director of IT Services

Great! I have buy-in for my cause as well as the tools to use it. I’m jazzed!

Excitedly yours,

The Paperless Assistant

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My Personal Paper Process

May 7, 2009 at 6:44 pm (How-To)

This is the process I use for anything paper that comes in that is my responsibility, in case anyone’s wondering. 🙂


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The bane of the Paperless world

April 23, 2009 at 10:23 pm (How-To, Rant)

 Here’s the thing: If you want to be truly paperless, you have to first and foremost be truly vocal about it. Even then, it’s nearly impossible to be completely paperless for at least one reason: Vendors with no paperless option.


One question I find myself asking over, and over, and over is “Hi this is {d.birdy} calling from Company of my Employment, I was calling because I have been receiving your invoices by mail and was wondering if you have any sort of paperless or email invoicing option?” The second thing I always say right after that: “I’m trying to go paperless and I’ve been able to get my invoices emailed from most of the places I interact with so was hoping you would have the same service.”


The second statement has been the most effective nudge for me because it not only alerts the vendor that other vendors are offering this option to their clients (so logically, to stay competitive so ought they) but it also reinforces their knowledge of my desire to have paperless options. Every time I receive an invoice, I call and ask for paperless options. Sure, it might be a pain in the neck for everyone involved that I’m being annoying persistent but there’s some saying about the squeaky wheel getting the most grease that I’m sure is fitting here.


Moral of the story: the worst thing they can say is no. If people are vocal and keep asking everyone benefits so, keep it up!

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Some tips on getting folks to “buy in”…

April 8, 2009 at 4:31 am (How-To)

The most important factor of being successful when trying to go paperless (i say that loosely because in the real work environment “going paperless” often means “going less paper”) is participation.

What to do though when people don’t “buy in”?

1) Show them the numbers – Often times a reduction in small amounts of 2-5% can make a SUBSTANTIAL difference in office paper supply costs. Being discreet but transparent into how much exactly excessive printing and use of paper is costing the office will get great buy-in. Simple “Did You Know…” office emails on a semi-regular basis are a great way to introduce employees to something they can read on work time, so make it worthwhile to read while still giving them interesting facts that will help your cause.

2) Be persistent – If you have a goal in your office, there are ways to mention and re-mention things to people in the office who are, to put it nicely, suffering from a wicked paper addiction. Some people just.can’t.help.it. If you give them a sense of ownership in the project, you’ll get way more “buy in” because usually it’s a small percentage ruining it for everyone. Reforming the worst offenders will create great examples for later data collection to show how reducing paper usage has improved a certain process or procedure.

One method I used was to say “Hey so word on the street is that you’re the person in this group/dept that really knows the procedures for xyz really well. From what I understand is that the procedures now require a lot of extra work for your group and I think together we can figure out together what the best way to make the least amount of work is…” then come prepared to educate them on things like printing directly to your desktop or directly onto a shared intranet drive.

3) Educate your office on the first financial, second environmental benefits of reducing paper usage. Regardless of your motivation, posing this as a fiscal matter first with residual positive environmental effect people are more likely to listen, especially when times are tough in a company because it really IS coming down to it at some companies where it’s either you or the supplies and the office needs paper so… lets everyone just try and reduce our paper usage, shall we?? 

4) Be positive about it and draw swift attention to people doing the right thing around the office. The only problem with this is that unless you have software that monitors what is being printed out by user and maintain the log of what is relevant and what is not, truly knowing who is printing less is going to be a tough thing to spot. That said, ANY small victory you’re able to propel to everyone’s attention is VITAL for “buy in”. 


And if you’re really, REALLY serious about it and have the wherewithal and gall to do it:

5)  Introduce yourself to Lean Office Basics and RUN with it. There is a LOT of money to be saved. There are ways to Nudge people to save money via Lean & Office Kaizen. If done tactfully and you’re committed,  you’ll come out with a new way of thinking and a happy, efficient office to boot.

Good luck!!!

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Top 10 Steps to Kicking Your Paper Addiction for Good

April 2, 2009 at 6:14 pm (How-To) (, , , , )

It is true— sometimes you just can’t avoid using using paper. But can you imagine if there were instances that powers beyond your control MADE you use paper??? I can and have had those instances. What’s an Office Manager or Assistant to do?!?

 So without further ado here are my Top 10 Steps to Kicking Your Paper Addiction for Good:

1. MAKE A DATE and stick to it.

2. SURROUND YOURSELF WITH PLENTY OF LIKEMINDED PEOPLE – Stay calm, you’re not alone. Come to the realization now that you’re not going to be popular for going paperless but rest assured you can sleep at night because you know you’re not contributing to the wastefulness of natural resources in the business place as best you can. There are others. LOTS of others. Find them and make friends.

3. GET MORE ACTIVE – Tell people you’re going paperless so that you’re held accountable. It’s easy to just quickly print something out when you know no one will notice. Talk about it to everyone and talk about it often.

4. THINK POSITIVE – Withdrawal can be unpleasant, bit it is a sign your mind is recovering from the dizzying effects of paper use. Irritability, frustration, urges to use paper because it’s “easier” and lack of remembering the common good are not uncommon – don’t worry, they usually disappear after a few weeks.

5. CHANGE YOUR ROUTINE – Try to avoid the copy room you usually pick up printed pages in. Try doing something totally different, like educate someone about the benefits of paperless work processes. Surprise yourself!

6. NO EXCUSES – Don’t use a crisis or even good news to be an excuse for “just one print out” there is no such thing – you will soon want the next and the next….

7. TREAT YOURSELF – This is important. If you can, use the money you are saving by not printing to buy your office something special – big or small – that you usually would not have, like a catered lunch.

8. BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU EAT – Try not to snack on magazines to get your paper fix. If you do need to snack, try RSS, buying a Kindle  or sit down to read a good blog.

9. TAKE ONE DAY AT A TIME – each day without a print job is good news for your paperless health, your office and our Earth.

10. PAT YOURSELF ON THE BACK SOMETIMES – Going paperless is a tough challenge. Keep a positive mental attitude and give yourself props sometimes! You’re doing a great thing! If you can do this, imagine the possibilities. 🙂


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