Ending The Paper Chase

Office Worker with Mountain of PaperworkThere was this great show called the Paper Chase about law students and one particularly gruff professor at Harvard Law. It was just like actual law school for me, except I didn’t go to Harvard, I wasn’t on law review or at the top of my class, and John Houseman was not my professor. So, really I have nothing in common with that show except one thing. Even lawyers who went to tier 3 schools deal with the Paper Chase.

I spent 20 years of my life engaging in a Paper Chase–1) in law school, getting copies of paper to learn from and then throwing them away only to have to reprint them and 2) in law practice getting briefs and replies and surreplies and requests for production of even MORE paper, giving them to someone else to be filed, and then asking for a copy of each document daily (because, you guessed it, I thew out my previous copies).

Maybe I do know why they named it the Paper Chase.

And do you know what?

I hate paper. You might say, “No,  Kathleen, you hate trees and should be locked up for crimes against the environment.” But actually I like trees. I just hate paper and the fact that it cluttered my life for two decades.

I don’t hate all paper. I like nice stationary and card stock. Not that I use them. You won’t get a letter from me or anything, but it feels nice. And I like Christmas cards. And maps.

But I hate 8 1/2 x 11 white printer paper. I hate it because it my was nearest companion for 20 years.

And now it’s over. It was a hate affair that I’ve finally had the guts to end. We are done, Hammermill. Goodbye, Office Depot.

Here’s how I ended the cruel cycle of paper clutter and tree murder:

1. I have no paper files. Everything that I type (in any form–Word, Excel, etc.) I save in a cool cloud-based application called Evernote. I use a tag system to “file” it away and can find anything easily through Evernote’s search function. Evernote is free, though I pay $45 a year for additional capacity, more space than I ‘ll ever need.

2. I scan all paper I receive. Being a lawyer, my silly lawyer friends still send me paper. Stop it, silly lawyer friends! However, I can cope with mail or paper dropped off on my desk. I scan any paper I get using my desktop scanner (I have a ScanSnap S1500m, which I think is a model no longer made, but any ScanSnap or other desktop scanner will do). ScanSnap is particularly Evernote-friendly, so it immediately opens my .pdf file in Evernote, and I add tags to file it away. It takes seconds.

3. I still write with pens. I actually like to take notes in long hand, you know, the way Bob Cratchit did. I have one nice pad of paper going at a time. I only use white legal pad paper that is normal notebook paper in size (not the dickensian legal size), with a vertical red line down the center, and hard cardboard on the back.

Yes, I’m picky. I like white paper only–yellow legal paper brings back bad memories of a 14 hour deposition in a hot conference room in Corpus Christi, Texas. I like hard cardboard backs for bearing down on when I’m not at a table, and I use deposition style pads–the red line is for questions on one side and answers on the other. I no longer take depositions but the line is still helpful. My thoughts go on one side and questions for meetings or follow-up points on the other.

5. I scan my written work product.  Written work is the same as anything else. ScanSnap has handwriting recognition, so as long as it is not the end of the day and my handwriting is still somewhat legible, it will be searchable by text. However, I still add tags as I would to any document scanned.

6. All paper goes away right after being scanned. Whether being recycled or shredded, right after being scanned, or at least by the end of the work day, all paper gets tossed. So there is still a little tree murder going on, but not much.

7. I print that which I need to look at. I try to minimize this, or I’m just doing what I did before when I had my poor assistant make copies for me over and over again (sorry Sharon). But sometimes you just need paper.

8. I secretly keep a small stash of papers I can’t seem to part with, but only for a week or so. I have a shallow desk drawer for this. Because old addictions die hard. But after a week, it’s got to go.

And now my office looks clean, I can see past my desk, and there are no tiny hole punches congregating on my carpet.

Be free of the paper.

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