My paperless life (a work in progress)

As far as possible I try to live a paperless life. This is partly out of a sense of environmental responsibility; save the trees and all that. But if I am honest (and I try to be) it is also just as much because I am a geek, and because I like to find the easy and inexpensive way to do things whenever possible.

Here are some of the things I do to live paperless:

  • I pay all bills online or over the phone. This includes people who do work for me around the house, church and charity contributions, as well as regular and occasional payments for just about everything. I do own a cheque book but I can’t remember the last time I used it. I recently bought some stamps and discovered that the price had gone up twice since I bought the last box!
  • Whenever possible I use email for correspondence. Almost everyone I know has email, most are on one or both of Facebook and Twitter, many have Skype, and there is always text messaging and the phone.
  • I always take up the option of getting accounts, statements, receipts, journals etc. online when that is available. I have a good filing system for the receipts I need for tax purposes, and the rest are saved in the cloud just in case.
  • I buy the newspaper on Saturdays, because a leisurely Saturday morning spent reading the paper and drinking coffee is a tradition in our house, but all other days I get my news online (and even on Saturdays I have usually read all the important news online before I get the paper).
  • I have discovered that I can read books and documents perfectly well on my iPhone, especially when I am travelling. I borrow books from my local library to read at home, and read on the phone when I am away.
  • I have an app on my phone that photographs business cards and integrates all the details into my Contacts.
  • My photo album resides in the cloud, and is accessible from my laptop or my phone at any time.
  • At conferences and meetings I take notes on my phone or on my laptop. I also have access to an iPad when I need it, and will probably succumb and invest in an iPad of my own (or an android tablet) eventually.
  • When I present a paper or a workshop at a conference, my ‘handout’ is almost always just the URL of a document I have placed in Google docs or on the conference website, and it is usually linked to a feedback sheet which attendees can use during or after the session.
  • When travelling I check in online, and get the boarding pass sent to my phone.
  • Most of my Christmas and Birthday greetings are delivered online, and I probably send more of both than I would if I was sending cards and affixing postage stamps. Similarly email, Flickr galleries and Facebook status updates have replaced postcards for me and most people I know as the ways of letting family know that you are still alive and what a great time you are having when travelling to exotic destinations.

There are some arenas where paper still rules. I have seen some talk that the ATO (Australian tax Office) is planning to go paperless, but I wonder how long it will take accountants and auditors to catch up with that. Banks and utility companies seem happy to receive online transactions, but they insist on sending you pieces of paper to track all the payments.

There is a huge variation among employers in the amount of paperwork they require when you are applying for a job. When applying for a teaching job in a DECS (the state government Department of Education and Children’s Services) school in South Australia the whole process is online. They insist on it, and their website contains information about how to get an email account if you don’t have one, because that’s the only kind of application they accept. On the opposite extreme, most Catholic schools in South Australia follow the CEO (Catholic Education office) standard practice of requiring six printed copies (six!) of an application to be submitted, and many of them include forms which can only be completed by hand. There is quite a bot of variation between these two extremes among other employers. Needless to say one of the things that endeared me to my present employer is that I was able to submit my application entirely online, and there is very little printed paperwork associated with my job at all.

Conferences are interesting – I have been to conferences where the program is on the website, the papers are all online, and the sponsors advertising is linked to their websites so you receive little or no paperwork at all. I have also been to conferences where delegates receive a showbag full of brochures and pamphlets which would take up as much room and weight as a regional phone book in your suitcase (if you took everything home, which I don’t).

So this is where I am up to in the progress towards a paperless life. It’s fun looking out for ways to do away with the paper, it saves me money, and it is socially responsible as well. I am always on the lookout for even better ways of doing things, so feel free to comment below if you have any suggestions.

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