Chaos, Cabinets and the confessions of a paper phobic

Now I’m back in the office I’ve replaced my holiday reading, which included a book about a teenage detective with Aspergers syndrome, the story of the hunt for the Commandant of Auschwitz and the latest Mark Bililngham, with a book to help me with just getting a tiny bit more efficient.

The book that’s hopefully helping me do this is “Getting Things Done” by  David Allen.

Although I’m getting a lot out of reading the book (some of the systems contained within are deceptively simply, but with a little discipline I reckon they’re going to be incredibly useful) David Allen and I seem to have a massively different opinion on the importance of a particular thing.

A thing we take for granted and can be massively useful, but can also create Chaos.

A thing which you’d find it tough to spend a day without touching.

A thing which, in my opinion, is becoming less of a necessity in our lives.


“What’s that Chris? This massively important thing you were talking about was Paper?!”

Yep, Paper.

The difference in opinion comes from the fact that David Allen thinks that paper is a necessity and I reckon in a modern office it can quickly turn into a burden.

Now before you switch off your computer and pick up the phone to the exaggeration police and report me for severe overestimation of the importance of paper or giving me the award for the most boring blog ever, let me explain…

Three years ago my office was full of cabinets. These cabinets we’re full of paper.

I was finding myself increasingly spending way too much time going through these cabinets to find files and then finding the particular document in the folder in order to perform a particular action.

After a particular frustrating day of shuffling paper I decided that as a business we needed to make a change.

I then, document by document, and with a huge amount of help, scanned every single piece of paper into an electronic system…electronic folders with every document labelled and backed up to ensure we have an assurance that the information is secure and safe.

Once done (and it took us a couple of days) we felt relatively good…and we we’re also pretty determined to keep it this way.

However whilst the ideal is to be totally paperless and we’re a million times better than we were I still seem to be surrounded by unnecessary paper.

Although part of this might be my own lack of efficiency, I reckon the reason we never get a completely paperless environment is simple…

Every day I get another avalanche of paper coming through my letterbox!

Also, I’d estimate that between 50 – 70% of the paper we get goes straight in the bin.

I get that publishers need to publish and marketeers need to market but I can’t help but thinking about the waste of time, cash and paper (oh so much paper!) gets wasted trying to tell me a story I’m never going to read or sell me a product which i’m never going to buy due to our policy of anything not pertinent and relevant getting chucked away.

Even with the pertinent and relevant paper we receive, It’s massively rare that we receive a document which couldn’t have been sent more efficiently, with more speed, and at lower cost electronically.

However, and even though having electronic document as standard it would save buckets of cash, massive amount of time and millions of trees, we seem to be determined as an industry to continue to cling onto our obsession with paper based communication.

I’m not completely papyrophobic. I still like the touch and feel of a good old fashioned book. I love a nice notebook to write in. I just wish that as an industry and profession we could see paper as a thing to enjoy but use sparingly.

After all, it doesn’t grow on….erm, hold on!

So, I’m interested in your thoughts…

Are you as frustrated with the amount of pointless paper you receive?

or do you like working that way?

Why do you think we seem to be obsessed with paper? or am I making a huge paper mountain out of a molehill?

I look forward to hearing from you.


12 thoughts on “Chaos, Cabinets and the confessions of a paper phobic

  • We’re a ‘less paper’ office, after spending a summer and hiring a couple of interns to scan 14 four drawer filing cabinets and then shred the original files. That was back in 2004.

    Despite this heroic effort, which freed up an entire floor of our offices, we continued to get tons of paper (no exaggeration) through the post on an annual basis. Things have only started to improve in the past 18 months once we went through another project to ‘eloquently disengage’ with the majority of our legacy clients.

    Leaving aside the number of providers who continually ignore our instruction to stop communicating with us about these individuals, most complied and the volume of post we get is down by around 80%. Brilliant.

    One bugbear we are yet to solve is receiving trade publications through the post, each and every week. These don’t seem to stop coming, even when we ignore the repeated subscription renewal emails. By the time the paper arrives on a Friday, Monday or Tuesday, the news it contains from the previous Wednesday has already been digested online.

    • Hi Martin,

      Agree with the issue with trade publications. All of the articles I read online and very rarely pick up a paper trade mag as well as not renewing and asking to receive a paper copy….and yet they keep on coming!

      Thanks for your comment.

  • As someone who isn’t running an advisory business, I can confirm that we send and receive virtually no paper at all. In fact we’ve just switched to electronic contracts and direct debits to remove what little we had to print. The idea that this is a business thing, and not just a financial services thing, is a myth.

    • Sounds good Phil….and I think you’re right. Most professions and trades have moved as far away from using paper as possible.

      I just wonder why as an industry many feel we need to hold onto it?

  • Entirely paperless – through necessity, really – but it has made us happy!

    We have two teams; Support (11 people) all based in the Hereford office and Paraplanning (15 people) all based off site.

    Added to that a load of IFA firms as clients, the majority of whom have people who also work off site or from different locations, paperless was just an easy decision – we HAD to do it to make the business work (kind of the opposite of what your chum recommended in his book (as he is a business guru, should we be worried!?)).

    We have been operating for 11 years, and so there were not many off the shelf solutions, so we ended up building our own version of what dropbox does.

    We have recently implemented virtual contracts now, too, putting the final piece of the paperless jigsaw in place.

    It is so easy to go paperless now, so everyone should do it just to make running their businesses easier.

    • Hi mate,

      You make an interesting point. For many of us we need access to the information we (and members of our teams) need wherever we are without worrying about lugging loads of paper around….I don’t see any better way to solve that problem than going paperless!

      To be fair to the fella who wrote the book a lot of the techniques he talked about are quite useful. However I reckon he wrote it a while ago (he uses the phrase Palm Pilot a lot!) and therefore the technology and connectivity at the time may not have been as efficient as now….although even then paperless still seems like a better deal!

      Thanks for you comment.

  • I’m a big fan of handling as little paper as possible.

    We did pretty much the same as Martin, Chris, a number of years back, with three benefits for us being less office space needed reducing our rent, the ability to access client information and documents from pretty much anywhere and a greater level of security.

    Our preferred method of communication with clients is electronic and we do so as much as possible.

    I do think we still handle too much paper during client meetings, but we are working on reducing that.

    • Hi Paul,

      We’ve found the ability to access information far more quickly when stored electronically a massive benefit too.

      However the fact that at a minimum by getting as paperless as possible you’re in a position where you’re savings loads of space…

      I dread to think about how much space is taken by all the needlessly paper being stored in file cabinets!

      Thanks again for your comment!

  • We were involved in the January floods. Moving the computers was bad enough – the thought of moving the equivalent amount of paper, and filing cabinets to keep it in, doesn’t bear thinking about.

    That said, not all of our clients even own a computer.

    • Hi Charlotte,

      That’s a benefit of less paper that I’ve never thought of! Having to shift if about in the event of something disastrous!

      Hopefully you managed to get all the computers shifted and it wasn’t too much of a disruption!

      I get where you’re coming from about the clients and access to a computer.

      However I reckon you can accommodate clients who need and like paper whilst still removing paper from your own internal systems….however I’d be interested to know if that works for you!

      Thanks for your comment.

  • The Investment Coach is weekly paperless. By that I mean that post can sit for a maximum of a week before being scanned to:

    Trello – short-term CRM and delegation
    Evernote – medium-term storage and easy retrieval
    Dropbox – long-term storage and the ability to share folder with clients.
    Or binned (c. 50%)

    Most info comes via email and we use SaneBox to avoid getting swamped.

    Telephone notes and non-A4 is converted to digital via a smart phone picture and import to Evernote. The scanner takes the strain on the rest!

    • Thanks Andrew,

      I had a sneaking suspicion that you for one would use technology to make working practice way more efficient! 🙂

      Interestingly we share some of the tools we use (in particular Evernote and Dropbox) however I’ll check out Trello and Sanebox.

      Currently someone goes through my email and filters out what I need to see….I’m not sure whether Sanebox will be a better route.

      We use our scanner for everything although the poor old fella is getting a bit old now! I’m not sure if it recovered from the mass scanning job when we first wen’t paperless! 🙂

      Thanks for the comment, it was incredibly useful.


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