Is Paper Killing Productivity?

The other day I popped by a friend’s office to drop off a bunch of flowers.  As it always happens with these things, it turned into having a coffee and a bit of a chat.  This was my first visit to her office, so naturally I looked around at the office set-up.  The first thing I noticed is the massive amount of files and paperwork – shelves stacked to the ceiling and heaps of paper on her desk as well as the floor (she had to clear an armful of papers from a chair so I could sit down!).  I was truly astounded by the amount of paper – and said as much.  Her answer? “Yeah, I print everything out – emails, documents, webpages, presentations – everything.”  I nearly choked on my coffee.  This was clearly a severe case of print-mania!  

The Environmental Impact

My friend is obviously an extreme case, but it did make me think of the environmental impact every small business has.  With amazing people like David Attenborough and Greta Thunberg always trying to tell us how badly we are messing up or world, one would think we would be more conscious of the impact we have on our environment.  But sadly, many of us still don’t get the message.  As I see it (in my very simplistic way), the more paper we use, the less trees we have on earth to absorb all the pollution we create. This is not complicated to understand. 

The Financial Impact

And then there is the cost to consider.  Using loads of paper in our businesses, means having to buy more paper and ink.  It also means we need more space (which can be expensive) to store it all.  Every small business needs to keep costs down and this is definitely one area where many businesses can make savings.

The Impact on Productivity

It is much easier – and quicker – to search for a file digitally than it is to find a paper copy – no matter how good your filing system is.  I know I have wasted many hours of my life searching for that piece of paper where I scribbled an important note (hence my designing a “capturing system”, which I talk more about in an earlier blog).  So, the more paper you have to deal with, the more time you waste.  

And then there is the stress and overwhelm we experience due to clutter.  Just having to face heaps of paper on a desk raises my heart rate (and not in a good way!).  And the higher our stress rates, the lower our productivity levels become. I don’t know about you, but when I get stressed and overwhelmed, I start feeling like a headless chicken – running around the office and not really getting anything done.  

Paper overload definitely kills productivity, in my opinion.

So What Can We Do?

Even small businesses can make positive changes to reduce the use of paper.  I have just discussed three really good reasons to do so, so now the question is:  what can we do?  Here are five things I have implemented to reduce my paper usage:

  • Using electronic signature software (like DocuSign) means I no longer have to print out contracts to have it signed.  
  • Re-using paper for quick notes.  I use the back of a printed paper for writing notes, once I no longer need whatever is printed on the page.  I bull-clip several used sheets together to make a little notebook.
  • Arrange with your bank to send email copies of bank statements, instead of snail mailing paper copies.
  • Use accounting software that is more environmentally friendly and requires less paper.  Xero is a good example.
  • In marketing, consider using less paper.  Flyers advertising your business are a massive use of paper (and sadly it mostly ends up in the bin without being read!).  I also stopped using paper business cards. 

I’m sure there are many more things we can do to cut paper from our lives.  The main thing is this:  we all need to do something – for whatever reason resonates with you, be it environmental, financial or productivity – or all of the above.

Ps:  I would love to send this blog to my friend, in the hopes that she’ll start reducing her paper usage.  The dilemma I have however is that I’m sure she’ll print it out!