My Pursuit of Paperlessness

Earlier today, I glimpsed my paperless future. I had two documents to sign, scan and send to a colleague. Scanning documents is a pain in the ass. Filing or destroying the paper copies of those scanned documents is a pain in the ass. Dealing with paper in general, is… you guessed it, a pain in the ass.

I don’t like dealing with paper. This is probably a shocking confession coming from a librarian. After all, aren’t librarians the people charged with organizing the world’s paper? Not this guy. I have a different gift. I’m really good at find papers but not so great at filing them. My gift for search probably comes from having spent so much time in my life looking.

Don’t get upset. Paper books are still wonderful and lovely and charming and delicious and all that. I’m talking about the Other Papers. The not-wonderful, unlovely, uncharming paper that comes from spending 40-50 hours a week inside an office. I’m talking about time sheets, travel authorizations, requests for funding, subscription approval forms and any number of other administrivial paper.

I have an aversion to all of this paper. I am cultivating this aversion. I am training my team to believe I have a killer allergy to the use of paper in the workplace. Occasionally, when someone hands me a piece of paper that requires some small action on my part, I like to yell, “”It burns! It burns!” and wave the paper around like the flag of my discontent.

There is a better, more productive and mature path. I glimpsed that path today. Those two documents needed my signature but I really didn’t want to print, sign, scan, email then file.

Here’s what I did instead.

  1. Open electronic copies of the source documents (one an Excel spreadsheet; the other a Word document)
  2. Complete as much as possible onscreen.
  3. Save the document as PDFs to the Dropbox folder on my computer.
  4. Open the documents in the Dropbox app on my iPad.
  5. Push copies of those documents from the Dropbox app to the iAnnotate PDF app.
  6. Sign and date the document in iAnnotate with blue digital ink.
  7. Push a copy of each signed document back to the Dropbox app as a flattened PDF named the same as the original so that the document is updated rather than replicated.
  8.  Move to the permanent storage file on my computer.
  9. Email and done.

Okay, so I do acknowledge that typing all of this out into 9 easy steps does seem a bit more complex than just print, sign, scan and email. I promise it is a million times easier for me and I don’t have to deal with a paper copy and I don’t have to worry about document retention policies and I don’t have to worry about misfiling since it resides on my computer and will get indexed for search. The whole process takes about three minutes. The process of print, sign, scan, email, file/destory takes at least 5 minutes.

Today’s scenario started with digital source documents. I’m not always so lucky. In cases where someone hands me a paper document that needs my attention, I reach for the Scanner Pro app, which uses the iPad camera to take an image of a document and then turns that image into PDF which can be batched automatically to a designated folder in Dropbox.

Dropbox is the common thread that makes these workflows possible. I really like Dropbox, but that’s a paean for another time. Today felt like a long overdue step toward something I’ve always known was possible but hadn’t really bothered to try. It just gets better and better.

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