The Paperless Experiment
When I set foot in the first classroom that was actually mine, the first thing I did was remove the filing cabinet. It was taking up space, and as a paperless guy, I hated the idea of a physical cabinet. I believed my paperless workflow in Evernote could store everything a cabinet can, was more convenient, and took up less room. My colleagues (rightfully) laughed at the naïve first year teacher, but I was determined.
As a teacher, I handle hundreds of sheets of paper a week. Parents send in notes about a change in their child’s dismissal, important news from the school is sent home to parents via a newsletter, students do work which must be graded, kids give me pieces of art, and more. Each time I got something new, I would place it in a basket to scan, and when I had time at the end of the day, would use my Fujitsu ix500 to scan all of it into Evernote.
It wasn’t long before my system began to fall apart after putting so much information into it, and I quickly grew disenchanted with an app I had championed for years. I was frustrated, unorganized, and I started looking for alternatives.
The answer finally came to me when I started re-reading David Allen’s “Getting Things Done.” In it, he talks about the keys to having a successful reference system. He says:
The biggest issue for digitally oriented people is that the ease of capturing and storing has generated a write-only syndrome: all they’re doing is capturing information—not actually accessing and using it intelligently.
As soon as I read that, I realized what I had done. When you put everything you have into a reference system, you end up with a system full of things you don’t actually need to see again. With junk mixed in to every search I completed, and such a massive amount of things to organize, I did not enjoy working paperlessly anymore.
I had made “paperless” part of my identity and took Evernote’s motto “Remember Everything” to the extreme even when it wasn’t useful. Evernote is great as a reference system, but not everything needs to be stored there. In fact, not everything must be stored at all. A real filing cabinet and a garbage can are useful tools as well.
I have since gone through my entire Evernote database and deleted over 3,000 notes I was storing. I’m slowly and carefully thinking about how I want to organize what remains stored in Evernote, and thinking ahead to next school year about what I want to add, what will go in a paper filing cabinet, and what will be thrown out. As I make these decisions I’ll continue to share them here. For now though, I’m trying to relax and enjoy the first few days of summer break.