A Man of Two Worlds: Digital and Paper

Theologians and philosophers alike have drawn many dichotomies throughout the years: flesh and spirit, yin and yang, iustus et peccator (i.e. saint and sinner), id and ego, inner child and inner adult… heck, even grocery stores were in on that action for a while: paper or plastic.  But today there is yet another dichotomy that splits the world in two:  digital or paperless

You can tell from the photos of my desk in earlier posts what happens to paper when it comes into my office.  It gets organized archaeologically, that is, the newer stuff gets piled on top of the older stuff.  So, when I want to find something, I hope I can remember the relative date that it was received.  Sorting through the piles of paper, I think to myself, “No, this came in AFTER what I’m looking for.”  This is a slightly better system than I had before.  My previous system I had used since college.  It was called: “Where in the heck did I see that last?”  My roommate and I actually turned it into a game… complete with a theme song.

But this is the 21st century, my friends.  The digital era is upon us.  With a new copier upgrade that my church received in 2012, the document scanner can send docs as pdf’s with optical character recognition (OCR) straight to my desktop.  From there I can sort and store them in Evernote or other places on my hard-drive.  I’ve already started to build some habits of scanning and saving key documents that come in .  I scan them, send them to Evernote, tag them, and don’t worry about them ever again.  I’ll be able to call them up no problem… hypothetically.  I haven’t really called them up yet.  In addition, there are numerous bloggers and websites devoted to going completely paperless in an MacOS or Windows environment; search for one of those if you want details on how to make the jump.

I’ve read many of those and tried the apps that they discuss.  I’ve implemented some of their strategies but there are others that I just can’t get around.  There are some things that my hybrid digital and analog brain needs paper and pencil for.  Curse my Generation X dual-processing system!  So I am resigned to be a man of two worlds and here’s how I divide them.

What goes paperless?

In general, things that I need to REMEMBER go paperless.  My history with storing and recalling paper documents is terrible.  I’ve always had a hard time finding what I need.  Here are some of the best things that I’ve taken paperless:

  1. Web clippings.  This one is obvious.  There was a time when I would print out web pages and file them in manila folders, only to toss those folders when I would go through my files annually.  Then, about 2 months after I had tossed the file, I would be searching the internet for the page that I had printed but tossed.  Yeah, I tried bookmarks but I could never generate a sorting system that allowed me to find them quickly or easily.  (Did I file that cool crowd breaker under “Ministry” or under “Youth”?)  With Evernote’s webclipper extensions for both Safari and Chrome, I can clip it, tag it, process it, and find it later when I really want to research and write about a particular subject.
  2. Meeting Minutes.  I’ve gone back and forth on taking notes in meetings on the provided agenda or in Evernote via my iPad.  Now I kinda do both.  I will take some notes on my iPad directly in Evernote and then I’ll also scan in the agenda with any hand-written notes as well.  I’ll attach the paper to the note and have both in the same place.  Since I usually title my meeting notes pages with Year-Month-Date, it incorporates with my archaeological filing system quite nicely as in, “No, I know I created that note BEFORE last month’s Elder’s Meeting…”  Also, Evernote has a way to set a reminder on notes.  So, I set a reminder to review certain notes on Mondays, the days I like to chart out my week.  Reviewing those notes reminds me to add things to my to-do list for certain days.
  3. Inspirations and Ideas.  Because I never know when a good idea for a blog post, sermon, or ministry project is going to hit, I save these digitally.  If my archaeological system should fail me, I have a tag simply called, “Ideas” that I throw on every new inspiration that comes along.  Later, I ‘ll decide if that’s a ministry idea or a blog idea or wherever and deal with it appropriately.  But I capture these things digitally because 99% of the time I have Evernote nearby.  I don’t put these in my journal for two reasons.  First, my journal is only nearby about 50% of the time and so using it to capture is a coin-flip.  Second, I don’t review my journal that regularly so the good idea may have expired before I see it again.

What stays on paper?

Generally speaking, things that I want to PROCESS or think through stay on paper.  A keyboard and monitor just aren’t the best ways for me to do some of the deep thought that some of my work requires.  There’s also the romantic feel of a stubby pencil in my fingers looking at a yellow legal pad.  This posture communicates to me that I’ve got to do some thinking and the destination of that thinking is not as important as the process.  Here’s what I just can’t take paperless:

  1. My journal.  My journal is a place where I process.  There’s an axiom I’ve heard a number of places that goes something like this: “Ideas are best formed over the lips and through fingertips,” meaning that the act of talking or writing helps us to process our internal ideas better.  My journal is just that: it’s a place to process  not necessarily preserve or publish.  I’m processing the day’s thoughts and feelings in the moment and I may or may not review my journal.  When I do review my journal, it’s to look for general progress or recurring themes that may point to something larger or deeper.  There’s just something about sitting with an empty book, a pen in my hand, and a mind full of thoughts that makes me all warm and fuzzy inside.
  2. Work in the original languages.  I still do a lot of translating in Greek for sermon and Bible study preparation .  I have the Logos Bible software and a morphologically tagged version of the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament and the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia and I do turn to them when I get stuck.  But my preferred method of translating is my trusty tomes that I’ve had since college: the original text, my lexicon and beginning grammar, and a stenographer’s notebook.  The dual columns of the notebook allow a lot of space to parse every verb completely, with the Greek vocable in one column and the full parse in the other.  Again, this is about the process and not the product and the stubby pencil work of translating is something that just takes time when preparing to preach or teach God’s Word.  This time is as much about processing the ideas of the text as it is about parsing the text.
  3. The Storyline Productivity Schedule.  In a recent podcast, Erik Fisher of Beyond the To-Do List interviewed Donald Miller about his Storyline Productivity Schedule.  It’s episode #58 of Erik’s podcast, it’s worth a listen.  In that podcast, Erik asks Donald Miller if there will be an app for this process.  Miller pretty much says, “no.”  Miller says that it’s the process that’s important and he feels that pen and paper are a necessary part of the process.  Again, this productivity tool is all about process and I like to process with pen and paper.  I’m less than a month into using this process and I plan to post my thoughts on it in a later post but this process is not so much about remembering what I did on a particular day as it is helping me to process the priorities for that day.

How do I delineate my papered and my paperless world?  If it’s something I need to REMEMBER and find again, I store it digitally but I have a hard time processing ideas in a digital medium.  And, if it’s something that I want to PROCESS but don’t necessarily need to remember, I pick up a pencil and a legal pad and work through it the old-fashioned way, but I’ll probably never find my notes again.  I do find myself switching from one to another a bit as well.   While writing in my journal I’ll pick up my phone and make a quick note to myself for something that needs more work.  While reviewing some notes, I’ll put my keyboard up, pull out a legal pad, and start to process what’s going on.

Inefficient?  Yeah.  Clunky?  Most certainly.  But there are some things that just can’t be done on a keyboard and montior… or on a tablet with a stylus either.  Some things just need a pencil, some paper, and some room to think.

What about you?  What’s holding you back from making a complete jump to a paperless lifestyle? Is it intentional?

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