Paul Robertson's words, punctuated

Thoughts on development, user-centered design, code, etc. by Paul Robertson

A paperless world?

In the spirit of the anecdote I shared last March, here’s a funny little story from my day.

My boss asked me to review a report he’s been working on. He wrote it in a wiki page. I reviewed it mostly while I was riding on the train to work this morning (without network connectivity), so I didn’t make any changes to the wiki page itself but instead wrote notes in a Word document. Once I had finished my notes, I wanted to discuss them with my boss, but I was having a bit of trouble figuring out how to do it. Although I don’t think I was explicitly thinking about it, in retrospect I think I was looking at the situation with a few requirements:

  • I wanted to share my comments in person, rather than (for example) sending them by email.
  • I wanted to be able to share them in context, i.e. while actually looking at the report.
  • I wanted to minimize the disruption to my boss. We didn’t have a planned meeting (it wasn’t a formal review) so I planned to go to his cubicle and didn’t want to have to ask him to come back to my cubicle just to see my notes.

That was the problem in a nutshell. The notes were in a Word file on my computer in my cubicle. I wanted to go to my boss’s cubicle to discuss the notes so I needed a way to bring the notes with me to his cubicle. I had pretty much resigned myself to the idea that I would need to carry my laptop over to my boss’s cubicle and read my notes from it while we looked at the report on his monitor – but I wasn’t completely happy with that idea. (I’m not that lazy – my laptop is just hooked into a docking station and it’s really flaky about running on battery power unless you disconnect it in just the right way, which involves putting it to sleep twice and logging back in twice, among other steps. So there was a reason I didn’t want to have to go through that process.)

Suddenly I thought of a straightforward solution – so basic in fact that it really struck me that it wasn’t my first instinct (whereas previously it would have been).

Are you ready for it?

Here it comes…

I printed my Word document and carried the paper in my hand to my boss’s cubicle, together with a pen for taking notes.

Genius! The perfect solution for my requirements! The only thing noteworthy about it is that I realized it’s so extremely rare for me to print anything that it is apparently no longer an obvious course of action for me. I guess on a personal level at least I’m getting close to a paperless world.

And just in case this story makes me sound really unproductive, I should point out that this whole train of thought probably took no more than a couple of seconds. I wasn’t really investing that much time into it =)