Paper Madness

Paper Madness

Personal | Judette Coward-Puglisi

January 26, 2009


 I RELISH ALL THE BITS of paper on my desk. By the end of the week, my work space seems like it belongs to one of those white-haired Hollywood mad scientists . . . mounds of white paper littering my desk, empty coffee mugs around, and half-eaten bagels. They threaten to bury me.

 I am not sure where my fascination with paper began.

My office has three laptops and three desk computers – fast, high-tech gadgets that were supposed to help me with all my company’s data and turn our four-room office into a paperless space.

At the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey, it was my great ambition to have my desk look like it could be photographed for the glossy pages of Office Decor. Alas, it was not meant to be. I have remained stubbornly resistant to the efficiencies offered by computerisation, and though my high-tech gadgets have become great places to store information, when it comes to making decisions, going over the various projects of my teams or writing reports, my assistants have become used to the words "Just print it, will you!"

It seems I am not alone in my affections. The consumption of white-coated paper, the kind most commonly used in offices, rose by 15 per cent between 2006 and 2008. But don’t go thinking this is just a sign of how hard it is to eradicate old, wasteful habits; there is something magical about paper. It is tangible. I can pick it up, read bits of it, and come back to it later. Paper is flexible. I can spread out my reports on my desk and arrange them the way that best suits me.

It can be tailored. I can write on paper, scribble on it without altering the original text – and when I am in a meeting that seems to go on and on, I can doodle on it. Sometimes that very activity is stronger than a cup of coffee.

Best of all, paper is movable. Laptop be damned. A file of (you guessed it) paper is so much easier to take off the plane than a laptop stored in the overhead cabin.

For sure, digital documents have their own sex appeal. They can be stored, accessed, linked and searched. And digi-junkies never have to spend hours hunting for lost paper. Still, I swear, in all that paper clutter there is a method to my madness.

There is a clear space on my desk, roughly 17 inches, in front of my chair just off to the side of my computer screen. The piles of paper closest to that 17-inch-square working area represent my firm’s most urgent business, and in that pile the most crucial stuff is likely to be on top. Over time, I may move a pile back and bring others forward.

Paper represents my very own living, breathing archive. It reminds me that my thinking is ongoing, and that my work as leader of a PR firm is complex.