Help me go paperless
January 31, 2014 7:12 AM   Subscribe

My work requires a lot of printing and reviewing large documents. It's not that easy to do this outside an office environment, and I want to get better at doing it onscreen -- looking for hardware/software recommendations and just general tips.

So my current process is something like:

1. print five or six big PDFs of 50-250 pages each, mostly text but with lots of numbers, tables and diagrams
2. staple, clip or bind them
3. go through each in varying degrees of detail with a pen, highlighter and those little post-it flags that you can write on.
4. stack them in front of my computer and refer frequently to the flagged sections while writing a report and/or building a financial model in Excel.

As you can imagine, this pretty much only works in an office environment with giant fast network laser printers, a supply closet, and plenty of desk space to spread things out. It's really difficult to do it from home, on the road, or working remotely at a coffee shop or co-working space.

Reviewing documents on the same computer where I produce the final work product is just not practical, even with multiple monitors -- it's way too distraction-prone and I don't like having the vertical PDF pages squeezed onto a horizontal monitor, and I'm constantly starting to type in the non-active window etc ... and on a laptop the screen is just too small.

So I'd like to find the best tech alternative. I imagine it would consist of:

1. a really large tablet computer (big enough to display an 8x11 page at 90-100% of its true size)
2. some kind of stylus that i can click back and forth between pen and highlighter.
3. the right software to review and organize PDFs and preserve my scribbles, highlights and flaggged locations

(If the best choice for #3 is Acrobat pro, please recommend the second best choice, as I have come to regard Adobe software, with its incredible bloat and ten different tray apps, as pretty much a virus at this point, and I would rather not solve this problem at all than allow it back on my computers. Currently I use Foxit's free PDF reader but not sure if their paid versions do everything I need.)

Anyway, if you have made this kind of transition and have any particular recommendations for tablets and other helpful products, or just general suggestions, it would be very helpful. Thanks!

(PS my current work computer & laptop are windows 7/8 respectively but not sure that matters much for the tablet. I don't think iPads run big enough though, so I assume we're talking Windows or Android...)
posted by pete_22 to Technology (15 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I don't like having the vertical PDF pages squeezed onto a horizontal monitor

That much at least is easily fixed.
posted by flabdablet at 7:40 AM on January 31, 2014

On Adobe Reader vs Foxit: I adopted Foxit Reader at version 2.0 for use across 120 school workstations, but I've recently switched back to Reader.

Reader XI is still a whale of a thing, but it starts up about as fast as Reader 4 used to so it's no longer an irritating whale of a thing. Its annotation features are more polished than those in the current version of Foxit, which has itself bloated up some. But the main reason I switched back to it is that it prints way faster.
posted by flabdablet at 7:44 AM on January 31, 2014

I handwrite annotations on PDF files using Notability on my iPad.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 7:46 AM on January 31, 2014

flabdablet: "I don't like having the vertical PDF pages squeezed onto a horizontal monitor

That much at least is easily fixed.

I just bought two reconditioned 39" monitors (specifically so I could read without glasses - age-related accommodation), and I gotta say: my workflow at home has CHANGED. I have so much visual space I can easily manage up to four windows of data.

Really consider flabdablet's suggestion, only doubled. If you're going to work all-electronically, a tablet is more akin to a pocket notepad than a complete desk area.

(That last sentence was interesting - I was trying to find paper-office metaphors that weren't already coopted with electronic meanings. We may not be paperless, but think how much words like notebook, desktop, notepad, document, and so on conjure images of computers instead of actual paper, nowadays.)
posted by IAmBroom at 7:54 AM on January 31, 2014

You could also set a monitor up in a portrait format and sit out next to your current monitor, you could then have the pdf open and at full size., as an example. Sorry I don't know how to do nice links while on my tablet.
posted by wwax at 8:14 AM on January 31, 2014

The tablet flabdablet links to is easily rotatable from landscape to portrait, I think was the point.

Best PDF annotation app has been asked several times, with several answers given. There's also a roundup with reviews here.
posted by Wretch729 at 8:32 AM on January 31, 2014

I use multiple monitors and I love it so much. You can get arms for most monitors that help re-adjust them really easily to whatever works for what you're doing.

Terry Pratchett is a famous lover of multiple monitors :)
posted by greenish at 8:33 AM on January 31, 2014

For document review, I find a dual monitor system to be invaluable. One monitor had the source document, the other a notes/comments document. I currently have two horizontal side-by-side, but am strongly considering something like this for my own workspace. The vertical monitor thing is a gamechanger. My dad uses it and it's amazing.

Document review on a tablet is, generally, very practical for shorter busts or on a plane or whatever. I'm becoming an olds, so my eyes do prefer the larger tablets though. I would not recommend right now as a primary tool though. The software and input methods are still too immature.

PDF annotation tools are all fairly mature, what ever you pick, IME. How you organize your documents has a great deal of variability though with repository solutions like Evernote to reference managers like Zotero to hand-crafted filesystem structures.
posted by bonehead at 8:58 AM on January 31, 2014

Response by poster: ok not to threadsit, but i already have three monitors at work and two at home. i could definitely refine that in terms of their size or orientation, but that solution is no more useful in a hotel room or co-working space or coffee shop than printing everything out. what i'm really trying to do is make the process more portable, not just save trees : ) my giant-tablet / stylus vision unrealistic?
posted by pete_22 at 11:38 AM on January 31, 2014

I think a full sized iPad or Android tablet with a stylus for the PDFs and a laptop to edit your report could work for you. You can view PDFs at or near full size on a large tablet and there are a ton of different apps that let you annotate them. AFAIK, most will allow you to write notes and highlight and create bookmarks that could replace your post-it flags.
posted by MadamM at 12:56 PM on January 31, 2014

Ah! VERY different from what I previously understood... You mentioned "outside an office environment", which I took to be "working from home".
posted by IAmBroom at 12:56 PM on January 31, 2014

The Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 (Android) seems like it's made for this. I'd imagine there are some larger Windows tablets as well, but I couldn't turn them up in a quick search.
posted by cnc at 1:23 PM on January 31, 2014

Response by poster: You mentioned "outside an office environment", which I took to be "working from home".

Yeah but even in an office environment with the perfect monitor setup, I just can't read as efficiently on an interactive device like a desktop computer, it's too distracting. I realize a tablet is interactive too but I feel like my brain might treat it more like paper if I can get it set up the right way. Maybe I'm just kidding myself though.
posted by pete_22 at 2:16 PM on January 31, 2014

that solution is no more useful in a hotel room or co-working space or coffee shop than printing everything out

It seems to me that working with large, lightweight, flexible and disposable paper documents within an environment that isn't set up as a workspace is always going to be easier than working with small, heavy, rigid and precious electronics within the same environment. For the actual process of review and annotation, it's genuinely hard to beat paper's UI and this is exactly why the "paperless office" remains a curious rarity thirty years after I first saw it described as "the way things are going".

It also seems to me that if management requires you to be productive in a work environment that's not nicely set up for productivity, HR needs its arse kicked. Ergonomic workstations work.
posted by flabdablet at 7:22 PM on January 31, 2014

I just can't read as efficiently on an interactive device like a desktop computer, it's too distracting.

Might pay you to take a few (paper!) notes about the things you find yourself distracted by, then work on eliminating those one by one.

With multiple monitors, especially if at least one of them is in portrait mode, full-screen view can actually work surprisingly well as a distraction reducer and most document-processing applications support it one way or another.
posted by flabdablet at 7:25 PM on January 31, 2014

« Older My porcelain sink (and tub) have a problem   |   How do I hire a Predictive Analytics expert? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.