The Digital Nomad’s Guide to Using Paper Stationery

I’m a digital nomad. I love using computers. I worked as online editor for newspapers. I am so online that my filing cabinets are practically empty.

So going paperless should be a no brainer. Although I don’t hug trees, I don’t mind saving a few. But after looking through my messenger bag, I realize that it’s harder to do when you work out of the home office. If I stay sequestered at home every day without meeting anyone, I can go paperless fairly easily. Once I step out, things get trickier than they do at home, and at least some paper stationery becomes necessary.

Here’s what I have and why:


I carry two. One is a Day Planner sized loose-leaf notebook. I use it as my primary note taking medium at seminars and meetings. The size is right for reviewing and portability. Occasionally I take sheets out and file them into folders. The second is a reporter’s notebook. It fits nicely into my back pocket and palm of my hand. It’s very handy for note taking during interviews. The size makes it less obtrusive.

How many of you think Evernote would be a good substitute for note taking? That sounds like a fine idea except that the devices needed aren’t so handy. Putting pen to paper is extremely fast for me. I may be able to type on my laptop fast enough to keep up with interviewees and speakers. But the sound of my fast typing is distracting.

Forget trying to take notes with a cell phone. I don’t have the speed or patience for it. Maybe an iPad would work better. It seems to be a good compromise between size and keyboard comfort. But none of these work so well when interviewing. The device becomes a distraction.

To keep it more friendly, I use the backs of pages for note taking and scrap. Unsaved pages go into recycling bins.

I am considering using a digital recorder then taking notes at home directly into my word processor. It would give me the option of turning the recordings into podcasts. That is if my subjects don’t mind me recording them.

Sketch pad

This comes with a handful of fine point markers. It’s a handy tool to have when a whiteboard isn’t available or practical. For example, during meetings in restaurants, I sketched out proposals on the pad to reinforce my points. I could then turn the markers over to other participants so they could express their ideas and revisions.

Sure mind map software works this way. But there’s no learning curve with paper and markers. Everyone knows how to write and draw.

Index cards

These are a key part of my speeches and presentations. The 3×5 cards are perfect for writing rough drafts. I can revise the text and reorganize my speech by changing the order of cards. I use the cards then when I present.

Sure I can use presentation software like Powerpoint. Except that not every presentation is a good opportunity for it. Even so, I still use notes because I don’t parrot what is on the slides. And if I memorize the speech, the cards are needed during rehearsal.

I’m looking for a way to create a second life for my cards. Maybe use the backs for scratch paper before recycling.

Business cards

Business cards are still valuable for networking and marketing. People still like to hold things in their hands. And business cards are good reminders of who you are after the meet. Serial networkers can’t go paperless here.

So the trick is to extend the function of the business card so that it saves paper elsewhere. Maybe print lines on the back so people can use them to take notes.


Each week I print a copy of the Wall Street Journal crossword puzzle. When I have a few minutes to spare, I print it out and work on a couple clues. I’m sorry but I will never be satisfied with interactive versions. They’re not as easy to work.

To reduce this footprint, I’m spending a little more time with cribbage on the iPhone and using the backs of old puzzles to print new puzzles.

Pen and pencil

I’m mentioning these because I wouldn’t be able to use the paper without them. The pencil is necessary for the crossword. No, I don’t have the guts to do it in pen. And sometimes I prefer note taking with pencil than pen because it’s more consistent than a lot of cheaper pens. And pens don’t work so well in wet, cold conditions.

But it’s a decent mechanical pencil I can refill with replacement “lead.”

The pen is a Space Pen. It’s small enough to comfortably fit into my pockets. Since the ink cartridge is sealed, it writes evenly. It’s expensive so I take more care not to lose it.

Cell phone, iPod Touch and laptop

All three of these devices are connected to my Instapaper account. Since I started saving web pages to it to read later, I’ve printed fewer articles and pages. And I do most of my writing – including outlines and rough drafts – in Google Docs. I don’t rely totally on paper.

While I recognize I can do more to reduce paper consumption, I am mindful of how much I use alternatives. These alternatives are electronic devices that require energy from somewhere. Unless you are positive that your devices are recharging from wind turbines and solar panels, you may not be doing the environment that much of a favor by going paperless.

Sooner or later, your batteries (which are filled with toxic chemicals) are going to die. What’s the impact of disposing and replacing them?

While I applaud you paperless workers, don’t think you’ve done all you can. There are plenty of opportunities to reduce your impact.

What’s your next step?

Carl Natale is a freelance blogger who writes about tips and advice for small businesses. He runs the site - a site about how top brands set their prices.


  1. TheCyberGypsy on the 22nd August

    I’m forgetting how to write. I used to have great handwriting, I went to one of thise schools where they occasionally liked to get out the italic nibbed ink pens to show us how it was done, but not anymore, I scribble like I’m writing with my left hand as a right hander.

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