A recent post on my personal blog noted that the problem with documenting life is it allows that much less time in which to actually live it. True, but so is the converse: one is so often busy living life there seems no time – or reason – to document it, which to say the least can make things difficult as hell when later trying to reconstruct events from memory alone.
Or maybe you have the depth and breadth of memory that facilitates that. I don’t. That’s why I write so much stuff down, even if it does interfere with whatever I might be doing at the time. I’ve learned the hard way that I’ll be grateful for it later.
This is not to say I keep detailed records for everything like with my recent fumbles migrating WordPress content. That was the Documentation Specialist in me coming out: if you think you’re going to have trouble with a procedure in future, or even just the need to do it again, make notes while it’s still fresh in your mind. Whether or not the future you benefits, there’s always the possibility someone else will – especially if you post it online.
But for that to be of any help, first you have to write it down. Most people don’t; I still don’t a lot more than I do, and as a result have to re-invent the wheel any number of times a month. There are great tools like Evernote to facilitate the collecting and retrieval of vital data and I encourage everyone I think is even remotely interested to adopt their use. I don’t think many do, for the same reason they’re not inclined to collect data in the first place: it just doesn’t seem all that important at the moment.
This is if anything a more pressing problem in the workplace, where the pressures of being productive all too often overpower the possibility of leaving behind a coherent and well-organized description of mission-critical processes. Sure, email helps but if you’re drowning in it day-to-day what’s the likelihood you’re going to get the answers you want from your archives right away (or even eventually) no matter how keyword-savvy you are? Proper documentation of key business processes is something many employers plan to get around to when the craziness subsides. But it rarely does so they never do, and talk about a good way to lose productivity right there.
Case in point: my last assignment as a temp was with an architectural firm where all the nuts-and-bolts proposal-generating was done by two admins. I was called in when both had to take medical leave simultaneously, a possibility the management had obviously never prepared for, and I sat on my ass there for a week because nobody could show me how they did what they did and the only person who knew even a little bit about it – one of the firm’s partners – was out also. On my first day I asked the HR person if their procedures were documented so I could at least prepare for when the partner came back; he just rolled his eyes. That is not the kind of place you want to work for or even temp at. I didn’t stay long and in the years since I’ve sometimes wondered if the firm learned anything.
Be smart. Take the time to write stuff down. And if you don’t have the time, make it. It’s a dirty job sometimes but you’ll be glad you did it it, always.