Book: No Office » Part 1 - You are using your office wrong! » Chapter 5 - Write stuff down |

Chapter 5 - Write stuff down

Create a culture of a written word and don't depend on he-says-she-says

Too much on your mind? It shouldn’t be!

We are busy all of the time. When people ask us: “how’s everything?”, we usually answer:

  • “I’ve got so much on my mind!”
  • “Busy! My plate is full!”
  • “So much going on, can’t juggle it fast enough!”

Yes, I get it. You’re busy. We all are. But if you’re keeping everything in your head, having too much on your mind and trying to juggle it all - you need to change your habits.

You need to start writing stuff down. And not only you. Your entire team should.

If you and everyone on your team don’t want to go crazy or get overworked… you need to change your ways of remembering information or passing it from one person to another.

Stop relying on speaking, talking and remembering.

This is not sustainable and it’s not effective.

Write. Stuff. Down.

“Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.” David Allen, author of “Getting Things Done”

When I first read David’s book1, I remember the most important piece of advice I got was exactly this. Not to keep stuff in my mind. To always write it down in my trusted productivity system. That’s why shortly after reading the book I created Nozbe2 to be able to do exactly that.

Why keeping too much stuff on your mind is bad for you?

First off, your mind is playing tricks on you. You’re in the middle of having a dinner after a good day’s work, and suddenly a thought pops up out of nowhere that you have to remember to send an email to your client about a budget proposal. And you’re like: “why now?”. Why not tomorrow morning after my 10 am meeting when I’m in front of my computer cranking emails? Why not then?

Because your mind tries to be helpful. It knows you haven’t written it down anywhere and wants to make sure you remember about it. It has no sense of time and space. So it just randomly reminds you about things you haven’t written down.

If you had written it down as a task for you for tomorrow to write this proposal and set a due date for this task, you’d know that this reminder is unnecessary. You’d know you’ll get to that tomorrow. You’d have a lovely dinner. Instead, you’re worried about remembering to send this damn proposal.

If you have too much on your mind, you’re doing it wrong

Where to write stuff down? How to do it?

As always, it depends. The basic rule is this:

  • Meeting? If it’s a scheduled event, just write it in your calendar directly.
  • Brilliant thought? Anywhere you can, but make sure you’ll get to it later. Like your digital notepad on your smartphone.
  • Something to do? Your digital task management system, any kind of to-do list would be fine here.
  • Follow up for someone? Write them a short message directly or short email. Right then.

You should have a system and a trusted place for each of these things. You should know where you put them at all times. And you should do that right this moment after things happened.

Someone mentioned an event? Put it in your calendar now. Don’t rely on you remembering later to put it in. Make a habit of writing stuff down the minute things come.

Especially with today’s smartphones, adding events to digital calendar, dictating notes, sending voice messages to people, it’s all very easy and quick these days.

Create a team culture of writing stuff down!

Now that you’ve got your habits right, it’s time to instill the same write stuff down dynamic in your team. Here’s how we to start doing it:

Just task me with…

You want someone to do something for you, ask them in a written form. Yes, you can first talk to them about it, but even after your initial conversation, make it a habit of creating a task for them in the task or project management software that you use in your team. We call it “task-based communication”3.

It became a habit in our team. You’re like: “can you do this for me? I need this and that…” and the other person would be like: “Sure, just task me with that!”.

This way you have to think it through, create a task for this person in appropriate project, maybe even add a comment to explain in detail what you’re after… or add additional documents as reference material.

And that’s good. This way there’s no ambiguity about what you want, and if there is, they can comment back to you to ask for additional info.

Use the same place for the same type of info

Be like Marie Kondo4. Use a system for your team’s projects and tasks. Have one for internal team documentation. Also one for code if you’re doing some software development. These can be different systems or the same system, whatever your team agrees on. The key being, people would know where the stuff is.

This way people don’t get confused. You can just tell them: “I’ve written this up on our intranet.”, or “There’s a task for it in the ACME project”. And they won’t waste time searching for information they need to move things forward.

And when you’re not around, like on vacation or something, people don’t have to bother you with messages. They’ll find stuff on their own. Because they know where this or that kind of stuff usually is.

Recurring topics or guidelines - write them up and refer people to them!

How often people want to talk to you about something you’ve already discussed in the past? If you’re like me, far too many times!

That’s why if there’s a recurring thing, a recurring issue, just take your time to write it up. With detail, pour all your thoughts and all your previous agreements about it in our place.

Next time they want to talk to you? Tell them to read it first! Or how we geeks say it: RTFM!5.

Internally use an app that let you comment on stuff.

Written comments are key. Now in 2020 there’s no excuse for not using modern apps that let you comment on everything. I’ve already mentioned that in our internal productivity system “Nozbe Teams”6 we add comments to tasks all the time.

But nowadays there are apps that let you post comments to everything thus fostering a better written culture in your team.

  • Writing code? On Github7 you can comment in Pull Requests on any line of code.
  • Writing texts? Use Dropbox Paper or Google Docs8 to comment on any paragraph!
  • Have questions about files? Dropbox and Box9 web interfaces let you comment on any file so you can send feedback about anything.

And these are just few examples. Adding comments creates a great feedback-driven habit in a team. So stop sending Word documents to people via email. Use modern online tools to collaborate.

Meeting minutes are not optional, they are obligatory!

We’ll deal with a modern way to run meetings in the later chapters of this book, but let’s just leave this one very important takeaway here: designate a person to write conclusions from each meeting.

Meeting minutes doesn’t mean you have to write in chronological order about what happened in each minute of the meeting. But you do have to prepare some bullet points about what was discussed, what you agreed on, what the next actions are. This can be a simple list.

But someone has to write it down. And it has to be published internally somewhere in your system, so that the rest of the team can easily catch-up on it if the need to. And people should be able to comment on these.

Start writing stuff today! All of you!

Start today and be patient. Writing stuff down is a habit. It takes weeks to get a habit right, so start with yourself and promote it in your team.

The benefits are so worth it!

  • You all stop forgetting stuff - it’s written down and you know very well where to find it.
  • No need to explain the same thing over and over again - just write it once and you can point people to it.
  • Stuff can be referred to later - you can always refer back to it, link to it maybe even… if it’s written down it can be brought back easily.
  • More transparency - people know what’s going on, they don’t feel left out of the conversation. It’s easier for them to catch up.
  • Not everyone has to attend all the meetings - you can reduce number of people on meetings. People will still know what happened. Not all of them have to be there, right?
  • Better feedback - as people post comments, they can take the time to write a thoughtful response.
  • Less chaos, no stress, better productivity - when you know what’s going on, where stuff is, you can focus on your next task at hand. And your mind will not play tricks on you or anyone else on your team!

One thing: cultivate a habit of writing stuff down!

Start with yourself. Write stuff down. Foster it in the team and create a culture of a written feedback. When it’s all written down, it can be accessed later, it can be linked to, referred to, it can be improved.

To learn more about the basics of productivity, I recommend David Allen’s book “Getting Things Done”1 and my own personal productivity book “10 Steps to Maximum Productivity”10

  1. “Getting Things Done. The Art of Stress-free Productivity” by David Allen  2

  2. This interview with me from 2013 explains very well the beginnings of founding Nozbe 

  3. Here’s our concept of task-based communication and here’s how I explain it on video 

  4. Marie Kondo is the author of international best-seller: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up 

  5. RTFM stands for “Read The F**king Manual!” 

  6. Shameless self-promo, but “Nozbe Teams” is the app I founded and we (and many teams) use all the time for internal communication 

  7. GitHub - I also wrote how it can be used by non-programmers for any kind of writing 

  8. Great apps for collaborative writing: Dropbox Paper and Google Docs 

  9. Apps for storing files in the cloud: Dropbox which is more consumer-focused and Box which is more towards the enterprise. 

  10. My own take on personal productivity: 10 Steps to Ultimate Productivity 

Next: Chapter 6 - Ban email internally

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