Write It Down

By Carl Sanders-Edwards

Jan 22

This is a true story from 18 months ago and ever since I’ve learned that to make things happen, I need to write it down.

I was looking down. Focusing on my feet. Trying to ignore the mounting hurt in my lungs. Damn this hill is steep. Slowly, after the longest 10 minutes, I pushed over the top, aghhhhh. I was awash with relief from exertion…everything relaxed. Then it hit me. That’s it! A breakthrough idea for work! This will solve everything. Relaxing into the rest of my weekly run I stopped thinking about work, I enjoyed the moment, and I promptly forgot what was without doubt my best idea ever! 

Now I’m sure the idea wasn’t as good as it seemed but who knows? Now, during a run, I assign each idea I have to a finger and write them down as soon as I get home. Once you write it down you don’t forget it (but you can decide it’s actually a terrible idea). This is the focus of my insight this week and something I’m doubling down on for 2020 as a practice.

Write It Down

Fishermen can often exaggerate their catch – so theres a rule – if you don’t measure it, don’t say it. We’re all busy people and can often forget things with everything going on around us, so I think our rule should be – if you don’t write it, it doesn’t happen. The point is that we discuss a lot in meetings, good ideas and plans. But, unless we write key things down we run the risk of forgetting them and then spending 1/2 our time re-discussing next time.  Here are six reasons I think we should all work on writing more stuff down:

1) The Ziegarnik effect. Unfinished work or thoughts stay active in our brain. This is the stuff that keeps us awake at night. Writing down your last thoughts and next steps settles this process and satisfies your brain – welcome to a better sleep.

2) Writing clears your thinking.  Nine times out of ten my brilliant ideas look terrible when I write them down. It forces you to think, clarify and improve.  

3) Work is complex. Theres so much information for us to keep in working memory.  Writing it down free’s our capacity.

4) Working in an agile manner.  Short sprints of focused effort requires more not less discipline to stay on track.  Without writing down decisions and agreements things turn into a mess faster than in a traditional work arrangement.

5) Cultures and world views.  Each person in an organisation brings different frameworks and perceptions.  Our communication benefits from slowing down and carefully articulating where we are coming from – and we learn more.

6) It reduces rework and avoidable complexity.  How often do we spend 3/4 of our time in a meeting agreeing and aligning on what we are talking about?  This can be dramatically reduced if one person writes and shares the context first to get the conversation on the same plane.  You can still disagree and propose something else but everyone is standing in the same place to have that debate from.

I’d love to hear your reasons, practices and improvements on this.


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