Do it once. Fine. Do it twice – document it!
We have all been there: There is this job we are working on. Something needs to be done to get it off of our table. Like converting a few videos to be used on a website. So we quickly do it. Done. Great another thing ticked off. But after a few weeks we get a new video to convert and upload. But how did I choose the settings the last time? Was de-interlacing on or off? Was it HD oder only 720p? Stop wondering and get your (digital) notepad out! You are at the beginning of a process.
Writing things down is the smart people's choice
The introductory example says pretty much all of it already: We simply forget things. Especially when those are tasks which we do not do or perform on a regular basis. Well and we tend to forget certain things faster than others. We are exceptionally good at forgetting those things which we do not care too much about, those tiny bits. There is just too much going on in our lives to keep everything readily available in the quick access areas of our brain. And that is a great thing to keep us sane. Imagine having all those tiny things piling up day after day. Madness awaits you.
So, knowing and accepting this is the first smart thing to do and understand. Personally I have always loved and embraced my Evernote premium account for that very reason. See something, dump it in there. No matter whether it is a note, an email or a photo (Evernote's text recognition in photos is badass by the way!). But even a simple analogue notepad or anything else that can be stowed away and archived later on is fine.
When writing things down we prepare ourselves for two things:
- We organise our thoughts and reflect what we are doing or what we are about to do and …
- it simply records your thoughts or actions in a log which one can refer to later on.
When to start logging your actions and thoughts
Now as a computer it is easy to log things: Do something, log it, do something, log it, … but as humans we need time for that and cannot simply have a subroutine run and operate our left hand which might be logging while we do stuff with the right hand. So the natural question is whether it is worth logging something or not.
When do we need logs? Usually it makes sense to document thought processes and action sets when we know for sure that this will be an action that needs to be done again. Maybe not today, maybe not even this month, but the potential is there. Well, the further down the calendar it is the more important it is for you to write things down.
But even simple steps like what you have tried when developing a logo make sense to keep. I usually clone a version I have worked on before moving on and modifying it. This way I see all the versions afterwards, I have an idea of how I decided upon things, it gives me lots of material to choose from, and lastly it is proof of what I have been working on. And this applies to so many things we are doing every day. Unfortunately cloning is not always an option in real life. But a documentation is a great fallback because you know which steps you took to get to the desired outcome before.
Documentation to the rescue
It is great to have a manual to refer to when we need it. And it is a pain when the manual let's you run into a dead-end street. Or it might be missing the essential details to achieve what it describes as the outcome.
Test your documentation
In order to avoid a flaw like the above it is important to test your documentation. Why don't you ask someone who is not familiar with your process to follow the process once and see whether he or she gets to the last point. If so: great. If not, go back and fix the documentation.
In case you hand the documentation over to your client, it makes sense to go through it with them. This way you can even charge for an introductory session and pass the documentation on to them. In case they want to do things for themselves they have been the testing people and the target-group at the same time. In case you need to explain a bit more in your documentation you will find out about it when you train them.
Documentation as a chance
Should your clients not be too excited about doing things themselves, hey, no problem, either you can do it for them, or, since you have a great documentation now, outsource it to someone else. As a matter of fact, it is one of the key ingredients for successful outsourcing to have a gapless and detailed documentation. The fewer questions will be asked after having read and followed the process documentation, the less time it will occupy on your busy schedule.
Putting the pro into productivity
It might be a clear thing but when you have a thorough documentation it shows that you are an organised person and that you know what counts when it comes to efficient working and task-solving. Your clients will love the fact that all the work you do is documented and could in theory be passed on to the next person should you ever be not available.
No, nobody wishes you any harm and that bus hopefully never runs you over, but think about something way less critical: You are taking a longer vacation and decide on digital detox for a few weeks. With a proper documentation anyone can update your client's website now, be it the clients themselves or a friend/colleague. And you can digital-detox while sipping Margaritas on the beach. Now that is how you run a professional business and cover all the aspects of your work.
"But wait!", I hear you scream. "Doesn't that put my business at risk? I am giving away my trade secrets! Now everyone can do my job." Okay, fair dinkum.
The question is: What is your business? Is it to do the things and run the process described in the documentation? Or isn't it the actual process development and monitoring in the first place? Your clients probably hired you because they know that you have the expertise to devise a website's design and the respective maintenance, rather than just doing simple tasks. And isn't that the thing you actually want to do?
Peace of mind
In summary the documentation of a process will help you to be more professional, work more efficiently, be more flexible, and get other people to help you without wasting a lot of time on the on-boarding procedures for the task.
In case you are not documenting you work yet, consider doing so for a small part of your work the next time you start a project, or write a process documentation for some maintenance tasks the next time you hand over a project to a client. Based on that gather experience and grow it from there. The benefits will become clear quite quickly. Just think about the vacation example above!