One skill I wish I could acquire from someone else is to be more disciplined about writing things down. OK - so I do write a lot of ideas and tasks down (thanks to GTD I’ve gotten much better at this).
What I mean is “bigger” things, and writing them down more explicitly and earlier. I have a friend that is very good at writing ideas down even while they are vague, then refining and clarifying them over time. I, on the hand, tend to wait until I think the ideas are almost “done” before I write them down. That means a lot of things get thought about, talked about… but not recorded.
You’re only hurting yourself with this rambunctious behavior…Right?
As a consequence of this tendency to leave things open-ended, it seems a lot of my grand ideas don’t go anywhere because I never finished developing them, or I just move on and forget about them. This, I believe is caused by a combination of:
- my introverted thinking style (I’m an INTJ / INTP on Myers-Briggs),
- my love for “fluidity” in the options I pursue, and
- fear of failure (or dislike for being held accountable?), at some level.
Until recently, I didn’t think of this as a big deal. However, I have been very introspective lately and thinking about a few problem situations where I can see the negative consequences of not writing things down…and it bothers me. You see, I have seen situations where the lack of a written record of ideas, commitments, and such has led to ambiguity that caused problems later.
Revising Verbal History Is Pretty Easy
In my opinion,the problem lies in the fact that human memory is fallible, and is much weaker than the human ego. In the situations I’ve observed, this inherent conflict has led to things like:
- people not getting credit for some great ideas, because others didn’t remember where the idea came from;
- people not being held accountable for commitments they’d made because the commitments were never documented;
- people “adjusting” what they committed to, bringing it more in line with where things actually ended up;
- people moving accountability to someone else, when that wasn’t the original intent (sort of a scapegoat maneuver);
and things like that.
In most of these cases, the “revisionist historians” weren’t malicious – they were just trying to turn things to their own advantage and, I believe, in some of the cases they actually believed the altered back-story was true.
Permanent Records Are Harder To Change
What do I take away from this? Writing plans and “big ideas” down is important – even when they are in their formative stages. That will help you hang on to your ideas so they don’t drift away, help you keep track of where the good ideas (and bad ones) came from, ensure accountability, and – perhaps most importantly – give you the means to compare what happened to what you thought was going to happen so you can learn from your successes and failures.
So – my question to you: what’s your advice to someone trying to develop this habit? How do you overcome a tendency to take life as it happens and move to a more concrete model where plans, goals, and intentions are actually written down?
Do tell. And in writing, please!