The words we choose can cause a concept to be embraced or scorned. There’s inevitably a look that appears in clients eyes when I bring up the topic of creating documentation for day-to-day tasks. I hear comments that range from, “It’s a waste of time” to “I (or my employees) know what to do, it’s our job!”. I know the term “documentation” isn’t exciting, but for now it’s the one I’ve chosen to use.

I often wonder if this would be better received if it was called a “note to self” instead?

Documentation can be a large tome of instruction, often akin to a dry academic textbook or an incoherent software user manual. I understand no one wants to create or use that sort of documentation.

However, that isn’t always what’s needed. Sometimes we simply need a nudge.

Perhaps you hired someone new, a quick guide can help you remember all the steps and not freeze when they interrupt you part-way to ask for clarification. That crib sheet can become a worksheet for the person to annotate, and they may learn the task easier, faster, and more completely.

It can also be a crib sheet for you. Routines and procedures have changed drastically this year. It takes time to develop new habits. It’s ok to have notes to remind you.

When I first outlined this post, I thought I’d step through this with an explanation of the process of listing a digital product for sale and making note of how things needed to change for different platforms.

However, I’ve been thinking a lot about both working solo and from home this week and how notes can help me out.

Earlier this week I cleaned and made functional a keyboard I purchased in 1999 and last used about a decade ago. I used to simply do things with this keyboard, without thinking about how I accomplished it. One of those things is to use hardware (button presses) to change the functionality of the keyboard (from QWERTY to Dvorak for the curious). The documentation of the keyboard disappeared years ago, and while muscle memory had me typing again quickly, it took a note to remind me of the keyboard combination to make the switch. But how did I not lose that note for 21 years? It’s written on the bottom of the keyboard with permanent marker. I refreshed it after cleaning everything.

bottom of keyboard

Around my house there are other reminders, small nudges for tasks we do both regularly and seasonally. In reality, they’re documentation.

Our water pipes have laminated labels (a prior owner wrote on the wall) and we have a reminder of how to winterize the sprinkler system that’s kept taped to the inside of the controller. One day I’ll type this up!

water pipe sign "sprinkler water shutoff"
Sprinkler system with index card taped inside cover.

When routines changed back in March, a “leaving the house” checklist was added to the door. Mostly after I’d started out and realized I forgot reusable bags. I’ve had similar reminders at different office spaces, “don’t forget to shut off lights”. The “tell the House Goodbye” is a button to run rules for our smart switches.

sign on door: "did you remember?"
- face mask
- shopping bags
- feed the cats
- tell the house goodby

This is type of documentation can help both your business and your home.

What notes will you write yourself today?