How often do you plan to make a major change in your life or in your work, but only keep the idea in your head? You internally commit to following a different procedure, adhering to a different set of principles, or working to achieve a different goal.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and it’s worked out well for millions of people who have called upon this strategy in the past. But if you want to see better results, it’s much better to actually write your ideas down.
Let’s take a look at some of the different types of plans and documents you can (and should) write down, instead of merely considering in your head. Note that “writing down” can mean physically writing it down on a sheet of paper or typing it into a digital document.
- Goals. For starters, you have goals, which can be personal or professional. Your goals to improve productivity, lose weight, get a promotion, or even just clean the house will be much more effective if they’re written down.
- Procedures. Writing is also beneficial when it comes to procedures, especially within your business. How are your employees supposed to complete a specific process or achieve a certain goal? What steps must they follow?
- Principles and guidelines. It’s also important to write down your plans as they relate to principles and guidelines your organization is supposed to follow. For example, your process safety management (PSM) plan shouldn’t be merely speculative; it should be written down.
So why is it so important for you to write these types of things down?
First, writing things down forces you to provide clarity, both for yourself and for other people. Your idea may sound great in your head, and you may feel comfortable with your internal abstractions, but sooner or later, you’ll have to confront the ambiguities of that idea. For example, let’s say you have an idea to impose stricter cleanliness standards for your business; that’s great, but what do you mean by “cleanliness,” and where is the line? When and how will this new policy be applied? When writing it down, you’re forced to ask yourself (and answer) these questions, improving the specificity and clarity of your vision.
The Physical Act of Writing
There’s also evidence that writing something down by hand can improve your memory of whatever you’re writing. It’s an old trick used by students taking notes by hand in the classroom and studying; writing the material down helps it “stick.”
This is especially important if your latest ideas are flashes of insight that happen across your mind while you’re doing something else. Taking the time to write down your ideas forces you to remember them, rather than allowing them to get lost in the shuffle.
Obviously, writing things down is important if your goal is to eventually share them. Merely communicating your ideas to someone else can be effective, but it’s not going to seem as formal or serious as a concept that’s been written down. Giving someone a physical piece of paper instantly elevates the plan to a new level of seriousness.
Additionally, the written version of the document provides a mutual reference point. If you ever disagree about what your plan outlines or whether a specific action falls in line with the plan, you can both consult the written document and hash it out resolutely.
Over time, your ideas are probably going to change. Your goals might increase or decrease in severity, or you may tighten or loosen your standards for a new process. In your head, memory is imperfect and ideas are fuzzy. But a written plan will never change on its own; it’s immutable and serves as your official version.
Posting and Reminders
Written-down goals and plans can also serve as a reminder. If you write something by hand or print it out, you can turn it into a kind of inspiration board, or a sticky note that reminds you what you’re supposed to be doing.
Written plans also lend themselves well to future updates. You can revise specific sections, or rewrite the entire document as you see fit. If you do, you’ll have a clear version history so you can track how it’s changed over time.
If you haven’t already, get in the habit of writing down as much as possible. The more time you spend writing down your plans, goals, policies, and procedures, the clearer your vision will become and the more likely you’ll be to follow your own ideals.
It’s challenging to build the habit, but once it’s in place, it will be practically impossible to break.