“The list could surely go on, and there is nothing more wonderful than a list, instrument of wondrous hypotyposis.”
“We made a drywall list of keyboard buttons we would like to see:
PLEASE, THANK YOU, FUCK OFF, DIE, OOPS…MY MISTAKE, DO SOMETHING COOL AND SURPRISE ME.”
Archaic as it may sound … writing things down may be more important today than ever before.
Writing shit down does matter.
How many times do we hear about someone complaining about how they missed a deadline or forgot to do something?
If you interviewed all the guilty parties the overwhelming answer would be.
THERE’S NOT ENOUGH TIME!”
There is the culprit.
That bastard Time.
It pretty much is a consensus in business that it is never anything but lack of time which creates missed deadlines.
As has so often been stated … “everyone is always looking to do an unreasonable amount of things in an unreasonable amount of time.”
I say “nuts” to that.
Critical deadlines are part of business … and will always be a part of business.
If you can’t live with crazy deadlines … get out of business.
Go be the person behind the counter at the bike rental place or a government employee at the driver’s license department or a park ranger.
Now that I am done being an asshole … let’s assume you have a real job in a real office with real responsibilities.
This is where the whole writing shit down topic becomes relevant.
You may have heard of the Yale <or Harvard Business School> study of goals in which only 3% of the graduating class had specific written goals for their futures.
Twenty years later that 3% was found to be earning an astounding 10 times that of the group that had no clear goals.
No actual study done.
Fast Company published an article about the alleged study: “If Your Goal is Success, Don’t Consult These Gurus”: http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/06/cdu.html
So all those “list business consultant gurus” and the gazillion self help list making books are full of shit.
Just to be fair <not to the expert blowhards … but to lists> … a clinical psychologist at Dominican University in California has conducted research on goals.
1. Types of goals:
Participants pursued a variety of goals including (in order of frequency reported) completing a project, increasing income, increasing productivity, getting organized, enhancing performance/achievement, enhancing life balance, reducing work anxiety and learning a new skill.
Examples of “completing a project” included writing a chapter of a book, updating a website, listing and selling a house, completing a strategic plan, securing a contract, hiring employees and preventing a hostile take-over.
2. Goal Achievement:
Group 5 achieved significantly more than all the other groups; Group 4 achieved significantly more than Groups 3 and 1; Group 2 achieved significantly more than Group 1.
3. Differences between all writing groups and the non-writing group:
Although the previous analysis revealed that Group 2 (written goals) achieved significantly more than Group 1 (unwritten goals), additional analysis were performed to determine whether there were also differences between the group that had not written their goals (Group 1) and all groups that had written their goals (Groups 2-5).
This analysis revealed that the mean achievement score for Groups 2-5 combined was significantly higher than Group 1.
1. The positive effect of accountability was supported:
Those who sent weekly progress reports to their friend accomplished significantly more than those who had unwritten goals, wrote their goals, formulated action commitments or sent those action commitments to a friend.
2. There was support for the role of public commitment
Those who sent their commitments to a friend accomplished significantly more than those who wrote action commitments or did not write their goals.
3. The positive effect of written goals was supported
Those who wrote their goals accomplished significantly more than those who did not write their goals.
Lists can help in a variety of ways.
This study shows some evidence that a combination of accountability, commitment and writing down one’s goals demonstrates writing shit down enhances the likelihood of goal achievement.
And maybe list making has its highest value not in actual productivity but actually with stress reduction.
Yup. There is a guy named James Fallows who wrote in 2004 something like the fact that our brains may not be able to remember shit when it gets overloaded … and, yet, at the same time the brain also can’t forget.
At some deep and not very efficient level the brain is always chewing over all the things you should have done but haven’t. Worse? As it chews away it tends to remind you of them at the worst time – typically in the middle of the night.
What this suggests is that most of our stress comes not from having too much to do, but from trying to keep track of it all.
Which explains why, when you’re feeling so overwhelmed and you finally sit down and make a list … you tend to experience a sense of relief.
This happens even though the tasks on the list you just finished … remain as unfinished as when you began. But now your brain has a plan to chew on.
Basically you have offloaded the job of remembering them to an “outboard brain” which then permits your actual ‘inboard brain’ to relax a little.
Here is the deal.
If you are in a business you can make lists until you have an entire wall covered with nothing but lists but frankly … all the shit on your lists and why they never seem to get done are typically a reflection of the systems around you, or more specifically, the lack of systems as well as people who do not follow the system.
Let’s face it.
Many companies just have crappy systems. Mostly because most business is done verbally or via email and true project management gets delefgated begind “all the shit we have to do now.”
Please do not misconstrue anything in what I say because project management is hard.
REALLY hard. Especially in a business organization.
All I can really say is one basic rule.
EVERYTHING IS PUT INTO WRITING.
It keeps you organized, because you no longer have to keep stuff in your head, but you can externalize it to a piece of paper, and later you can process it.
Why write it down?
It’s pretty simple.
I don’t need research nor any guru to tell me the key thought.
Although there is no proven limit of how much stuff you can remember, there is always an opportunity cost.
You cannot focus on too many things at the same time.
Writing shit down is a powerful simple way to focus your attention, keep track of shit, and create a permanent record for the future.
Here is another factoid that should encourage you to write shit down … the Act of Writing Helps Your Memory.
Have you ever noticed that when you write a shopping list, you can remember almost all the items on it without glancing at it?
Or when you have a bright idea and scribble it in your notebook, you can remember it all day?
The very act of writing things down helps to get them lodged into your long-term, not short-term, memory.
Writing shit down on a consistent basis seems like a Time burden and often seems to not bear any obvious benefits.
But, beyond achieving goals, lists can actually saves time.
“Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.”
Lists can save you time because they can help you decide what to do. I say that because not everything on a list is of equal value. Suffice it to say there are want to do’s and need to do’s.
Stephen Covey did an excellent job outlining how to think about things on your lists.
This matrix is the creation of Stephen Covey <which he discusses in his book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”>:
Central to this matrix is … organize and execute around priorities.
If we classify activities by urgency and importance, you arrive at the matrix above. Urgent means it requires immediate attention. Important has to do with results, it contributes to your mission, values or high priority goals.
He advocates spending as much time as possible in Quadrant II, feeding opportunities and starving problems. The time you’ll need to add to Quadrant II will come from Quadrants III and IV. As you begin to spend more time in Quadrant II, the issues in Quadrant I will begin to dwindle.
Writing shit down and the quality of idea output.
Simplistically … off target ideas are bad ideas.
<yes … there are bad ideas>
Many people equate success in ideas to how nice the idea looks or feels or how quickly it was “turned around.” Some people equate success to quantity + speed to generate.
And, yeah, I cannot argue that those things are important in today’s overextended and slightly frenetic <if not verging on chaotic> business world … but bad ideas are bad ideas and quantity & speed are not enough.
In today’s world just getting shit done doesn’t hack it … it has to work.
It has to produce results.
Turning crap around around in record time only means that you are an excellent crap producer. You make check a whole bunch of shit off your lists … and you may show up in monthly meetings pointing out how much shit you have checked off your list … but at some point someone is going to point out all you have done is generate shit lists.
But, back to poor ideas.
I’ve been around the ideas part of business for almost thirty years. In the process of doing thousands of ideas assignments, I have learned there are basically two things that contribute most to good ideas:
Good input is critical to good ideas and the proper amount of time for the input ingredients to cook to create the idea pretty much will make or break the quality of your output from your list items.
I would like to note that adequate time may be one of the most underrated important factors in the ideas process.
The difference between bad ideas, good ideas and great ideas is always about having the opportunity to look & think about what you did yesterday. I can guarantee an idea given a chance to be finessed, to be rethought a little will be a better idea in the end.
Time <some … not an infinite no deadline amount> makes an idea better.
I thought about this after seeing another one of those lists of ‘5 things successful people do’ and, humorously, making lists almost always seems to be on that list.
It’s kind of crazy <in my mind> because we Americans are, and always have been, list makers.
“Americans are good with to-do lists; just tell us what to do, and we’ll do it.
Throughout our history, we have proven that.
Win our independence. Check.
Form a union. Check.
Expand to the Pacific. Check.
Settle the West. Check.
Keep the Union together. Check.
Fight the Nazis. Check.”
In the end … what is the best reason to write shit down?
You avoid verbal project management <which is a 98.32764% chance of failure if verbal>
If you want something, or something done, write it down.
Nothing should be done on a verbal basis <boy … that may be the number one reason to make a list>.
Simply … things get lost when not written down.
Thoughts, ideas, input … anything.
There you go … writing shit down means the shit has a less likelihood of getting lost.