Writing things down

Just this morning I listened to someone suggest that the more you document the more control you have. And the less you document, the less control you have. Of course the trade-off in this person’s mind was in overhead versus control.

More overhead (from writing things down) results in more control, but sometimes the overhead isn’t worth it. And thus less control can be traded for less overhead.

Unfortunately this is a false equivalence. The only equivalence is that documenting things can produce a sense of control.

I can write down every idea that pops into my mind, but that doesn’t mean that I’ll remember to look at what I wrote down. And it definitely won’t mean that other people will think to look at what I’ve recorded.

If I’m dieting, I can write down hundreds of tips about dieting. That doesn’t mean any of them will register when I reach for an ice cream cone. Even if I have the list in front of me, that probably won’t matter.

Just because you write something down doesn’t mean you’ll be able to find it. Nor that you’ll have it available when it’s needed. In fact, just like with recollection, the more you record, the harder it is to find anything. If writing things down is to have any impact, then the more you write down, the less impact it will have. There’s an inverse relationship between finding things and the amount of things you write down.

If you do write down a lot, you best have a darn good way to search things when you need to find something. And I have yet to find any software that really does that good of a job at finding what you need in the moment. Nor any organizational scheme that can possibly predict the future circumstances and index things accordingly.

Writing things down has little correlation to control. And if it is to have an impact, you need habits that support retrieving information just as much as the habits to record it.