05. Note Taking
December 12, 2019 / 2 minute read

I’ve been thinking a lot on the meta-practices that produce better code and better products. The best one by far: writing things down. Writing _everything_down.

If a task comes up, put it in your task tracker. Add detail, make sure it’s well structured, tidy, free from lint. Pause the meeting to get the notes in, nobody will mind. Tasks stop disappearing. Mistakes occur less frequently. Test a new piece of tech? Read an interesting article? Write up your notes. Write up the steps to reproduce it, write up the cases you tested, the thoughts you had, leave links for future reading.

When you write everything down, the benefits come in thick and fast.

Customers see that you’re listening, not only from the physical act of taking notes but by being able to recall minor details from previous conversations. During meetings, take high-level notes. After the meeting finishes, flesh out your notes. Leave all the detail you can remember; it’s impossible to predict what might be useful.

Your team benefits here too. Product decisions are reasoning are recorded: who made them, when, why. In any team that moves fast, this is vital. Detailed post montem's give a log of what happened when and why. It gives steps on how it was fixed. An up-to-date knowledge-base should be a staple inside every organisation. Keep content coming in and old content updated should be a high priority activity for everyone in the team.

When you write, write like somebody else will read it. Things that are crystal clear now may not be in 6 months. Things obvious to you are not for others. Writing like this also forces you to brighten the murky corners that sit at the edge of your understanding. It helps bring up questions that need to be answered before you can move forward.

One thing I’ve found is that when I read something, I avoid the parts I don’t understand or seem too chewy to parse. This is a warning light to slow down. Spend time digesting and writing about these chunks. There’s something unique in writing things down in your own words. Feeling around the problem. Words force your brain to articulate what you “think” you know. Being able to reword a point or problem is a strong indicator that you understand its intention.

I don’t love the term, but we’re all knowledge workers now. With this world comes a constant deluge of information. Here, writing is a first-party skill. One you develop alongside your main craft. Writing is a skill that can be welded to any profession.

The more you write, the more your thinking clears up. With all information down on-page, you give yourself permission to process, and then empty your thoughts. This lets you genuinely focus on the task at hand.

So, write everything down. Keep it organised and neat. Your notes are a second brain. Use it.