Success Through Good Record-keeping And Paperwork
Note: This page is about career, management and leadership. It is not about financial record-keeping or accounts or our responsibility to the tax-man.
- A ‘good memory' is a gift. On a day-to-day basis we all rely on our memory to navigate even the most basic tasks. The problem is our memory cannot be 100% trusted. Memories can play tricks on us. One of the worst failings comes when our mind prompts as to agree with something because it sounds right. neuroscientist David Eagleman in his Book Incognito suggests that we are more inclined to believe a statement if we have heard it before (the statement itself doesn't actually have to be true). With this in mind consider the dangers of group discussions. Someone says something that sounds right and all of a sudden some kind of collective-memory forms and a mythology this born. When it comes to agreeing (with teammates) an answer in a game like Trivial Pursuit this tendency doesn't matter. But making decisions that affect your life based solely on your memory, or the memory of others, it Is not a great tactic. Dr Eagleman suggests finding the source of our memories before making important choices. In practical terms that means good record-keeping. It is worth mentioning that keeping good records is important but being able to retrieve those records it is vital. Whatever system you use make sure you understand how it works, be diligent in its upkeep and make sure it's easy to access. As someone once told me “...having five people to manage is easy, when you have 500 to look after you better make sure your system works."
- Be as selective as possible. Hoarding is not the same as record-keeping. Keep to the point. Records worth keeping are there to inform and remind. They are not required to document every single feeling and emotion. The fact that it was snowing on the day you agreed a 5% pay rise for Frieda in sales, is not relevant. More importantly when you retrieve a record you will not want it to read like a novel that keeps you in suspense until the last page.
- Be succinct. Most Records can be organised in four sections; 1. Dates, venue and people involved. 2. Agreed actions and timescales. 3. Outcomes and follow-ups. 4. Your thoughts (on how things went). Remember, the most useful records start out as working documents.
- Keep a diary of events. This is always a good idea but it is vital in times of change, trouble or opportunity. In the olden-days this meant a physical diary. Today it can mean online calendar entries, email trails, digital to do lists etc. The central point is that being able to pinpoint, accurately, a description and time and place for past events can be a very powerful tool. I am especially diligent when dealing with physical papers/ letters. I always write a short note (on the actual paper) outlining any action taken, the date and the exact time.
- Keep your records safe. In the world of the Internet and cloud computing this means backing up everything you do. There is a lot of advice to be found about how to keep your records safe. Because I come from a world without personal computers I have created a 4 tier system that may seem convoluted but it works for me. I start most records/notes using Evernote or Noteshelf. These two applications work with each other. They allow me to create keyword/tagged/searchable pages that are automatically shared between my devices from the cloud. Working in the background I have CrashPlan which automatically backs up and stores my hard drives. I have a physical external hard drive and invariably I create, and file, a hard copy of records I can't afford to lose.
- Dealing with paper. I have developed the habit of scanning directly from my phone using Evernote’s Scannable app.