It’s not challenging to write documentation; the key is to be able to find it when you need it. If you’re writing and storing all your notes in digital format your needs will be different than those kept primarily on paper. This post will discuss some ways to organize those analog notes.
I keep some of my paper notes right where I need them. They are often short checklists I put where I need to refer to them because my mind is on other things, or “in case of fire, break glass” type documents.
But what about everything else? It depends on how the material is most often retrieved. If you are lucky enough to remember physical card catalogs in the library, there were different types of cards based on the category — for example, author or subject matter.
Most of what I document is either based on time, I need to do it on Tuesday. Or it requires content, I need to find my notes about a certain subject.
I try not to require duplicative copies of my notes and documentation, so I store them in what’s best for how I use them.
In my post, The Small Tasks, I shared my index cards. I file them with a simplified tickler system. I don’t care about the specific days, it’s more than enough to track today, this week, soon, each day of the week, daily, weekly, monthly, annual, as well as for each day of the week.
Table of Contents
As I wrote in a recent newsletter, I keep a book of favorite recipes. It includes notes about what worked and my epic failures (this comes to mind). The first page is for my table of contents, it has the recipes and notes I refer to the most, it is not a complete list of every page.
I maintain similar tables in my logbooks, as shown in the photo below. I don’t always type them, this one ended up with lots of arrows as I jumped pages and it was easier for me to rewrite it and paste over the original scribbles.
Choosing between Time and Content systems
It’s important to think through how you mentally categorize your business. Did you write your documentation thinking about time — on Mondays these are the things we do. Or is it based on content (topics) — when I mail a package these are the steps?
If the answer is both, that’s ok too. You can create a cross referencing system (to be discussed in the future)!
Choose what works best for now. Your system will change and evolve as you use it. It doesn’t mean you failed, it means your needs no longer match the system and you need a better way.
Next steps: Digital
When you keep digital documentation, the possibilities for organization are endless. This is thanks to the ability to do a full & complete search through all the content, not only summary titles. It is both helpful and a potential hindrance for helping you find your documentation. In future posts, I’ll share how thinking first with an analog system can help you create a digital system that is robust, organized, and more likely to be used than one that relies only on search.