Write Stuff Down (Beatty’s Maxim #3)

Bob Beatty
Jan 11, 2018 · 3 min read

Many, many years ago in a management or personal productivity class (I can’t remember which), I was taught to write things down. I ignored that advice then as I had a really, really good memory. I depended on my memory and it rarely let me down.

I have learned, however (and thus moved the precept into my own “Canon for Working/Living”), that writing things down is really critical for three reasons.

The first is the most practical: writing things down helps me remember things better. This is why many of us took notes in school. Yes, I know there’s lots of research out there about the effectiveness and/or ineffectiveness of notetaking. But for me (and these are Beatty’s Maxims, after all), writing things down, or notetaking helps keep me focused on the content of the meeting or discussion. I have a tangible record to refer back to.

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Where would music and culture be if the great James Brown hadn’t written this to-do list daily?

The second reason I write things down is to help organize my thoughts. Everyone I know who’s written a dissertation or a book has mentioned the importance of writing things down to coalesce ideas and arguments. This has really helped me as I’ve begun writing my dissertation (on the great Duane Allman).

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Here’s an example of a mindmap of the songs on Machina: The Machines of God, an album by The Smashing Pumpkins.

I carry a small pad of paper with me most times but I also have learned to dictate and/or type notes into my phone. Either works. What I’m lacking, still, is a system to put those notes into a single place. But the very act of writing down my thoughts helps me proceed apace.

SIDENOTE: One thing I’ve always found as helpful is to write notes on the back of business cards. These are something you should always have with you and others often do as well. They’re also very portable.

Third, writing things down provides a written record. What my reliance on my own memory didn’t account for was other people’s memory of the same conversation, meeting, etc. One thing I noticed over the years was how helpful it was to encounter people who took copious notes. AASLH CEO John Dichtl is one such person. Since John and I began working together in 2015, I have adapted his style of notetaking and it has been very helpful. Between John’s notes and my own, we have a pretty accurate record of our conversations.

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Document from Spanish Civil War Oral History Project. University of South Florida Libraries. http://www.lib.usf.edu/ldsu/digitalcollections/S39/images/a015.jpg.

This is also a key concept in project management: documenting the assignment of tasks, responsibilities, and deadlines. Having this documentation has made the accomplishment of projects and their ancillary tasks much more manageable for me.

I am interested in how this has resonated with you, if at all. Are you in the habit of regular documentation? Have you found no need to do it? Please share your thoughts.

Beatty’s Maxim #3: Write Stuff Down

A twenty-year veteran of the nonprofit world, Bob Beatty is founder of The Lyndhurst Group, a history, museum, and nonprofit consulting firm providing community-focused engagement strategies for institutional planning, organizational assessments, and interpretive direction. Join our mailing list.

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