Documentation : The process of recording your thoughts and experiences in a clear and concise format for future reference.
In the movie The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, there’s a famous quote by the Bad guy to a gunman who tries to kill him in the bathtub : “If you wanna shoot, shoot. Don’t talk.” Documentation is similar to talking. It is often times tangential to productivity i.e, it doesn’t take you towards your goal…or away from it.
Unfortunately in the world of programming, the word documentation has a very negative connotation. Because programmers are generally lazy and don’t like to do any extra work other than the utmost critical. In this article, the word documentation will only hold the definition we stated in the beginning. And I think it is important in the big picture. Here’s why.
Documentation is crucial for Proper Science
Science is about understanding why stuff works the way it works. In other words, science is just a big search for an answer to the “Why?”. Assuming the universe works according to a definite set of laws, the goal of the scientific process is to get a complete understanding of these laws. To identify and understand these laws, we perform experiments which are essentially sets of input-cause and output-effect. Without proper documentation, conducting science experiments would be a nightmare. It is super hard to decode the laws without a precise understanding of the causes and their corresponding effects.
Proper Science, to me, is about having a smart approach to life. And that can be applied anywhere including and especially your personal life. If you maintain a record, you can go back to it and figure out why you acted a certain way or how you should have acted instead or why an event/experiment of yours gave the results it did. Usually things fall into perspective when you keep journaling and then read it 1 year later. You can vividly observe the changes to your personality and get a birds-eye view of your life.
My interest in documentation & it’s benefits grew after watching the movie Avatar where the protagonist Jake Sully is advised to record a video-log (everyday) about his experiences. From an analytical point of view, that’s a data goldmine. There’s just so much to look for. It makes you the subject of a science experiment. In the movie, the video-logs end up getting used against him but that’s a different thing — security and privacy.
Documentation leads to Mindfulness
Tim Ferris, author of Tools of Titans and other best sellers, states that a morning mindfulness routine like journaling/exercise is something he has observed as a pattern by interviewing hundreds of top performers. From my own experience, there’s some mysterious redemptive self-awareness that comes about as a result of documentation. I get more clear and decluttered in my head when I write things down on a paper.
Documentation makes you accountable to yourself
Accountability and Answerability are very important in humility and personal growth. I think this is why Christianity includes Confessing as a part of the religion. Everybody has a dark side and makes mistakes. It’s only natural. But the more you hide/ignore truth about yourself, the harder it gets to fix your issues. You need to face the truth. You need to identify your bad sides, write them down somewhere or tell someone trustworthy and work on self improvement in those areas. That’s the smart way of dealing with imperfections and insecurities. I become accountable when I maintain a journal. That’s something I consciously choose to have in my life.
You have to look at yourself objectively. Analyze yourself like an instrument. You have to be absolutely frank with yourself. Face your handicaps, don’t try to hide them. Instead, develop something else.
- Audrey Hepburn
My methods of Documentation
- Record video and watch it back. You instantly shift to a third-person perspective and watch yourself objectively. As long as you’re honest while recording, you get valuable feedback of your state of mind. I use this technique whenever I’m down or confused about something. It immediately changes gears inside my head.
- Write atleast 1 page of journal everyday recording major highlights, goals, learnings and possible improvements. For more on this technique, google “journaling tips”.
What to document & What to not
The level of documentation at a mass level has been steadily increasing with the advent of digital social media & internet. All these platforms want your attention and for you to document yourself. But these half-assed updates aren’t helping anybody much. Facebook wants your status. Instagram wants your photos. Twitter wants your 140 characters. Vlogging is yet another mutilated form of documentation. Scores of YouTube vloggers put themselves in the public eye and share their life on the internet for various purposes($$$). But the difference between vlogging and documentation is that you only show the interesting bits in the vlog because, let’s be frank, nobody wants to hear your 20min rant on why proper documentation is important :)
I personally don’t document anything I deem insignificant or unworthy of tracking. The main question I ask while documenting is “Is this piece of data going to help me, in any way, in the future?”
If there’s anything you take away from this article, I hope it’s the value of documentation. I’m no guru but I sure can give you this advice. You need to start treating your life as a science experiment and everything you do as mini-experiments. Document as if you will be asked about them after your death. By considering your life a set of experiments, you reduce the fear of failure and increase the scope of creativity and control.