There are few things more frustrating than having to re-learn how to do something you know you’ve already figured out in the past.
This would never happen with something you do daily or weekly, because it happens frequently enough for the steps to become ingrained in your memory and become almost automatic. But I have it all the time with tasks that need to be done monthly or less. For example:
- Compiling tax information to send to my accountant quarterly
- Making cold brew coffee, which I only do in the summer
- Cleaning my bike errr far less frequently than I should (which tool gets this bit off? Does this one need to be allowed to dry before adding the next one?)
Then there are problems I’ve already solved pretty much permanently, but will very occasionally need to refer back to when something changes or goes wrong:
- Something in my elaborate Trello productivity system has broken. How is this part supposed to work, so I can troubleshoot it?
- I’ve got a new device and need to set up two-factor authentication on it. What security settings do I need to enable?
I’m sure you experience the same thing, albeit with less geeky examples.
Eventually I got sick of wasting time and brainpower on re-solving problems, and committed to a simple solution.
The solution is to write instructions for your future self.
Ideally, you’d do this when you’re setting the thing up in the first place. But you won’t do that, because “this is easy now I’ve figured it out – there’s no way I’m going to forget”.
So instead, the first or second time you’re feeling the pain of re-figuring it out, write the steps down. Just describe what you’re doing, and perhaps add a quick note about why in case you’re tempted to second-guess yourself in future (“I know, 50g doesn’t look like enough but don’t add more because it really expands as it soaks up the water”).
There are just two keys to success:
- Make it quick and simple. You’re the only person who will ever rely on these instructions, so they only need to make sense to you. They can be messy, use your own private abbreviations, and rely on a whole load of prior knowledge that only you have. The quicker it is to write the process, the more likely you are to do it.
- Keep all your processes in the same place. It absolutely doesn’t matter which software tool you use, or whether you do it all on paper. The only requirement is that there’s only one place you need to look, so you don’t get the double-frustration of knowing you’ve figured it out and written it up but now can’t find it.
Rather than splitting them out, you might just want to have one note or file called “my life processes” that contains absolutely everything. You can then pin this somewhere – either to the top of your notes app (most of them have this feature), or literally to a pinboard in your house.
Writing the process should add no more than 50% to the time it takes you to re-solve the problem (any more and you’re being too detailed) – and the amount of future time and frustration it saves you will be immense.
At this point, you’ll hopefully think “that’s a nice idea”…then you won’t actually do it. But next time you find yourself frustrated and re-tracing your own footsteps, remember this article and write down what you’re doing. Your future self will thank you many times over.