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7 Ways to Work Faster, Through Documentation

7 Ways to Work Faster, Through Documentation

Today’s entrepreneurs have it both better and worse than any generation of their peers has in the past. The sheer volume of technologies and tools at our fingertips is overwhelming to the point of suffocation, but when used properly, those tools can be incredibly powerful.

Every day I am bombarded with ads for new tools, services, and apps that will supposedly make me more efficient and help me get more out of my business, but in truth only 1 in 100 of those things will ever actually help me personally. What does help, I’ve found, is to start documenting what you do and how you do it early and often. To help you do the same for your business, here are seven simple tips for documentation of how your business works, which tools you use, and what you’ve tried (whether successfully or not).

Use Software

Notebooks, sticky notes, and emails are not good tools to keep track of how your business operates. You can certainly spend a boat load of money and buy expensive software like Omnifocus for organizing tasks and to do lists, or you can keep it simple.

For all of my documentation needs, I use Evernote. I’ve broken my business down into five main components—sales, marketing, production, management, and financial—and created separate notebooks in which I keep notes about specific tasks I perform on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. From receipts and tax documents to the emails we send to cold leads, I have everything in about twenty-five carefully organized journals, and it’s all free.

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Go Mobile

Whatever tool you decide to use, make sure it has a mobile component. Evernote fits the bill here, which is one of the reasons I started using it, and another app I like for its mobile integration is Day One, a journaling app. With desktop and iOS mobile editions, Day One is a great way to jot down notes about what I did and any concerns I had on any given day.

Collaborate with Colleagues and Clients

Even if you work 100% on your own, don’t be afraid to ask other people in your industry (or even your clients) what they think about a certain process.

We actively engage our clients and ask what they think about our sales processes, our marketing techniques, and the service they received. What good would it do to document a complex process if you find out two years later that your clients hate it?

Use GTD to Prioritize

David Allen’s Getting Things Done is one of the most important books ever written about productivity, and there is an entire category of software built around the concepts in that book.

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The basic idea is fairly simple: when a task comes in, you act on it immediately. The task either goes on your to-do list with a date and time for completion, into a bin for later consideration, or to a staff member or contractor who can handle it for you. All tasks must be actionable. The last thing you want to see in three weeks is a task on your list that says “get new clients”. Thank you self, that’s very specific.

The GTD method of task management helps in documentation because it forces you to think in terms of priority and actionable tasks. When you do that, it’s a lot easier to create a list of what tasks were involved.

Review Notes Once a Month

When you’re taking so many notes, it’s easy to sit down daily and read through them and try to create a pattern, but to maximize the return on your time investment, it’s important that you only review your notes once a month.

When you do, three things happen:

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  1. You start to see clear patterns
  2. You can organize those patterns into processes
  3. You can make plans based on your processes for the next month

Better yet, you’re not distracted daily by the urge to compulsively reorganize your schedule. It’s only done once a month.

Share Notes with Customers

Don’t just ask clients and customers for feedback; show them exactly what you record. We use internal notes as marketing materials, actually sending prospective clients a full outline of what we do and how we do it so they can see who they are hiring.

Not only does it create trust because of the transparency; it allows us to clear up any issues before a project starts that would otherwise create problems.

Hold Nothing Sacred

Your business is special to you, and there are certain things you’ve been doing for years that work well, but things change. Whether you are growing rapidly, or being forced to make key changes with advances in technology, you need to be ready and willing to revise old processes when they don’t work as well anymore. When you’re constantly taking note of what you do and how you do it, you’ll see these patterns more quickly and be able to adjust to them in real time, not weeks or months down the road. That kind of agility is extremely important when trying to stay ahead of the ever evolving curve of online business.

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One of the most valuable assets your business has is in your head; it’s the steps you take every day to get things done. When you write these down, you make it possible to automate, outsource, and streamline just about every aspect of what you do. That doesn’t mean you have to hire someone to replace you, but you’ll be that much closer to the point at which you could.

Full documentation takes time, but if you start now you will begin to see positive results almost immediately, and with time you will hopefully create a habit that makes it possible to blaze through just about every task on your to-do list.

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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