Write Down How You Did It

So much of being organized sounds obvious when you say it out loud, and this is one of those things: If you want to remember how you did something, write it down.

We tend to trust our memories more than we should. As computers go, the human brain is not the most reliable data repository, but we persist in believing it is. How often have you said “I’ll remember” and then forgotten? It still trips me up and I’ve been doing this professionally for 20 years. Ironically, I have a savant memory for song lyrics, which does me no good since I’m not a musician. With everything else in life, I’ve learned I’ll regret not writing it down.

Remembering To-Dos

Tasks and appointments have varying degrees of importance. If you put an item in your calendar, for you that might mean you’re definitely going to do it, or it might mean that item will be your first choice when the time comes. If you put something on a to-do list or in an app, maybe it’s something you truly do need to do, and soon, or maybe it’s just something you’ll do when you feel like it.

The trick to keeping up with all of these varying levels of importance is consistency: Use your systems the same way each time. If some of your calendar items are firm commitments and some are optional, differentiate them. For example, I put “APPT:” in front of calendar items I’ve committed or RSVPed to, and I assign due dates only to tasks that really need to be done by a certain date.

Remembering How-Tos

Forgotten tasks and appointments are bad enough, but they’re bound to happen at least once in awhile. Forgotten how-tos, though, are more easily preventable and make a significant difference in your efficiency over time. Whenever you do something new, document how you did it. Use whatever method works best for you or for the situation: A handwritten notebook, a digital document, an app, a voice recording. For example, I have running notes on how to admin my website. This is technical info that I wouldn’t remember because I don’t work with it all day long. Keeping these notes saves me from wasting time trying to figure out what I did or why I did it that way.

Is it annoying to interrupt my flow by stopping to make notes on what I just did? Sometimes, yes, but I know the value of it now, so that annoyance is minor compared to what I know will happen if I don’t do it.

Documenting your procedures is especially valuable for tasks and projects that you perform more than once but not so often that they become second nature (e.g. pre-production steps for recording an album) and also for activities that must be done accurately every time (e.g. a gear inventory for loading the band van after each tour stop). In these situations, checklists are your good friend. Don’t settle for a pre-fab checklist that someone else wrote: Make your own. Start with a good template if you like (there are several for musicians in my latest book) but customize it for your own needs and update it whenever something changes to keep it working ideally for you.

Yes, people might laugh at you for having your own personal procedures manual or for pulling out a checklist for routine activities. So be it. They’ll appreciate it when your systems save the day, as they inevitably will.

Read more about organizing data in Chapter 2 of The Organized Musician.

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