Syndicated radio host Dennis Prager offers this insight: Writing is the mirror of the mind.
While many of us have trouble articulating our feelings on a given subject, when we sit down and write them out, we are often able to get our feelings across much more clearly. In fact, we sometimes find thoughts and feelings emerging from our writing that we didn’t even realize we had.
Prager advises arguing couples, for example, to each write their feelings out in an email, so that each person can read the other’s message straight through, without interruption (as often happens in verbal arguments), and without the heightened emotions of having the other person standing there, which can distract from the real issues.
I believe Prager’s insight can also help you in your professional life. The more you write, the more you learn. Looking for ways to streamline a time-consuming task at work? Write out your current process for completing the task — in as much detail as possible. You’ll find steps that you could shorten or eliminate altogether.
Looking at the entire process on paper might also spur ideas on how to change the process to improve it. You might even discover as you look at your documented process that you’ve created an effective template for getting things done, which you can then apply to other tasks you do regularly and for which you don’t have a good working process.
(By the way, if you try to write down each step in your current process and realize you can’t remember them all, that’s also useful information. It means that each time you undertake that task, you’re spending more time than necessary trying to figure out your next step.)
Write a summary of your workweek, even if your supervisor doesn’t require it and you don’t plan to show it to anyone. Just do it for yourself. Writing up a detailed account of what you’ve accomplished each week can be a great tool for gauging your own productivity and effectiveness on the job (not to mention a great written record of your accomplishments come performance-review time).
You will also have a better sense of how you are spending your time and on what parts of your job you might be spending too much or not enough.
Another benefit of this tactic is that if you know you’re going to spend, say, a half-hour each week documenting what you’ve accomplished, you’re holding yourself accountable and you are more likely to get more done (which can also translate into results come raise and promotion time).
Writing more can also help you improve your professional reputation with your colleagues and supervisors. After a staff meeting that featured a lot of substantive ideas and tasks, take the initiative to draft a clear and organized summary of the major points.
If you’ve documented one of your processes as I described above, and you believe your process could help colleagues, send it around. We’re all looking for ideas to improve our job performance (or make our work easier or more enjoyable). Your team will appreciate your effort and generosity.
If your team is taking on a new project, offer to be the designated scribe for the group, the person who will document ideas, write periodic status reports, etc. This has several benefits for you.
First, the more you write, the more clearly you’ll understand what’s happening — the big picture — and the more likely you are to discover creative solutions and find ways to add value to the project.
Second, most people dislike or fear writing — and you might as well — so by offering to take on this often dreaded task you are establishing yourself as a valuable member of the group.
Plus, the more you write, the better at it you’ll become, and improved writing skills will always serve you well in your career.