Write it down and save it.

Overwhelmed by the task of creating clear, presentable documentation for the big job you just finished? Don’t think of documentation as a separate project — make it part of your workflow.

We talk about documentation as part of our Working Yellow workshops.

Documentation is critical to creative collaboration. Information about a project that can be archived and referenced is important for when someone new enters a project. It’s also useful for future-you: if you ever do anything like this project again, documentation will function in the service of your creativity, and help your next project flow more freely by letting you build on the work you’ve already done.

Don’t be afraid. And don’t wait. Let it be part of your work, not a separate project. Use the tools that are already part of your workflow to create documentation as you go.

For example, if your workflow is centered around email, make sure your email can become the basis of your documentation. Include information that may seem like overkill right now but will be important to you at a later date, like a URL or a phone number, or specific steps that you took to get from point A to point B when working through an unexpected challenge. You’re already writing the email, so just add more context. Now you’re writing deliberate documentation that’s masquerading as email.

Don’t be afraid. And don’t wait.

It’s not true that documentation is worthless without capturing every last detail. Even loose notes or a folder in Dropbox with every document related to the project is useful. More detail is always better, but don’t let that stop you from starting with something quick and dirty. Notes can refresh your memory and be embellished, edited, and amended later. The most important thing is to get started, write something down — something is much better than nothing.

Keep these documentation tips in mind while you work:

– Long form is better than short. So write more email than texts while you’re working.
– Use shared documents (Google, Evernote, Asana, server) that your colleagues can also edit. Documentation should not be just one person’s responsibility.
– Shared calendars are a great easy way to start documenting a project. Add events and project steps as they happen, then you end up with a record of your work.
– Schedule time to turn your notes into an email, or copy your email into a shared document. In the end, this may become a Proposal, or a Report, or a checklist. Informal is okay to get going — informal is better than nothing — but aspire to more formal documentation.
– Practice constant improvement. Go back through your notes and add detail. If you add just a little bit more detail you’ve added value. Take another pass, and another pass, clean up, add details, label, organize.