File Notes Are a Good Management and Learning Tool

One thing I used to do very well when I was in the public service was to write good file notes. That was partly because it was regarded as good public service practice – partly, to be frank, on the ‘cover your rear’ principle. It also meant that another person could take over the project at a moment’s notice and have a clear record available about the project and its progress to date. I wrote more detailed notes than some, probably because I had been trained as a historian and like the idea of documenting not only what had been done but why.

But since I started in business for myself many years ago, I have let that practice slip. After all, I didn’t have any superiors to call me to account! I’m now thinking it would have been a smart move to keep writing file notes, firstly because it would have helped me keep better track of what I was doing and why, and secondly because I believe we can all learn from the past and do things better in future.

What brought these thoughts on?

Well, today I’ve been sorting some papers from a couple of business tansactions that are now completed and I spent some extra time writing a few notes for the file, documenting the background to and reasoning behind some key decisions.

In the process, I was able to reflect on a few things. First, that it’s better to document things at or about the time they happen – the memory can play tricks. Secondly, I realised that some of those past decisions could have been preceded by some better research and consultation and could have been implemented more effectively.

I also realised that the projects those decisions related to would probably have gone more smoothly if I had documented that decision-making process during the course of the projects, not as an afterthought.

Finally, by having a good record of why I did things in the past, what went right and what went not so well, I can help myself make better business decisions in the future and track success more effectively. Because the chances are that if I made a silly decision in the past, say under pressure of a heavy workload, I could be vulnerable to making another silly decision in the future if some of those circumstances are repeated.

But if I have documented that series of events, circumstances, decisions and consequences, I have more chance of seeing a pattern repeating and being able to take remedial or correcting action, like putting off the decision till I am better able to consider all the implications.

I realised that what I thought was mainly a good practice for the public service can be a good practice also for private enterprise.

It doesn’t need software or a manual. You just write down or type up what was done, why, what problems there were and how you overcame them and have a filing system that enables you to find that note when you next need it.

And in a home based business, if you work on your own and should fall ill or take a vacation, a good set of file notes will be invaluable for anyone you might bring in to look after the business till you recover or return, as the case may be.

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About Des Walsh

I show business owners and other professionals how to navigate the social media maze and use LinkedIn effectively. I'm an author, speaker, business coach, social media strategist and LinkedIn specialist. Connect with me on LinkedIn, Google Plus and Twitter. And to stay in the loop, get my weekly Social Business Bites.