Will Documenting Something Now Save You Time Later?

by Sherryl Perry on August 25, 2010

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What adds extra time while you’re doing it but saves you even more time when you need it? For me, it’s documenting and organizing. Like most entrepreneurs and small business owners, I dabble in a variety of things. Often, I encounter topics that I have to research. Sometimes I undertake an unusually complex task with multiple steps that I need to figure out. Even though I often tell myself, “I’ll never need to know (or do) this again”, I document it. Even if it’s just the link to the website where I found the solution, I document it. Sometimes, I actually wonder if I should be keeping track of how much time I spend documenting and tracking things. – And then, comes the time when I need that documentation.

Most (if not all) of you can probably relate to that moment when you’re working on a project and you don’t get the result you’re expecting. It will be work as usual and then the next thing you know, something that was previously working no longer works.  Or maybe you have a client on the phone and they’ve asked a simple question (that you can’t quite remember the answer to).

Wouldn’t it be great if you could just reach over, and either click on a file on your computer (or grab a file from your desk) and get the answer? How impressed would that client be if you came up with the answer in seconds? How relieved would you be if you could access a document (or spreadsheet or piece of paper) that told you everything you need to know? How great would it be if you had to recreate a process that you’ve done before (maybe months or years ago) and had taken the time to document it while you did it the first time? How much time would that save you?

I may be a “documentation junkie” but I tend to document everything. My main tool is an Excel spreadsheet that I’ve been maintaining for years. Usually, I make a quick entry of what I’ve done and the main category it falls under. If it’s a lengthy procedure or process, it gets its own document (plus an entry in my spreadsheet). If it’s really complicated and I deem it worthy, I print it and file it too. If it’s related to a specific client, that’s where it gets filed. If it’s related to a specific software program, it gets its own folder. You get the idea.

You won’t believe how many times I’ve impressed myself or a client (or my husband who is totally baffled by my thinking process) by finding a solution to a problem in seconds, simply by referencing my spreadsheet and then finding the appropriate documentation (sometimes right there in the spreadsheet – other times, in a file).

So why am I a documentation junkie?

  1. I can quickly find an answer when something that broke before breaks again without have to research it all over again.
  2. It may have taken me a minute or an hour to create the original documentation but it ends up saving me even more time.
  3. It helps me keep my sanity.

What is your organizational style? How do you find something when you need it? Can you usually find the answer in seconds/minutes? Do you carry this organization over into your personal life? I confess that I don’t. When you open a closet or cabinet at my house, you’d better be prepared to catch something or jump out of the way. Maybe I spend so much time organizing my work-life that I rebel when it comes to my personal life.

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Chris June 7, 2011 at 11:29 am

I try to document and keep on topof things, but the massive volume of things we receive nowadays makes it very hard to stay organised and file everything properly.

Sherryl Perry
June 7, 2011 at 3:22 pm

It’s the massive volume of email that is the biggest challenge for me. I have a similar strategy for emails that I do for documentation but it’s such a time consuming process that it can be overwhelming at times.
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Chris Cornish June 13, 2011 at 1:19 am

Hi Sherryl, Yup email volume can be a nightmare. I have recently purchased a smart phone so can receive emails all the time. Despite having it for 6 months I am still not sure if it’s a good thing. It has the positive of allowing me to scan and delete emails when I’m away from the computer, but on the flipside I now get no respite from them and become more consumed with work even when at home. The big question is whether it has increased the quality of my life.

Sherryl Perry
June 13, 2011 at 4:27 pm

Hi Chris, I am so glad that you shared that with me! I do not have a smart phone (yet) and everyone I know is in disbelief but do I really want to be connected to the Internet more? It’s bad enough that I have a laptop on the Internet. I find myself trying to keep up with my social networks at night after I’ve worked on my office PC all day. If I had a smart phone, I’d never be offline.
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Jes May 27, 2011 at 4:49 pm

I agree with you that though it takes a bit of extra time and effort to document, file, and organize things, it saves you a lot of time and stress later on. The success of any business or even running a household where you have to keep track of all your kids paper work in school, finances, and medical history, organization is key.

Sherryl Perry
May 27, 2011 at 5:49 pm

Thanks Jes for mentioning organizing in general rather it be business or household. Once we have systems in place, it does end up saving time. Thanks for dropping by!
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Anders January 13, 2011 at 5:03 am

It can certainly be useful. There are many times when you need some information that you have used before and being able to get hold of it saves a lot of time. It’s better than having to do the research twice. That said I don’t document everything – there are certain things I know I will never need again (but then there are also times when I wish I had documented something I haven’t).

Sherryl Perry
January 13, 2011 at 5:33 pm

Too many times I’ve thought I’d never need to ever do something again and found myself disappointed that I didn’t have the answer. Now, it’s become such a habit to me to document just about everything in that one Excel spreadsheet. Sometimes, the documentation is as simple as a link to the answer.

Mayn October 22, 2010 at 4:58 am

Thank you for a very informative post Sherryl.. I always see to it that my files are documented properly so that I will not take a lot of time searching for it the moment I am going to use it. Documenting is a very effective way of making our files organized and saves a lot of time.. Good post..

Mary October 16, 2010 at 4:37 am

I always document my tasks so that when I need to search for it is will be easy for me to track my files. Documenting really saves time, since your files are arranged systematically and it is easy to track the moment you need it. Thanks a lot for this post Sherryl!..

Sherryl Perry
October 16, 2010 at 6:47 pm

Thanks for commenting! Documenting really can save enormous amounts of time plus, it’s so easy to impress someone who doesn’t document when you can just reach for a file and find what you’re looking for.

Sherryl Perry
October 14, 2010 at 5:30 pm

I often find myself sorting my Excel spreadsheets too. There have been many times when I’ve ended up sorting and cutting an entire section of my worksheet to create a separate sheet. For example, I used to integrate my social networking promotional efforts into my daily worksheet. I’ve found that as my activities grew, it justified keeping this in a separate worksheet.

motivational quotes October 14, 2010 at 5:37 am

Thanks Sherryl, I truly agree with you, although documenting is time consuming but I found it useful in its future usage. If my files are documented properly, I don’t look it anymore in other places, instead I look it on my folders and therefore no more wasted time. Thanks again for this brilliant post. It’s really great to be a “document junkie”!

Sherryl Perry
October 14, 2010 at 5:31 pm

Thanks! It’s always great to meet a fellow “document junkie”. 🙂 It makes me realize that I’m not alone.

Thomas September 24, 2010 at 4:47 am

I always do documenting so that it would be easy for me to track my files and tasks. It could help in saving time since when you need to review the files that you have done it is easy to look for it without wasting a lot of time. Excellent post. Thanks.

Sherryl Perry
September 24, 2010 at 8:54 am

Thanks. I’m glad you found my post useful.
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Sherryl Perry
September 10, 2010 at 9:16 am

Hi Candy. I would imagine that in your profession, organization must be a key to being successful.

Keith September 4, 2010 at 9:58 am

I think if you are to be successful online its a must that you document everything that you do, because there are so many different things to do and remember.
I think the secret to success online is keeping things simple. Very informative post!

Sherryl Perry
September 10, 2010 at 9:15 am

Keith, Thanks for your comment. I know I could never keep track of half the things I need to do without post-it notes! 🙂

Raymond September 4, 2010 at 5:00 am

For me, it’s really a yes. Having a documentation process now can really saves your time later and it’s my way of organizing my files in order that in end I can easily search the files I’m looking for.

Jay September 2, 2010 at 5:38 am

It’s easy to write a list of tasks which need to be done and when they need to be done by, but the key to organisation is actually putting the effort in to ensure that all tasks you take on are actually done!

Sherryl Perry
September 2, 2010 at 8:49 am

Well said!

Rob Berman September 1, 2010 at 5:39 pm

As kids get older your time to organize seems to decrease. The first thing that goes is personal organization followed by business organization. The first is convenience the second is worth money to you. I like the idea of an ongoing spreadsheet for quick review.


Sherryl Perry
September 2, 2010 at 8:54 am

Rob, Once your kids are old enough to move out, your time will increase again. 🙂

Julie Weishaar
August 30, 2010 at 2:05 am

Thanks Sherryl. Your system sounds very organized and helpful 🙂 You know you might want to teach others your system – it truly is really good advice.

Susan Oakes
August 29, 2010 at 2:39 am

Hi Sherryl,

I do document some things but not as well as you. I have folders and files for all word and spreadsheets in year order and by category so searching something is very easy. I also use a database where I document everything to do with customers so I do not have to rely on my memory which has never been a strength.

When I had a software product I documented the problem, solution etc so when it came up again the solution was easy to find and it does save so much time.
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Sherryl Perry
August 29, 2010 at 10:51 pm

Sounds to me like you do a pretty good job of documenting!

Julia M Lindsey August 28, 2010 at 6:13 pm

I love spreadsheets for may statistics. I dont know how many times I look at them only to see that I am doing much better accomplishing my goals than I thought. I write everything down on note pads or I save links but I am not good about filing the information. If I do file the information I may put it in a folder that makes since to me today but I wont see the connection tomorrow. Do you have suggestions on setting up document folders.

Sherryl Perry
August 29, 2010 at 10:49 pm

Hi Julia, I think of my computer as one big filing cabinet organized with “green-hanging” folders and then “manila folders” inside each hanging folder. For example, I had a new client and I was making changes to their website and starting a WordPress blog for them.

I began by creating a new folder (my “green-hanging” folder) for them. I created all of our correspondence and my work files “loose” in that folder. I also created 4 sub-folders (my “manila” folders) for: (1) their original website, (2) their new/changed website, (3) pictures & graphics and (4) a folder for Wordpress. Hope this helps!

Catarina Alexon
August 28, 2010 at 6:37 am

Agree with you completely Sherryl. Am very organised and feel it’s key in order to get results. However, sometimes it goes out the window by a computer crashing or something like that. Have hence taken to use google documents more so I have files online.

Sherryl Perry
August 29, 2010 at 12:45 pm

Computer crashes……… YIKES! – one of life’s little curve balls. Off-site storage is a great tip. Thanks!

Julie Weishaar
August 27, 2010 at 7:53 pm

I feel the need to chime in here. Sherryl, although your suggestion of a bootcamp for husbands is certainly a good one, I really think my solution would work better. Just put them in a bin – even one with wheels if they are good LOL

Jill August 27, 2010 at 5:04 pm

I go beyond being a documentation junkie – I’m a documentation freak. I don’t think that there’s a single day of my working life that’s not recorded somewhere.

Jan August 27, 2010 at 4:44 pm

Oh you lucky people! I can only aspire to being an organised person. For me, I seem to spend hours looking for something that I have read or need to refer back to again and often can’t find it….until the next week when I’m looking for something else.

Sherryl Perry
August 29, 2010 at 9:56 pm

Aspiring is good Jan! You just need to find a system that works for you. The first time your efforts pay off by saving your time, you’ll want to expand on it a little. The next thing you know, you’ll figure out a system that works for you.

Keyuri Joshi
August 27, 2010 at 4:12 pm

Sherryl, I felt so happy and in my comfort zone when I read this post. Could we be soulmates? More importantly… do you give lessons to husbands?? 🙂

YES! My files (handwritten or on the computer) are my go to resource that save me immeasurable time not to mention angst. I also keep a big 5 subject notebook beside my work computer for notekeeping. That notebook is next to other binders that hold various “cheat sheets” for quick reference.

I feel fortunate to be “wired” to be organized but realize that it is quite a challenge for many…. my husband included!

Sherryl Perry
August 27, 2010 at 7:13 pm

Maybe, we need a boot camp for husbands.

Paul Novak August 27, 2010 at 3:43 pm

Ooof. My biggest failing. Organizational skills.

My favorites have to be scrolled through for ten minutes to get to the bottom. My files are navigable only by me and no one else. I save everything, and throw it into a related folder and there it sits till I eventually have a reason to look for it.
I will say in my defense that my professional work does get decently filed, but everything else gets willy nillyed to death.
Yet another project for a rainy day, or week.

Sherryl Perry
August 27, 2010 at 7:11 pm

Your files are navigable only by you? Does that make you indispensable? If something ever happened to me, someone should be able to carry on – the work stuff that is. 🙂

Paul Novak August 28, 2010 at 12:08 pm

Ha! They can’t even understand how I make money doing what I do, much less have a prayer of taking over! My power is complete, my domination is established, I control it allllll hahahaha!!!!

Excuse me…

“What’s that dear? Oh yes, I’m taking the garbage out right now, yes dear, ok”….


Laura Sheman
August 27, 2010 at 2:43 pm

I definitely need to do more of this!

I started an Excel file a while back and tracked my income each week, as well as the work I did that week (in terms of money earned). These numbers are different as I am either paid before or after a writing project, depending on the contract.

I also started keeping track of what I would do to get business or who I would email or what promotion I would do. This is harder to keep track of and requires more discipline. I fell off of it and your article reminded me that I need to put that back in.

When I email people and generally put attention on bringing in new business I (of course) improve my income. Also I can track what really worked!
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Sherryl Perry
August 27, 2010 at 3:40 pm

Excel is great for tracking! Sometimes I’ll enter a line in my worksheet for how long it took to do something. It gives me a tool to help estimate my workload. Keeping track of what promotion you’re running or what you’ve done in hopes of getting business (or driving traffic to your site) is a great use of a spreadsheet.

Jamie August 27, 2010 at 3:58 am

I totally agree with organizing (aka documentation) frees one with pressures from work. As such this is such a good habit. Swimwear Australia

Tia August 27, 2010 at 12:48 am

Admirable! I definitely need to be more of a documentation junkie. I am trying, though. I can’t imagine keeping everything in one spreadsheet but that’s obviously an incredible idea.

This post is very inspiring!

Sherryl Perry
August 27, 2010 at 10:49 am

Thanks Tia! Coming from you, that’s a big compliment. My spreadsheet is addictive but it’s so easy to maintain and it serves lots of purposes. It’s so easy to search and find out how to do something that I haven’t done in a while. (The older I get – the shorter that “while” becomes!)

Wayne Howard August 26, 2010 at 12:56 pm

My organizational style is prettty hectic! I usually keep a lot of things because like you mentioned, you never know when you may need it. This goes for my online and offline world.

My computer has tons of files stored. Even when I think I will probably never need it again, it may sit for awhile. Offline is the same way but generally things on my computer are more important. I just get a ton of junk mail at home that can never find its way out of my apartment.

Sherryl Perry
August 26, 2010 at 1:06 pm

I’m willing to bet you have a lot of backup CDs and DVDs too. Off-site storage too if I had to guess. 🙂

Sherryl Perry
August 26, 2010 at 10:46 am

My hard drive sounds exactly like yours. And you do the same thing I do naming my Word documents! I’m starting to feel so much better about being such a geek. 🙂

Kathy August 26, 2010 at 9:56 am

I am a confessed document junkie also. I document all kinds of things. I am not doing it quite as much as I used to, because I have learned better to tell which things I really need to document and which I can easily find with my friend Google.

Still, you should see the volumes of documents on my hard drive. I keep them well organized in separate sub-folders based on the topic. I use Microsoft Word instead of Excel for most things. I have found that the key to my system is using the write name and title for the page when I go to save it. I also have to make sure I am putting it in the most relevant folder.

The My Documents folder on my hard drive is my own little search engine index. – Okay..I am a geek too.

David August 25, 2010 at 11:49 pm

Documentation is not done for present it is for future. It is an most important part of any business. Documentation today will help you analyse what mistake you have committed and how it can be rectified.

Sherryl Perry
August 26, 2010 at 10:43 am

I can see by your website that you totally understand documenting and tracking! Thanks for commenting.

Julie Weishaar
August 25, 2010 at 9:33 pm

Hi Sherryl. I like that idea of a spreadsheet – much more organized than my way which is to keep files on everything. Notepad is my friend LOL. Do you have any idea how many notepad files I have? Too many. I assume you categorize everything on your spreadsheet which makes finding it again much easier. Thanks for the suggestion.

Basically what I have is little “containers” for everything. In my personal life, I love those bins – the small ones, the ones on wheel – all different shapes and sizes. When my kids were little we had the bin for the Burger King/McDonalds toys, the barbie bins, the barbie clothes bin, the polly pockets bin, etc. My children used to say if I could find a bin that they would fit in, I would put them in one too 🙂
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Sherryl Perry
August 26, 2010 at 10:36 am

That’s funny Julie! I do categorize everything in my spreadsheet. I have one column that I use for “what” but sometimes I just key “PROBLEM” there. The column before it has the main category. So, I’d have something like “Joomla” in that entry. I can sort it if I need to and the bright pink and yellow highlights (that I use sparingly) identify the issues that I need to be on the lookout for.

Roberta Budvietas,
August 25, 2010 at 7:25 pm

I know so many people who fail to understand the power of documentation – it prevents you from being stuck and it also keeps you on purpose. I am sharing this. Well done

Sherryl Perry
August 26, 2010 at 10:30 am

Thanks Roberta. As I wrote this article, I wasn’t sure if it would resonate with anyone.

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