The Power of Writing Down Decisions

“I do not remember,” is my response to a lot of questions these days. That is the power of having an infant in your house. Babies are like mind erasers – When I am at home, I could not tell you what I have done…but I know I have been busy.

But long before we had our first child, I learned an important lesson that has helped me both pre and post baby:  write stuff down.

Professionally, it is a godsend, and a key tenet of the Getting Things Done philosophy. It keeps your mind clear and ready for the tasks at hand.

However, there is another lesson I have learned over the years – writing down decisions. My decisions, other people’s decisions, my team’s decisions. Write them down. And while I am at it, I try to write down the rationales for the decisions too. This tiny act is like a superpower.

Writing down your decisions:

Creates finality – If you often rehash old arguments and struggle to stick to the decisions you have made, writing it down creates finality. It makes the decision feel complete.

Frees up your mind – A decision marks the point in time when you are done debating and it is time to take action. The last thing you want to do is A) forget the decision you made and why, and B) have to recollect your exact thought process if someone asks you about it later.

Helps you defend the decisions – Knowing the decision you made and why helps you defend it to others that may question you weeks or months later. Knowing your exact rationale (without having to remember it top-of-mind) helps you defend your ideas.

Learn from your mistakes – You cannot learn from an experience that you cannot remember. Rereading decisions that I have written over the years helps me identify assumptions and bias that have affected my decisionmaking abilities.

Writing down other people’s decisions:

Forces decision makers to make decisions – Not everyone is comfortable being the decisionmaker.  That includes people with all different job titles. They are happy to talk around a matter, but never decide on it.  Simply asking for a decision or clarifying one can go a long way. It is not hard or rude to say, “I want to make sure that I understand. The decision is to…” Pull out your notebook and write it down.

Holds decisionmakers accountable – The decisionmaker should know that he/she is accountable for the decision. That is a good thing. The buck has to start and stop with him/her, and it is important that everyone knows who the decision came from.

Writing down your team’s decisions:

Eliminates confusion – Just because you have arrived at a decision does not mean that everyone heard it, understood it, or agreed with it. Pause the conversation, and say, “To be clear, the decision we are making is….” This works really well.

Makes meetings more productive – So many meetings have a single agenda item: make a decision about matter “xyz.” The last thing you want to do is make that decision and then forget it. That stinks. Write it down.

This exercise of writing down decisions can seem weird. It is not meant to be. It is a non-digital way to stay on track in a world that has endless distractions. It is simple, effective, and only takes 30 seconds to do.

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