The other day at work, I spent an hour on an onerous task that comes up three times a year.
I’ll spare you the details, but it involves combing through several pages of data printouts, looking for certain patterns, and marking those patterns with either a green, yellow, or pink highlighter depending on a long list of criteria and my own professional judgment.
It’s not the slickest process in the world, but it’s actually fairly efficient. Yet I dread it, and for one reason only: It always takes me 15 minutes to remember all the patterns I’m supposed to be looking for in the data. This occurs for two reasons:
- The task involves some complicated algorithmic thinking: "If A is true, yellow highlighter. If B is true, green highlighter, unless C is also true, in which case . . ." (You get the idea).
- It only comes up three times a year, so I don't do it often enough to gain fluency.
After a few minutes of stumbling around, I invariably remember what I’m doing. Soon, I’m flying through the data, and before I know it, I’m done.
The smart thing to do, at this point, would be to create some documentation—to write down exactly what Future Jonathan will need to know in order to hit the ground running next time. That’s hard to do, though, because some part of me believes that I’ll remember how to do this in several months. Now that I’ve remembered what I’m doing, it’s hard to imagine forgetting it again. Yet I will.
Documenting complicated, occasional tasks is a really nice thing to do for your future self. From a few words scrawled on a sticky note, to a robust readme.txt file in an important folder, to full instructions on how to file your taxes, look for opportunities to save Future You some trouble. You’ll thank yourself later.
Hat tip to Jason Shaw.