Can a plan exist if it isn’t on paper?
I ask myself this question often because I am continually amazed at how much greater the impact of an idea can be when I choose to write it down, rather than letting it go as a passing thought. I often refer to this concept as “naming it and claiming it”, and I am convinced that it is a big part of what makes a good leader great.
The Passing Plan
As I’ve said before, ideas are easy – it is what you do with them that counts. This is still true, but when I talk about naming and claiming, I am talking about so much more than just an idea. I am talking about our goals, missions, and visions for future. I am talking about writing down where you are going, why you are going there, and what steps you will need to take in order to make it happen. I am talking about a plan.
Just think of the difference between an idea that you consider alone, and the idea that you bring into a conversation. Which are you more likely to follow through with? Now, take that a step further and put the idea on paper. How much more likely are you to recall that idea in a moment of need? There is power in writing things down.
When new ideas or goals come to mind, we need to develop a pattern of habitually writing them down. Tremendous things happen to our ideas when we choose to do this. I call this the name it and claim it pattern.
Why Should You Write Down Your Ideas?
- We remember them. Recall is an interesting thing. We never know which song will get itself stuck in our head until it is too late. Just like pop hits, when we write things down our likelihood of recall improves significantly. By the act of writing, we utilize additional brain functions that would not otherwise be involved in the thinking process.
- We refine them. Good ideas usually start out a bit fuzzy and out of focus. As we write, we add a new level of clarity to our thinking as we are forced to break our thoughts into digestible parts. The synthesis of an idea on paper helps us work out the kinks and analyze our own idea. When left in our head, ideas always make sense. On paper, they must work for everyone.
- We believe them. Ideas are often flawed, and are rarely perfect right out of the gate. To believe in the idea, we must become convinced that it is fully correct in its final form. If we leave an idea in its infancy, it never matures to an idea we can believe. This is the claiming aspect that I am talking about. We must write it (name it), and then believe it (claim it).
- We execute them. There is something very special about a plan coming together. Once we have claimed our idea, we can freely execute it without distraction. We also have a written guide to help us stay on focus.
- We own them. At the end of the process, we finally own the idea. We have written it down so we wouldn’t forget. We refined our thinking until it was something that we could believe, and now we have executed it with clarity and direction. We’ve owned the idea.
Four Ways To Make It Habit
I am always interested in the way that we take new tasks and ideas and incorporate them into old workflows. How can you make this method a part of your routine? The answer, of course, is that you need to find a way to make it fit what you already do. We are all unique and will need a different outlet. That said, here are a few that have worked for me.
- Start a”Backburner” Document. Perhaps it is nothing more than a trusty Word Doc on our desktop. I call these “backburner” documents and they can be a great place to document and sort out our best and worst ideas. These ideas aren’t in immediate need, but the might be some day. Better get them down while we still can.
- Email Yourself. It may sound silly, but sometimes communicating with yourself the same way that you communicate with others is the best policy. Bonus points if we start a new folder where we can file all of our “random” ideas.
- Blog About It. This is personally my favorite method. It requires an additional level of grammatical formality that can really help solidify our thinking. I think there is also some additional power in “making it public.” It opens things up for discussion, and heavily reinforces our ownership of the idea.
- Send It To A Friend. My business partner and c0-workers have probably gotten used to my lengthy emails detailing a new idea. Most of the time, these emails are for my benefit rather than theirs. It allows me to think through my idea and then challenges them to hold me accountable, and make sure that I follow through with my thinking.
The bottom line is that leadership require clear definitions and focus. Goals and ideas don’t really exist unless they are written down. If we don’t name it, we can’t claim it.