8 Things You Can Do to Create Better Documentation
Posted: October 18, 2017
The most important thing to remember when creating and organizing documents is to think in terms of longevity. The generational impact of documentation is critical to the success of your teams and company as a whole. Will the person doing your job after you need to spend time decoding your documents, or even redoing them completely? If the answer is yes, your documents are too complex (or possibly over-simplified), and your successor could end up wasting valuable time recreating them so they can understand.
That said — when creating a document or setting up a system of documentation, your first thought should be, “Will new employees down the line still be able to use this effectively?”
Another key piece to remember when implementing documentation systems is the non-administrative people on your team. Spreadsheets are not their strong suit, and virtual “piles of paperwork” are what their nightmares are made of. After speaking to a few such people, I discovered a critical piece to helping them a) actually use your processes, and b) not want to pull their hair out while doing so: Make everything aesthetically pleasing! (This will also be a plus for you!)
Now that you have an idea of why documentation style is important and how it impacts your employees, here are eight tips that will help you increase the efficiency, longevity, and overall enjoyability of your documentation process:
1. Choose Your Method
How are you going to label and organize your documentation? Will you sort by the name of the file, the type of document, or perhaps the date? Choose whatever way will make sense for your team and commit to it across the board. The key to ensuring that everyone will use your process is consistency.
2. Get Organized
Once you have your process in place, separate items that are in progress from items that are complete. Items that are in progress are ones that you know you will finish in the near future. This one can be a bit tricky because some documents are never complete, but use your best judgment!
3. Be Selective
Not everything needs to be recorded. If there are some items you only need to keep temporarily, I’ve found that having a specific folder in my email to store things for a couple days to a couple weeks leaves them easy to locate and easy to delete.
4. Get Creative
This is certainly not going to make or break your system; however, as mentioned above, this is a critical piece for your non-administrative colleagues. (This also applies when choosing a system — aesthetics should play a role in decision-making when it comes to weighing your options between background screening companies, for example.) When designing your documents, keep the design consistent; have a default format that covers everything from font to color-scheme to structure. You can even create a template in Microsoft programs and save it to your template library for future use!
5. Be Efficient
You want people who are seeing the documentation for the first time to be able to understand what they are looking at, why they are looking at it, and how they will enter the relevant information. You can do this by using clear and obvious titles for your documents and folders; don’t be afraid to use more than a few words if that’s what it takes to help everyone navigate — as previously mentioned, over-simplification can cause as much of a problem as over-complication! That said, your titles should never need a full sentence to make them obvious. (If they do, it’s probably a sign that your file is too complex). To harp on the same string, consistency in your titles is important — it will help your team navigate quicker.
Finally, make sure that your documents and folders are not redundant — having separate documents to track receipts and payments is superfluous. Instead of two documents, try creating one spreadsheet with two tabs.
6. Keep It Simple
You shouldn’t have to follow a rabbit trail of folders and wind up completely lost among a jumble of files. I recommend that folders within folders should only go two to four deep, meaning you only have to click (at most) four times to find what you need. But in your personal folders, you can “rabbit trail” as far as you want!
Folders also shouldn’t have so many files that you need to scroll through for three minutes just to get halfway down the list. Scrolling is a time waster and makes it very easy to miss what you are looking for, which can lead to creating redundant documentation.
7. Archive It
There is nothing worse than searching and searching for a file that refuses to be found, only to look at the clock and see you’ve lost twenty minutes. If there are any outdated files that you need to keep, archive them! I often replicate my folders inside my archives (for the sake of…you guessed it, consistency) and document old versions of forms, outdated information, and temporary files that I needed for a time, but don’t want to delete.
8. Tweak & Repeat
If you implement a document design or a filing structure and find that a month or two down the road, it’s just not working — then adapt! There is no use beating a dead horse just because you’re stuck on making this process work. Take five minutes to figure out what’s not working and how to make it more effective.
Bonus Tip: To increase efficiency, create and use templates for repetitive communications. If there is an email you send often, write it once, generalize it, and save it as a template — you can copy and paste the template into an email and simply fill in the recipient’s name and any other relevant information!
I hope this inspires you to implement some changes to your documentation processes. Please share any tips below that you find to be working well for you and your team!
About the Author
Ryley is passionate about helping companies drive organizational change. By constantly challenging the status quo, she has created practices that empower leaders and employees to work together to generate the best results possible. Ryley credits her inspirational thinking on having worked in diverse cultures and countries, as well as challenging environments. Those experiences give her a unique perspective on how best to help companies move forward. Ryley is a natural leader and guides the team toward efficiency and organization. She believes that when processes function well, the team is free to focus on excellence. Ryley always brings the lens of what inspires and gets results to the conversation, helping to influence positive change. In her free time, she enjoys visiting coffee shops with her husband and two toddlers in Portland, OR.