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Paper + Pen = Magic at Work

At various points in my career, I’ve been in managerial positions where I directly supervised people. I’ll be honest; it’s not my favorite thing to do (hence the one-woman show I run now).

I remember a few years ago, I had to give an employee who was performing at a sub-standard level a performance review. As we walked into a private room for the meeting, she said, “Oh. Should I bring a pen or something?” She was literally walking into her review completely unprepared. No paper, no pen, no thoughtful list of items she’d like to discuss.

SIGH.

During the review, I asked her to create a document that outlined her suggestions for how to improve and I set a deadline of two weeks. I never got anything back from her. I’m sure you can guess how this worked out.

You see, I have a thing about writing. And paper. In my opinion, they create magic in the workplace. How, you ask? Let me explain…

1. It looks like you care.

Had this employee walked into her review with a pad of paper and a pen, she would have started off in a much better position. It would at least LOOKED like she cared about what I was saying, that she wanted to do her best to really listen and remember the specific items we discussed. Walking in without anything was the equivalent of saying, “Is this gonna take long?”

It goes beyond that though. Whenever you can walk into any business meeting (whether it’s a review, an interview or a planning session) with a written document in hand, you look more prepared. Even if you’ve just brainstormed a few rough ideas or made note of some questions you want to ask, it shows forethought. And when you make the effort to write down the important points being discussed, you show the person you’re speaking with that you’re listening. It’s not difficult to do, and it really makes a positive impression.

Had that employee brought with her a few pages of notes full of her accomplishments, her concerns and her goals for the future…had she walked in with a pad of paper ready to take notes…and had she later followed up with a nicely written outline of her suggestions for improvement in the future…she would have had a long, fruitful career at the company. A little effort goes a long way.

2. Your memory isn’t what it used to be.

Aside from appearances, writing has a very tangible purpose as well. When I worked as an Executive Assistant, I never went anywhere without a pad of paper and a pen in my hand (or in my hair or behind my ear or around my neck or in my pocket). There was always a chance someone would shout an important piece of information at me as I strolled to the break room for a coffee refill, and I didn’t want to miss it.

Has this ever happened to you? You’re walking to go to the copy room, for example. Your mind is on a million different things, and someone stops you in the hall to discuss a project. Before you know it, you have three new tasks to add to your to-do list. You continue on to the copier trying desperately to remember the tasks. But then, you’re distracted by yet another conversation. And by the time you get back to your desk, the new tasks have vanished from your memory.

Don’t chance it. Write everything down as quickly as possible. If carrying a big, hefty notepad bugs you, there are options. They make very small pads of paper that fit nicely into jacket or pants pockets, for example. I’ve even seen some companies now that have their employees walking around with iPads for just this reason. Whatever makes you comfortable; just get the information out of your head and onto something concrete FAST.

3. Writing changes everything.

It might sound dramatic but it’s very true—writing changes everything. Putting a thought onto paper forces you to put it into real terms. The act of writing creates a new understanding. Don’t believe me? Give it a try sometime. Next time you’re struggling with a problem, pull out a sheet of paper and get to it. My prediction is that, within about twenty minutes or so, you’ll have a brand new perspective.

As a natural-born writer, I may be a little biased here. But please take my advice to heart. Writing is a craft and, yes, it requires an investment of time and energy. But it’s absolutely worthwhile in so many ways. I’m sure I’ll come up with more on this topic and perhaps this will be an ongoing conversation. Until then, I’d love to know your thoughts. Any experiences you care to share? Add your voice in the comments below.

Photo Credit: J. Paxon Reyes (Flickr)

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One Response to “Paper + Pen = Magic at Work”

  1. Jay Johnson says:

    Yes I also prefer the ‘old school’ method of paper and pen. I also like writing on white boards as well.

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