Discovering the Virtues of Documentation

Neglecting Documentation

During my early days at university I still held tight to the notion that it is best to focus and concentrate on what is being said during a lecture and not to bother writing it down. I thought that writing down what I was listening to would decrease my concentration and understanding of what was being said. My avoidance of documentation was not only for words spoken by others but even my own thoughts. I believed that since the thoughts have been produced by my own brain then my mind will be able to reproduce them again and I would never forget them. It was not until I started practicing shorthand during the second semester of my third year at university that I started realizing the true benefits of documentation.

Old Beliefs Shattered

I realized that writing each and every word the professor uttered during the lecture, in shorthand, actually helped me focus more on what he or she was saying and helped me understand the lecture more deeply. That was contrary to my previous belief where I thought that writing down what I was listening to would decrease my concentration and comprehension level of what was being said. Another limiting belief I had, which was also shattered, was the one about memory. As I reviewed the transcript of whole lectures before my exams I discovered that I would have forgotten so much of what had been mentioned in those lectures had I not written everything down in shorthand. Again this contrasted sharply with the belief I had been holding on to which made me think I would be able to recall most of what has been said during a lecture if I concentrated deeply enough on listening to what the professor was saying during the lecture.

Extreme Documentation

Shorthand helped me abolish my beliefs related to documentation of what others were saying. I also discovered the virtues of documenting my own thoughts. I was surprised to find that some of the ideas that were coming to my mind, and I thought them to be novel, actually had come to me years earlier. Had I not documented them by then I would have never realized that the same ideas keep reoccurring to me with me getting the impression each time that I have just managed to stumble upon novel ideas! This strong revelation made me appreciate the virtues of documenting my ideas. I even went to an extreme in such direction as I tried out the GTD (Getting Things Done) system in which I wrote down whatever I needed to do. I even took this a step further and tried out the PoIC (Pile of Index Cards) system to record all my thoughts! It was fun and useful to try out such interesting systems.

Keeping a Notebook

As I started delivering training, I kept a notebook in which I wrote down my observation including both positive and negative things I have observed after delivering each training course. This was the single most important activity in my training career that helped build my experience as a trainer. Each time before delivering a new training course I looked into my notebook revising the points I had written earlier in order to up my performance. I was being surprised by the points I found and how I would have forgotten them had I not written them down. Not having written them down would have made me rediscover many of those learnt lessons each time I delivered a new training program.


Changing my old negative beliefs about documentation has helped transform my life in a positive way. The quotation I had once read which spoke about the importance of documentation sums it all up. It says: “A short pencil is better than a long memory.

Have you ever tried looking through old notebooks of your writings and discovered interesting things in them or was surprised by your own earlier writing? Tell us about such experience of yours.


How I learned Personal Shorthand

Shorthand Textbook

My sister needed to use shorthand for her work. She kept looking for shorthand training courses at so many places but couldn’t find a single place offering shorthand courses. After a long search, she finally stumbled upon one place that offered shorthand courses. After she took the training course and brought the textbook with her, I got curious about shorthand. I was still studying at university by that time. I started looking through the shorthand textbook and my interest grew.


I then set about to learn shorthand from the textbook on my own. I used lectures I attended at university as an avenue for practicing my shorthand skills. It was not that I was learning shorthand so that it could help me write down lectures I am attending but it was actually the other way around. I was curious to learn shorthand so I used university lectures I was attending back then as an excellent opportunity for practice.

Personal Shorthand

I remember I started on that journey during the second semester of my third year at Cairo University. The type of shorthand I was learning is called Personal Shorthand or PS for short. It is a renaming of what had been known before as briefhand. What distinguishes PS from other types of shorthand, such as Pitman shorthand, is that it relies solely on the 26 letters of the alphabet and therefore is very easy to learn compared to most other shorthand methods and can even be typed on a computer since it contains no special symbols and relies only on letters of the alphabet.

Full Lecture Transcription

I started reading in the personal shorthand textbook and doing the exercises it had. I started practicing during all lectures I attended at university. It was a lot of fun. By the second semester on my fourth year at university I was able to write down every single word the lecturer was uttering during the lecture. I no longer needed to rewrite my shorthand notes into longhand as I came back home. I just kept the shorthand sheets I had written during the lectures as they are and studied from them directly.


When I went to university I did not need to take any notebook with me, all I needed was a few folded foolscap folios and a pen. A whole 2 hour long lecture could be transcribed in full in just 2 foolscap folios since I wrote on both the front and back sides of each folio.


As the time for the final exam came at the end of the semester, I used the transcripts of the 12 or so lectures that I had stapled together as a way to revise all lectures before taking the exam. I was surprised at the amount of information they contained most of which I would have totally forgotten had I been attending the lectures without caring to take notes during the lectures.

Lessons Learned

There are many lessons to be learnt from this story. One of them is that a new skill can help you do better in life. Another lesson is that lots of practice is required to master a new skill. Practicing in a real life context also proved more effective. A third lesson is that one can learn some skills from a book plus practice without the need for external help.

Have you ever thought about learning shorthand? If so, what might you be using it for?

Giving Breaks During Training

Breaks play an important role during a training session particularly in the case of long training sessions. If you are delivering a full day training session, let’s say an 8-hour training day, then you should give at least 2 breaks during the training day. The first break could be a coffee break in the morning while the second can be a lunch break in the afternoon.

Lunch Break

It is essential that the lunch be a light meal so that participants can come back to the training still vitalized. Having fish for lunch might not be a good idea as it would probably make participants feel sleepy. The trainer may provide some physical activities, such as a game that involves movement, to participants right after the lunch break in order to make them regain their vitality. Alternatively, the trainer may keep participants seated right after the lunch break providing them with a video or a brief activity that does not require movement then follow that with a physical activity. This would allow participants to get a brief rest first after the lunch before they go ahead with the physical activity. The transitional step helps reduce trainee resistance for carrying out the physical activity the trainer asks them to do after the lunch break.

For shorter training sessions, let’s say of 3 hours of length, a trainer may proceed with one break only. The break can be timed at around the middle of the training session.

Break Length

As for the duration of the break, as a rule of thumb, the trainer should include 10 minutes of rest in each hour of training. For instance, for a 3-hour training session, the trainer may give a 30 minutes break, which amounts to 10 minutes of rest in every hour of training.

For a training day that is 8 hours long, the trainer may provide a total of 80 minutes in breaks. If he is giving 2 breaks then one of them can be for 20 minutes (coffee break) and the other for 1 hour (lunch break) which together amount for a total of 80 minutes. Alternatively, the 80 minutes may be divided on 30 and 50 minutes respectively. A trainer may even decide to divide the 80 minutes on 3 breaks instead. For instance, the 3 breaks can be set to 20, 40 and 20 minutes respectively, with the longest break being reserved for lunch.

Benefits of Breaks

Breaks help trainees revitalize. They help them digest information and experiences they had during the part of the training session before the break and makes them ready for acquiring more.

It is a very good idea that the trainer summarizes what took place during the session right before providing a break and once again right after trainees come back from the break. Such times are the peak memory times and help boost retention. They act as a container that helps retain in the mind what has been experienced during the training session.


Finally, the time interval of breaks does not have to be set in stone. A trainer may decide on more or less than 10 minutes of break time for each hour of training depending on circumstances. A trainer should be very clear about the exact time the break would end and write that down on the flip chart or white board so that trainees would come back in time.

What other benefits do you think breaks can have?