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.

Conclusion

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.

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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.

Practice

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.

Tools

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.

Exams

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?

Gathering Trainee Expectations

It is essential to gather trainee expectations about the training at the beginning of the first session of a training program. This can be done after the trainer has introduced himself or herself, explained the training style and thrown an icebreaker.

Trainee expectations can be gathered using the think and listen technique. Expectations can also be gathered using various other means.

Documenting Expectations

It is important at the end of an expectation gathering activity to write down such trainee expectations on the flip chart in front of everyone. You may ask one of the trainees to do the flip chart writing while the rest of the trainees mention their expectations. Remember to give such a trainee who volunteers to write a chance to write his own expectations about the training as well. If a trainee repeats the same point already mentioned by another trainee a check mark can just be added next to such point on the flip chart. At the end of writing all trainee expectations down on the flip chart the points with the highest number of check marks next to them would be the ones expected most and desired most by the trainees.

The flip chart sheet that has the trainee expectations listed on it can be kept till the final training session and revealed once again at the end of such session in order to check which points in it have actually been covered during the training program and which have not.

Benefits

Allowing participants to search for and express their expectations and hopes from the training program makes them feel more comfortable that the trainer is fully aware of their actual needs. It also provides the trainer with insight into the desires and hopes of the current group of participants which may lead to him making some adjustments to the training program to suit the current group of trainees.

Furthermore, a trainer may clearly state that one or more of the points expected by trainees are outside the scope of the current training and will not be covered during such a training program while explaining why they are not going to be covered. This helps set trainee expectations right and makes them more accepting when such a point is not covered during the training because they are aware of the reasons for it not being covered.

Gathering trainee expectations is an essential activity that a competent trainer should be carrying out at the beginning of the first training session in a training program in order to provide a great learning experience for all trainees.

When do you think it is not essential to for a trainer or facilitator gather participant expectations?