(570 words)

Since I started working as a programmer, I’ve always taken notes in meetings, and jotted things down during the day to remember, but these were all usually on an A4 notepad, which I’ve always used as a daily scratch pad, and until recently I have never kept a proper journal which I could refer back to at a later time.

A colleague of mine with whom I have been working on a project together, has for a long time kept a development journal, or diary, of things that have happened in his work day. Examples are:

  • Meeting notes, who was present, salient points of what was said and what was agreed
  • Design ideas, diagrams, pseudo code
  • Technical notes on gotchas in the language and application
  • Noteworthy events connected to the project

The event which got me interested in his note keeping was one day when the Produce Owner made a decision about the scope and importance of a particular feature. The colleague in question looked back over his notes and was able to prove that the PO had made a different decision about the same thing a few weeks before. When things like this happened a few more times, I really sat up and started to ask some questions.

“If it isn’t written down, it didn’t happen”, was the response.

If you write it down, you are more likely to remember it. There is a large body of evidence that suggests that the simple act of physically writing notes helps aid memory retention. There are a lot of articles and blogs about this subject, but I’d never paid it much attention. After all, I’d kept enough notes when at school and university, and I didn’t think I need to when I was working.

I could not have been more wrong.

So I started taking notes. I got an A4 lined hardback notebook and started writing stuff down.

And: It works.

So for example, I can tell you who made the decision in a meeting thirteen months ago which meant a feature in the application was developed in a particular way which now makes it upsettingly difficult to modify that part of the application. I can produce my design notes from six months ago where I planned the refactoring of some functionality, and the implications of said work, and which developers on the project I’d talked it through with to get some sanity checking that what I was proposing wasn’t stupid. I can tell you who brought cakes in on a particular day last month and who said which particular funny thing last week that is now part of the project slang.

What I’ve found is that if you write stuff down during the day, about what you are doing, it helps you remember (like the research says it will), and makes you think about what you have done already, and what you need to do in the future. This is all stuff that is required for a Scrum stand-up, if you have to do those. It also provides amunition for those of you who have to suffer through the dreaded annual performance appraisal; or, helps remind you what to list on the invoice when billing for the hours you’ve worked.

Lastly, it helps (me, anyway) remember what I was doing on my latest pet project that I haven’t touched for eight months. Which I should get back to.

Stuart Grassie

A software developer in the North of England.