Four Anzac Days ago I climbed Mount Arthur. I had hoped we were just going some of the way, or that maybe I could read a book at the Flora Hut while the rest of the walking party went to the top and back. As it turned out, we were all in it for the long haul to the summit.
I was a lot slower and way less fit than anyone else on the trip. And towards the top, where there are some uneven rocks to navigate, my legs refused to cooperate. I remember looking at where I needed to put my next foot, but nothing happened. It was a really frightening paralysis, and I wouldn’t have been able to continue if my friend hadn’t talked me through every single move.
The benefits of chocolate
Surprisingly, my brain kicked back into gear really quickly after eating chocolate at the summit. Coming down that mountain was even nicer — it’s a magical tussocky environment. I also know I will never do it again (I promised myself that while lying prone on the couch the next day).
That paralysis can also happen in a work situation. Last week I was asked to write a document on something important which I knew almost zero about. I could feel my brain going into a really uncomfortable overload mode. If there hadn’t been such a tight deadline I would have been tempted to jump away from it and get on with something easier (or go and eat chocolate).
In the midst of that project I did feel a bit like a mountaineer clinging to a rock face, stabbing my pick axe into one crevice at a time, figuring out what to do. The thing that really helped was printing off my own step by step process for ‘writing a document using multiple sources of information’.
I found where I was up to in that list of steps, and carried on, only looking one step ahead at a time, and as the great Sir Edmund Hillary would say, “we knocked the bastard off”.
When new topics come your way
If you work at a council, it’s likely you’ll end up writing about something you know very little about at some stage in the not too distant future. Climate change, new legislation and a multitude of other challenges are likely to be coming your way, let alone the changes in topics you’ll face if you take on a new role.
When asked to write a report or a plan you may initially feel like me on that mountain, with paralysis coming on and unable to take the next step forward. This is where knowing what your process has been in the past can really help you.
Promapp won’t help
This kind of creative process doesn’t turn up in Promapp or any other business mapping tool, from my experience. The information about actually writing the documents tends to be thin on the ground. And maybe that’s how it has to be, because everyone will have their own way of creating something new.
How others do it
However, once you hit on a process that works for you, it’s likely that you can apply a very similar process across multiple topic areas. David Usher talks about this in his book ‘Let the Elephants Run’ in terms of the process he follows to create songs and develop new business ideas.
Independent Hearing Commissioner David McMahon also has a process he follows when resolving complex planning issues, which he generously describes here.
The reason I’m writing about this now is that hundreds if not thousands of people around the country have recently completed large complex documents as part of the Long Term Plan process — which may have been a development contributions policy, an asset management plan, infrastructure strategy, financial policy, or a series of reports to assist a long term plan committee with its decision making process.
First of all, congratulations on getting your document over the finish line! Before it fades from memory, I highly recommend that you think back over the process you followed to go from nothing to something. Writing down the steps you took to make that document a reality will give you insights into the process that works for you — and it will give you a structure for making progress on the next gnarly writing project that comes your way.
Speed up your writing process
Here’s a link to access the document which outlines my steps for writing a document using multiple sources of information. I hope you find this useful as a starting point for defining your own writing process.