2 min read

Write for Yourself to Solve Problems

Write for Yourself to Solve Problems
Photo by Brad Neathery / Unsplash

You’ve probably been told to write more or seen some advice that “engineers should start a blog”.  I’d say do that, only if you want to.  Don’t start a blog or write in public because it’s been a bit of career advice parroted around.  Sure, it might boost your career. There are also additional benefits like learning topics through teaching, improving your writing, or even expanding your network.  But those benefits only come if you stick with it.  And I would bet you’re only going to stick with it if you enjoy it.

For those of you who don’t like the idea of starting a blog, you can still get many of the benefits a blog provides by simply writing more for yourself.  This is a problem solving approach that I use a lot.  If writing more sounds like something you’d like to try, this might work for you too.

To write more for yourself, the next time you are working on a task, open a document and do a brain dump.  Just write.  Write massive ugly walls of text that get all your thoughts about the problem down on paper.  Once you’ve ran out of steam, go back and review what you wrote.  Highlight any todos, note any questions that might need additional research, and see if there are common themes you can organize some of your notes under.  This approach works really well for ambiguous problems or when the solution is not clear.

As I briefly discussed in Words Over Code: Grow Your Impact And Career Through Writing, writing well can help you improve your impact and communication but it also helps improve your thinking.  By getting all your thoughts, questions, concerns, and ideas down on paper you free your mind to think deeper about the problem.  This exercise also provides a list of things to follow up on.  I’ve used a method like this countless times in my personal life as well as for engineering problems.

Just follow this process:

  1. Open a blank document.  I use Google Docs.
  2. Name the document something related to the problem you are working on.
  3. Brain dump everything on your mind about the problem.  Any questions you have, concerns, potential solutions, concerns about those potential solutions, people you need to contact, things you’re unsure about, etc.
  4. Review your brain dump looking for action items.  What can you go research, what is a next step todo here.  Organize into themes.  Start scoping out a potential solution.  Move these action items to another section in the doc.
  5. Take action on some or all of those items.  Take notes while doing this as you learn more about the problem and potential solutions.
  6. Repeat steps 3-5 until you solve the problem.

There are many different styles for solving problems, but this approach has served me well.  If it sounds appealing, give it a try next time.

And remember, only write more or start a blog if you want to.  It helps some people but it might not be your thing.  Life is too short to spend your free time working on something that’s not enjoyable.