I was working on a project this morning when I came across a massive blocker. I could try to force myself to sit there and think about it directly, but that has never worked. I fell back on a time honored tradition, “if you don’t know what to do or have nothing to do, start wiping down counters”. I decided it was high time I dove into cleaning up my Google Drive. After all, the project I was working on involved storing knowledge away.
This post is about some of the practices that help in revisiting old documents, sheets, and presentations.
It’s common practice for writers and content creators to “necrotize” their work. Necrotize is the act of taking various content and information from an old work then repurposing it into something new. I learned about the practice when I was a grant writing intern at the YMCA of the Inland Northwest. As a practice, it allowed my mentor Julie to write dozens of grant proposals saving herself the trouble of writing everything from scratch. She could also determine what worked and would build on that success.
The rule of successful content creation: whatever you make must have value. Julie routinely showed this in her writing, but could easily find old useful material with ease. She accomplished this by utilizing context.
Much like location in real estate, the top three things for document creation is context, context, and context. Without context, content in a document has nothing.
All forms of writing have layers upon layer of context. Take this blog for example, I used the header above to show that these paragraphs would be about “Context”. The intro paragraph gave you situational context that allowed me to present my thinking. Even introducing the concept of “necrotizing content” contextualized the post within a larger use case for document/content creators. This post is bursting with context!
Now that I’ve been at LexBlog for several years, I’ve accumulated a couple hundred docs. In my exploration of past work, I found that some docs involved failed projects, poor attempts, and misguided assignments. Some, served no purpose whatsoever. Some, I found had good intentions, but resulted in nothing. Others seemed to serve a purpose for a time, but there wasn’t value that could be scraped. Much of the value was lost because I hadn’t left my future self enough context.
Some context was not helpful. The words “Current”, “Recent”, and “New” were meaningless in numerous titles. Even if they were to differentiate between itself and an older version, a user would need to check both to make sure they had the right copy. Oddly words like, “old”, “Outdated”, and “obsolete”, seemed just fine.
When it came to sheets, column titles are absolutely pivotal for document longevity. One doc had a list of law blogs and a number in the next column. I have no idea what the number was about. Sheet after sheet revealed themselves to be long lists of data with no indication of, well, anything. Sure, the title gave some context, but without a full investigation the sheet was lacking. Likewise, exports with auto generated names were confusing. What the heck does (SLVG-990921expt.xls) even mean?
After deleting a solid 50-60 documents, I can say that my drive is starting to look better. I also know that I’ve done a great job with my more recent docs. Filling in the gaps is worth the time. You just have to give your future self some context and remember to constantly add value.
Spoiler: I did figure out a great solution to the blocker. It was right in front of me the whole time!
As always, I hope you found something to add to your everyday rhetoric repertoire. Thank you again for reading.