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Publish or perish? Document or die.

CJ Chilvers
CJ Chilvers
4 min read

I don’t believe in goals. I believe in process.

I believe in process because I used to believe in goals.

What I’m about to reveal to you is far more boring than goal setting, but far more effective.

Goals tend to get further away the closer you get to them. The solution is to not move closer to your goals, but to get them to move closer to you.

The outcomes I dreamed up in my goals were actually just the byproducts of processes.

Writing these words is a weekly process for me. The words themselves are the byproduct — along with any future books, posts, or relationships built upon the foundation of these words.

Goals meet up with you as part of your daily process.

Process is usually the guest, not the host.

Process is powerful, but often ignored in favor of procedure. Procedures are simpler. Procedures are individual. Procedures are useful.

Procedures will never be as valuable as processes.

Have you ever read a book about productivity, leadership, or entrepreneurship, and been totally inspired by the advice in the beginning chapters, only to be deflated by later chapters when the “how-to” details didn’t apply to you at all?

That first part was probably process (here’s why this topic matters and how it can improve your life) and the second half was probably procedure (sell everything, move to a rural area, and start a collectible-magnets business on Etsy).

Procedure thrives in YouTube videos, podcasts, and social media posts. Google loves it. Consumers love it. It’s comfort content.

Process found a home in books, alongside topics governing the principles and values that guide processes. But few people read books anymore.

For every 50 episodes of a popular business podcast, you may hear one episode with an author as a guest, reminding the audience that none of what they’re listening to really applies to them. That’s valuable advice, but it usually doesn’t scale past one episode.

However, that episode couldn’t have happened without the funding that comes from the procrastination of endless “how-to” episodes. So, an uneasy truce has formed over the years.

Procedure, which only really applies to the host, takes the spotlight and makes the money. From time to time, listeners will be treated to some process truths, as a trust-building exercise, before hearing an ad that reminds us of what really pays the bills.

I don’t expect much to change. This is how we’re wired. But if I could go back 20 years, I’d tell myself this:

If the advice isn’t about improving your processes somehow, it’s probably not worth your time.

That would have eliminated 95%+ of my nonfiction consumption over the years. Imagine the byproducts that could have formed in those lost hours.

Document or die.

What makes procedures weak as advice is also what makes them strong in your daily work — their utility to the individual.

Documenting both your processes and procedures is painful. I wrote this kind of documentation professionally for about a decade. I’ve seen the toughest high-level executives inside international banks crumble at the thought of documenting the “gray areas” of their daily work.

Processes at that level are mostly determined by regulation, so they’re vague, full of legalese, and rarely updated. But procedures at that level are assumed to be too complex for a lowly writer to understand. In reality, they were too simple and inefficient for an executive to want to face.

However, without honest documentation of what you do, you can’t improve. It doesn’t matter how inefficient you are now. Documentation doesn’t care. It only needs an honest accounting of how you do what you do — step by step. That’s too hard for most people to accomplish.

After documentation, a new universe opens up for you.

  • You can scan each step for ways to improve quality or efficiency.
  • You can recognize where money and time is wasted.
  • You can realize where you’re not the best person for a task, farm that task out, and create far more of what you care about in less time, more enjoyably, and for more money.
  • You can easily train others or transition parts of the process to a new hire, or new vendor.

The usefulness of a procedure cannot be overstated. Process is still more valuable, as it determines whether the procedure should even exist, but it’s less useful to your daily work.

Why does this matter for you?

I’ll give you an example of how I recently failed. Maybe that will help.

My personal publishing process is pretty simple.

I write every day.

From that process, articles, books, client work, and occasionally friendships, arise.

The procedures behind that process can be complex. Over time, I’ve learned to simplify and clarify them, but they remain as complex as the world of publishing forces them to be.

This past week, I ignored my procedures for creating audio versions of my books and essays because they weren’t producing the outcomes I wanted. Byproducts had never appeared in any quality or quantity that I felt would’ve been publicly acceptable.

I didn’t re-write the procedures like a smart person would. I just ignored them and moved on. I never faced my painful inefficiencies.

I became fascinated by AI voice technology. It read my essays and books better than I did, with more enthusiasm, in an easier-to-understand voice.

The AI was also way more efficient. What used to take me several recording sessions and endless frustration, only took the AI voice seconds to complete.

After I finished paying for and downloading the narration of the first six chapters of one of my books, I realized that I had fed the AI voice the first edition of the book, not the second edition.

I didn’t consider procedure. I didn’t document properly. Now it’s going to cost me. It’s not going to cost a lot, but it didn’t need to happen at all.

Process is extremely valuable. It got me to a place where an audiobook was even possible.

Procedure is extremely useful. It could have saved me time and money.

Documentation is needed for both because no one is good at breaking any of this down step-by-step in their own head to analyze where they could improve.

Use my failure as a lesson. Don’t lose money and time because you’re afraid to face the unknowns in your daily work.

It’s only really painful for a minute and doesn’t cost you anything…unless you’re an international bank.