Writing as thinking has always been a method of choice for me when it comes to general figuring things out. From planning to analyis, I find that writing my thoughts down helps more than anything I’ve tried before. It helps with not only figuring things out but also enabling deep and meaningful communication. Key to this method lays in having the process of developing new ideas be challenging on the presenter, but not the audience.
Clear thinking and clear writing go hand in hand.
If you’re tasking yourself with writing down your thoughts about a topic, whether it be a problem you’re solving, a proposal to the team you’re working with, or a design document for a app you’re thinking about, you’re going to greatly benefit from sitting down and writing a few pages about it.
When you think about an idea, you’re telling yourself a story about it. It flows in your mind, diverts and changes, evolves. All of this is very valuable and a very natural way to think, but as soon as you get distracted (or you’ve been doing it for a long time) you’ll forget the path you’ve taken to end up where you are. If you’re working on something creative having that document that outlines the journey enables you to time-travel and see how it evolved.
When writing a essay-like document you can find blind spots in your thinking. It’s very hard to produce two page long document about something you’re thoroughly confused about. If you find yourself not being able to explain what you’re talking about or trying to obscure it in tons of indirect sentences and genral statements you know that you’re “not there yet” with your idea. This method is a simple BS filter - you’re going to see that, and self-reflection like this is invaluable.
Sleep on it
After writing it all down, save it and put away. When you’ll come back to it the next day you’ll be able to read it with new eyes and with a clear head read it. When you’re reading something you’ve been writing for a few hours now it’s so easy to assume that the document is clear and readable when in reality most of that feeling is in your head. Sleep on it.
After finishing writing, write down in a few bullet points what you’re intending to communicate, and phrase those things as questions. Before you action your ideas, ask a friend to read your document and ask them those questions. If their answers are very, very far off try to understand why by asking more questions. That part of the process is going to fine-tune your thinking further. Remember - communication is the most valuable skill on any team, dev or not.
It’s not the only way I do my thinking and planning. But I’ve used it at a few companies on a few projects, shared this notion with other people and I’ve had great success with it, especially on remote teams. It may not work for you, but it surely does work for me. And for all of Amazon