Write down what you're working on
It's that time of the year when we do performance reviews at work. This is the moment when we try to figure exactly what we did over the last 6-12 months. Reader, this is a losing proposition.
Our brains are great for thinking, less so for storing. Anything we store can be forgotten. In fact, forgetting is a normal and necessary part of how our brain functions. It's not something to get frustrated about, we simply have to work around it.
What we need, ideally, is a high signal summary of all the work we've done over a specific time frame. A programmer like me can search for "all the code changes and reviews I've done in the last 6 months" and write a narrative around that. Trouble is, coding and reviewing are only a part of what I do. My team's issue tracker tracks a bit more of my work, but not everything. A short, non-exhaustive list of worthwhile activities I do day-to-day
- Mentoring other employees
- Writing and reviewing technical proposals
- Contributing to team strategy
- Interviewing candidates
All of these are tracked in different tools, if at all. You might do different things at work, but the problem remains - what you do isn't tracked in a way that's queryable months later. This leads to a stressful few days as you rack your head for what you did. You submit your review hoping you didn't forget anything but you can't be sure.
I adopted a simple, low tech solution - write stuff down.
I start each day with a blank slate. When I complete a task, I write a single sentence mentioning what I did. A link to the work (Slack message/Github PR/document) is optional, but helpful. Around half an hour before I'm done for the day I look at what I've written and add anything I missed. I use Notion, but a text file or a message to myself on Slack would work just as well.
People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
These vibes are a critical foundation of personal and professional relationships. But it's hard to express these vibes in peer reviews. We need examples of our peers delivering good work, helping folks around them and contibuting in other ways. Trouble is, I can't remember anything past the last month. If I was going to do the bare minimum the review would simply be details about the last few weeks and an attempt to convey the vibe of working with them. I usually found time to go digging and speak about their top achievements in the half, but I made it harder for myself than it needed to be.
My solution, believe it or not - write stuff down. When a team mate does something great, I write it down. I maintain a doc for each person on my team. At the end of the half, I'm left with about 10 bullet points for each of them. For areas of improvement, I let them know ASAP. There's no need for this to wait months. If they take steps to address the feedback, I'll write that down too.
No stress and I saved time as well.
- Maintain a daily log.
- Make it as easy as possible to add a new sentence. Keep the tab/window open at all times.
- End each day with 4-5 bullet points.
- Profit 6 months later.
You might prefer a weekly or a monthly log, and that's fine too. Do what works for you.
It really is that simple, but building the habit isn't. I'd much rather move on to the next task instead of taking a moment to write about what I just did. Or I'd just forget to write it down. But after going through a few stressful feedback cycles, it starts to feel worthwhile.
Thanks to Zeshan Amjad for reading drafts of this.