The Power of Keeping Lists

Muscle by Dávid Gladiš from the Noun Project
lists by allex from the Noun Project

Hindsight is 20/20 right? I’m coming up on my 10 year anniversary of being a post-college, professional adult, and what a ride it’s been. I’ve had some downtime lately that has given me a chance to do some healthy retrospecting. The single major tangible thing that I wish I had thought to start years and years ago is keeping lists.

I usually like to use a spreadsheet. Spreadsheets help keep my brain organized and also come with great features like sorting and filtering. It doesn’t have to be spreadsheets. Use whatever works for your brain: text files, kanban boards, your to-do app, etc. I definitely would suggest at least something that has filtering / sorting. Side note: if you don’t use cloud software, at least make sure you back it up in some form at least daily.

What type of information should go into these? Similar to the way I process feedback, some of the different sheets I would recommend you keep include:

1. Personal Accomplishments

These are good to keep for things like performance evaluations or general 1:1’s with your boss. Need to discuss a raise or promotion? How about an occasional confidence boost? Open up your Personal Accomplishments spreadsheet and have a read-through. Use some sorting / filtering based on your tags so you can get a list of just the type you’re looking for.

Additionally, this can function as a sort of “brag book.” Keep screenshots of conversations, of emails that give you praise, thank-you cards, etc. In times of increased feelings of imposter syndrome orfeeling generally low/unsure, you can use this as a reference to assure yourself that you indeed are doing it right.

DateDescriptionOther DisciplineTag(s)Followup Needed?
9/10/2019On the Annual Report project, I completed the JavaScript in half of the allotted time. Told PM, got a jump-start on other tasks. Was eventually able to accomplish one of the client’s “nice-to-have”s. Time Management, JavascriptNo
10/01/2019I finished reading the “PHP for Dummies” book. I have a much clearer understanding, workflow, etc etc…Personal Development, PHP, Servers, CMSNo
11/05/2019Kelly and I re-thought the approach to the newsletter on the Big Soda project. We worked well together and the client loved it. PM, AE, and Clients were very happy. We are planning on giving a small case study brown-bag lunch style to show our approach.DesignProblem Solving, Newsletter, Case StudyYes

2. Problems Encountered

Similarly, you should take notes on problems you encounter, friction, and areas to improve. Having a list like this will help make “tough” conversations easier by having historical data. For example, If you’re trying to have a conversation like “I felt like I’ve have had a lot of friction with project managers the past few months because they *constantly* try to whittle down my task estimations.”

By adding historical data to the conversation, your standpoint may be more concrete in the eyes of the person you’re talking to. For example, this may be your conversation instead: “I have had 4 similar problems with Project Managers in the past 2 months. One was on A, two on B, and finally one on C. They pushed me to whittle down my estimates, which wound up hurting the project. What can we do to prevent this from happening?” This statement is much less

DateDescriptionOther DisciplineTag(s)Followup Needed?
9/10/2019On the Annual Report project, I was asked to half my estimate. It wound up taking exactly as much time as I originally estimated. Luckily, that “extra” time fit well within our contingency hours.Project ManagementEstimation, ContingencyNo
10/01/2019The designer on the Cell Phone project requested a single change on the day before launch, but didn’t test it thoroughly enough. It launched, then was revealed to be broken. We were able to fix it and deploy a patch before the client noticed.DesignChanges, Bugs, HotfixNo
11/05/2019Another developer and I had a hard time finalizing a pull request / code review. We need a policy on balancing “perfect” code/approach versus timliness.DevelopmentProcess, Pull Requests, Code ReviewsYes

3. Direct Reports

I recommend a hybrid approach for direct reports: keep line items for both positive, negative, and neutral interactions. I use a single spreadsheet for my direct reports, with one tab for each person. This will pay back in droves when giving feedback or performance evaluations. It will also help you remember your reportee’s side of the story should something negative come up. An example scenario may be:

Project Manager: “Got a minute? Your reportee, Billy, is constantly billing too much time to his projects.”
You: “Actually, Billy has approached me 5 times over the past 3 months about how he was being pressured into reducing his estimates, then having the task take almost exactly as much time as his original estimation. Let’s instead talk about how we can alleviate the need to ask folks to reduce their estimates.”

DateReporteeAlignmentDescriptionOther Discipline / PersonTag(s)Followup Needed?
9/10/2019BillyPositiveLorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Summum ením bonum exposuit vacuitatem dolorisDesign / GinaProcess, Problem Solving
10/01/2019ConstanceNeutralIta similis erit ei finis boni, atque antea fuerat, neque idem tamenProject Management / TedProcess, EstimatesYes
11/05/2019BillyNegativeDuo Reges: constructio interrete. Duo enim genera quae erant, fecit tria. MeFeedback, Meeting Follow-upYes