Tracking your performance is your obligation, and you can't delegate it to your manager. Although the performance appraisal is usually a great motivator for this, every professional should actively track their tasks and deliverables to understand if they are on the right track in their career. Unfortunately, oftentimes, we are flooded by demands, leaving little space for settling down and reviewing what we've been doing and if it makes sense to us ultimately.
In my experience, tracking my tasks and reviewing them regularly helped me be recognized not only by my managers but also by myself. Prior to this, it was common for me to close my computer on Friday night with a feeling that I couldn't deliver enough, besides being exhausted for having done so much. Looking back, I think it's due to the fact that not all tasks can be finished quickly. Leaving some tasks open, plus the impostor syndrome, made me feel I wasn't good enough for my job.
It all changed when I started fighting back and putting myself on the agenda to actively analyze what I did, what I was doing, and what I wanted to do. By doing this regularly, I started to recognize my own efforts and fix any route errors. All in all, I feel that I stopped working like a “go horse” 🏇 to start working more like a pro. In this post, I present the tools and rituals I created for myself, and I think they could be tailored by other people to achieve similar results. Before starting, it's important to say that having my productivity tools configured and ready to help me was essential; I describe them in this post.
Tools are means through which I achieve my objectives. They are a crucial part of it because they help me document my achievements and are constantly used by me.
I use this spreadsheet to track my weekly achievements, always focusing on their impact. The structure of this spreadsheet is very simple:
- Reference: The record's date.
- Title: A brief summary of the achievement.
- Impact: A description of what was done, focusing on the impact it caused and the scope (my work, team, BU, company).
- Evidence (optional): Some link to the document, tool, or thread for more information.
This document is for my personal use, so I like to be a bit more verbose here and document important articles/books I've read, posts relevant to my work that I published on my blog, and some not-so-great achievements. The idea is to make this my personal “source of truth” to be used in my own reviews, so in this case, it's OK to write things that won't be used in the future because it's better than forgetting to document something and not highlight an important achievement. Remember that some things only make sense in the future, with more time to measure the results and connect the dots.
Bragdoc is where I summarize my work in the previous cycle (last six months in my case), and the Bragsheet is the main source for it. Different from the Bragsheet that is available only to me, the Bragdoc is shared with my leader, so here I filter, summarize, and better elaborate my most important deliverables, always trying to show the impact of each one.
The concept of the Bragdoc is not new, as I first had contact with it in this post from Julia Evans years ago, and recently my leader encouraged me to use it. In my implementation of it, I divided the document by semester, and I aggregate data in one file per year. Each cycle has some defined sections to guide my review (the original document from Evans is aimed at Software Engineers, so I've adapted some parts for Infosec Engineers):
- Major Initiatives: Usually projects I led or more impactful things I delivered. Projects are not the only impactful things you can do as an Infosec Engineer: Delivering an important report, writing scripts that automate things, and actively interacting with third-party auditors are good examples of major deliverables.
- Participation in Incidents: Any important contribution I provided in relevant incidents, either discovering the issue, leading the response, or giving useful support to Incident Responders.
- Collaboration and Mentorship: People I helped either by occasionally teaching something or by mentoring.
- Outside of Work: Blog posts, presentations in events, honors received, relevant books read, courses taken, or other related things. The focus must be on what I learned or contributed to make me a better professional.
Companies use different tools to track projects and the performance of their employees, so it varies a lot. The important thing here is that you must keep them updated with the frequency defined by your employer. In my current experience, for example, it's fine to do it on a weekly basis for the project tracking tool and on a monthly/semi-annual basis for the performance tracking tool.
No matter the case, the Bragsheet serves as a source for this because it's just a matter of filtering the topics and adapting the text to match the way your leadership expects you to feed these tools. I just want to highlight that keeping such tools up to date is part of your job as well as doing the technical stuff, so this is a requirement. In other words:
work = do the technical stuff + document it.
To learn more about the best practices to fill the documents, I strongly recommend reading this post, but in general, focus on the results of your activities, mainly on the impact they caused.
All these rituals are events in my agenda and they block my time so I can focus on each one. It's important to note that sometimes I'm not able to follow them due to unplanned events both in my personal or professional life, like any problem with the ISP or to support any Incident Response. But exceptions can't be handled as rules, and if they tend to become rules, the process must be reviewed. This is just the way things work for me at the moment.
During each event, I don't follow a specific routine, like “during X minutes do this, then that for the next Y minutes.” Instead, I feel free during that time to do what is more important, but always related to the purpose of the ritual. So, sometimes during the warm-up for example, I'm reading a book, other times I'm attending an online course and so on. I just make sure to do it and finish by catching up with my emails and Slack.
Warm Up 🔥
- When: Every workday at the start of my journey
- Duration: 60 minutes
It's the very first thing I do in my workdays to get ready to work and do the things I really have to do. During this period, I take some time to read or watch content related to my job, review my To-Do list and prioritize tasks, check any messages from my leadership or peers, catch up with my agenda, and get ready to start my journey.
Cool Down ❄️
- When: Every workday at the end of my journey
- Duration: 30 minutes
The last event of my workday is to take notes of unfinished things so I can continue on the next day, including people I have to talk. This is a time to switch context, and then I have to make sure to provide proper context for the future me who'll be responsible to carry on those tasks.
Weekly Wrap Up 💾
- When: Weekly at the end of my workweek
- Duration: 45 minutes
This is the last thing I do in my workweek, which is pretty much updating my Bragsheet and the Work Tools. It's a week review using my notes, agenda, and the messages I've sent or received to highlight important achievements.
Personally, I found this one of the best rituals I've done because it helps me recognize my own work, even the smallest deliverables that are big when summed up. Also, focusing on the impact of my job, I was able to learn that sometimes a task seems small and unimportant to me, but that actually improved some crucial aspect of my team, thus with a good impact and so that unimportant task at first sight was a good deliverable.
When I started doing this, I stopped feeling I was following a Go Horse Process 🏇.
Semi-Annual Checkpoint 🎯
- When: Every semester in June/December
- Duration: 180 minutes
It's important to set checkpoints to stop and review actions. In my case, doing it semi-annually (June/December) is a good balance between overhead and having time to correct the trajectory with enough data to evaluate. Having a shorter frequency would reduce productivity, and a longer frequency would take from me the possibility of fixing the route in time.
Here, I read my Bragsheet and analyze my achievements over the last semester to get the highlights. Oftentimes, when I analyze the items in the Bragsheet after some months, I'm able to better understand the results from each one of them: Sometimes a deliverable seemed to have yielded a small impact, but after a few months, I note that the impact was greater, and other times the contrary happens.
After this analysis, I move my most important achievements to the Bragdoc and update the Work Tools grouping them in topics that compose a narrative of my work during that cycle. It's also usual to review the Bragdoc some days later during the Weekly Wrap Up, to catch any errors or change some stuff. Most importantly, after this checkpoint, I'm ready to talk to my leadership about my performance.
Aggregate the tasks from the Bragsheet into categories, like Project X, Incidents, Talks, etc. Then distribute those categories in Bragdoc and elaborate each one of them based on the description in the Bragsheet. The idea is that the uncategorized items from Bragsheet must be contextualized in the Bragdoc to compose your narrative.
Doing it made me recognize my own work and prioritize tasks that were relevant to my career or to my team. In this scenario, being recognized by my manager or colleagues was the consequence, but it's not secondary. On this matter, often people provide relevant feedback that you can use to be a better professional, and it's a great complement for this work.
When you receive feedback (either formal or informal), take a moment to analyze what the person told you. Sometimes they are shallow or irrelevant, but the majority of them brings important ideas to make you a better professional. So don't be reactive: Accept, be grateful, evaluate, and if it makes sense to you, take action.
Following the process and using the tools allowed me not only to feel better about my work and career but also made me handle the performance checkpoints like a boss: I finished everything easy and quickly. Having all this information about my achievements also made my 1:1s with my leader easier and beneficial because I knew precisely what tasks I needed help with and how she could do it.
I think I leveled up as a professional after I adopted these tools and rituals. Keeping my deliverables under perspective made me understand the true value of my work and put my career in the direction I wanted it to take. I totally recommend everyone to do it and be sure that the time you spend planning tasks will return in many ways to you, your employer, and your loved ones.