(Adapted from my original Twitter thread)
I hear statements like these a lot from mentees and others, and it seems more common since we all transitioned to working remotely last year:
“My manager doesn’t really know what I do”
“I’m overloaded, but my manager keeps piling on”
“My manager and I never talk about anything other than status”
Here’s what works for me: the “Clare’s Plate” document!
My manager and I have a shared document where I describe what’s currently on my plate and list alllll the stuff I’m working on. It contains three sections: Current, Back Burner, and Done. My manager gets async visibility into what I’m doing, what I wish I had time to work on, and what I’ve finished. Then he can provide comments and ask questions, either directly in the shared document or in our next one-on-one.
For me, it’s most helpful to organize each section by project or focus area, instead of having a long, flat list of tasks. Often these focus areas or project groupings are aligned to goals, either personal or organizational. There’s also an “Other” bucket, with all the other random things I’m spending time on.
This is a more complete (and fictional!) example of my Plate doc. I like to describe the context of each item: what I’m doing, who I’m working with, and often a link to the actual work. I periodically move stuff down to the “Done” category (grouped by year), sometimes with some impact data like customer adoption or feedback, ops metrics improvements, etc.
The Plate doc is not my itemized to-do list, my team’s sprint board, etc. Those tend to be a lower level of granularity than what I need for communicating with my manager, and I find that we all do a decent amount of work that doesn’t tend to get captured in a team task tracker anyway (mentoring, interviewing, helping out with an ops issue, reviewing another team’s designs, brainstorming, etc). For me, the Plate doc format is more flexible for communicating at a higher level than individual tasks and with more context, like in the example above. I have a separate to-do list for myself and track coding tasks on the team sprint board, and then I go and update the Plate doc every couple weeks.
So often, we inadvertently get spread too thin across lots of little stuff. The Plate doc is a great visual for seeing when you are spread too thin, where you need to re-prioritize towards fewer focus areas, and possibly where you are doing things that you should hand off to others.
The Plate doc helps drive the right conversations with your manager. You don’t have to talk “project status” in manager one-on-ones if you have a Plate doc! Focus that precious time on conversation about your work priorities, places where you’re blocked, problems you’re trying to work through, career growth, etc. Leave the status updates to the doc. The Plate doc also turns into a nice summary of what you did over time, which is super helpful for annual performance review, promotion, and just generally feeling good about how much you got done this year.