What are your biggest accomplishments in the last 12 months? Take a minute to think about it. Not as easy as you thought, huh? It turns out that we can forget our achievements very quickly.
The problem is, similar questions come up all the time - during the annual performance review, whenever you update your CV, whenever you negotiate a raise. And, for obvious reasons, it’s really important that you can give a good answer.
Today, I’ll share a system that I use to deal with this problem, which I dubbed the Brag Log. The idea is not new and the system was inspired by the Soft Skills Engineering podcast.
I found that keeping a log of all my wins, big or small, helps me to see the bigger picture and increases my work satisfaction, especially when the day-to-day progress does not feel significant.
The system is dead simple: all you need is a notebook and a pen. You write down your accomplishments. That’s it.
Whenever I achieve a goal, I tend to move on to the next thing very quickly (but, yes, I tend to dwell on my mistakes forever) so I need to update my Brag Log frequently.
I keep a small notebook at my desk and at the end of each workday I take a few seconds to ponder if I accomplished something worthy of writing it down. I use bullet points and I don’t use a template. Of course, if your company has a fixed system for performance reviews and you have to answer some specific questions then you can tailor you Brag Log to focus on those questions.
It’s very useful to keep this document (mostly) chronological and include dates.
Why would you bother to do that every day?!
Well, it’s only partly because I have a memory of an absent-minded goldfish.
I err on the side of “over-including” small wins in my log. For example, if I fixed a major bug that took significant effort to track down and fix, I will write that down - even if it’s not really a “significant accomplishments” per se. Thanks to that, my Brag Log helps me to give accurate status updates in stand-up meetings and can remind me of things I want to discuss during a retrospective.
Every once in a while, I go through the notebook, cross-out things which I no longer see as significant and highlight major achievements. If the notes get too messy (as they frequently do), I tear out a page, rewrite the bullet points which are still relevant, and “consolidate” similar items. This ensures that the notepad is well organised but this house-keeping process is enjoyable to go through as well - reminiscing about my past successes can really boost my mood when impostor syndrome gets the best of me.
After repeating the process a few time, the document slowly “converges” to an extensive list of the most significant achievements.
Throw in some numbers
Optionally, you can try throwing in some numbers (if you can). For example, “saved the company X pounds”, or “built an app with Y active users”. Those will come in handy when you need to update your resume.
Make it personal
This system can be used outside of work too. When applied to your personal life, it can have similar benefits to journaling because the Brag Log acts as a kind of “gratitude” journal focused on your daily successes, however small. Reflecting on your achievements helps with staying mindful, which has an impressive list of benefits.
I keep a personal Brag Log, which I update weekly. I note down whatever I did that made me feel proud, regardless how small that “achievement” is (e.g. anything from “worked out every day last week” to “did not have a mental break down on a really tough day”).
I find this weekly habit really rewarding and sometimes it helps me to get out of an unmotivated rut.
Retrospect, notice patterns
Julia Evans suggests creating a similar document and proposes that you use it to retrospect, find patterns, and answer questions like: What do I wish I was doing more? What am I most proud of?
For example, I used to rarely play the piano. But looking at my Brag Log I noticed that I enjoy playing it very, very much but for some reason I lacked the motivation.
And by the way, my system is focused on noting down your wins as often as possible and iteratively improving the document. Julia Evans suggests creating a coherent, well-structured document that is updated only periodically and that you could share with others. Check out her blog post if that sounds more appealing.
Anything that makes you feel proud
Over-include things by default.
It’s okay to include smaller accomplishments or things you achieved as a team. Whatever makes you proud is fair game. Brag Log is not supposed to be seen by anyone, it exists just for your benefit so there is no reason to be shy!
Start a Brag Log, it’s really worth the (minimal) time investment required! Not only it can help you with updating your CV, performance reviews, negotiating raises, but it can also help you to see the bigger picture, improve your job satisfaction, and serves as a reminder that sometimes you should just sit back and appreciate how far you’ve come.
Keeping a brag log guarantees you will never forget you achievements, it helps you to stay mindful, and can be very rewarding. Reminiscing about your past wins can cheer you up if you’re having a hard time as well.
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