Recapping Your Year for a Performance Review

We've got annual performance reviews where I work. That shouldn't be the only time I receive feedback about how I'm doing. But the company budgets are set once a year, and thus the consequential "am I getting a raise or a promotion?" conversation typically happens once a year.

Due to a power vacuum in my department, my boss is also responsible for an R&D department comprised of hundreds of people. He isn't focused on my day-to-day, and certainly doesn't remember what I accomplished a year ago. I barely do.

To prepare for my performance review, I wanted to present him with a clear picture of where I've been focusing my efforts. I have three places where I could see what I'd done, but only two were reviewable at a glance.

My focus board

With my amorphous floating-around-the-department Quality Lead role, I ask myself "what's the best thing to focus on?" a few times a week. I keep a Trello board of possible topics. It helps me remember what I wanted to start, pulls me back to what's important when I've been interrupted, and ensures that I communicate back to whoever's affected when I finish something. It also keeps me honest: it prevents me from having too much in progress work at the same time.

The Trello board has five columns, from left to right:

  • Done in {this month}
  • In Progress
  • This Week {with the dates, including whether I've got any days off that week}
  • Next Week
  • Backlog

Tasks have a title and a tag (either a team or theme), broken down small enough that I can complete them within a few days. "Organize the conference" would be too big, but "draft Outlook invitation, identify and email all departments" with a conference tag would be small enough.

My goal is to keep the In Progress column down to one. Most times there's one thing in there I'm waiting to hear back on and one thing I can actively work on. At the end of the month, I take the whole Done column and move it to a completely separate Done Trello board. This way I can keep the information around without having to look at it all the time.

It was my Done Trello board I reviewed for my performance review. At a glance, I could see that much of my work focused on a shared testing repository, a side project, and helping out three particular teams.

My calendar

My calendar also gave me an overview of my effort for the year. Leadership book club, 1-on-1 coaching conversations, and knowledge-sharing sessions took small, incremental work every week or two. The work was typically too small to put on my Trello board, but still visible from the meeting titles as I paged through the weekly view of my calendar.

My notebook

Jerry Weinberg's Becoming A Technical Leader got me in the habit of journaling for a few minutes at the end of my workday. I hadn't spent time to summarize, group, or even re-read these journal entries along the way. I could have spent a lot of time reading through all my journal entries, but doing so wouldn't add much to what ended up being the ~7 minutes I had to recap my year to my boss.

In the end, nothing my boss said in my performance review was a surprise to me, which is just as it should be. I was able to remind him about some of the harder-to-see code review and 1-on-1 coaching. My boss was also able to bring to light something I couldn't or didn't see: my holistic way of thinking about our products, our department, and our company had influenced the way other people were thinking. People weren't just staying in their lane, performing their prescribed duties; they were thinking more about what all would be required to solve a problem, and how they could help.

How do you compile a summary of your year at work? Do you collect everything at performance review time, keep a brag document of all your accomplishments as you go along, or go next-level and update your resume every time you've succeeded? How do you capture the things that you invested a lot in that didn't go as anticipated?