My first manager showed me his notebook. He said, “I write the date on top of each page. I note to-do items and questions as they come up and then forget about them. When I need to look for something to do – I refer my notebook.”. Not having to remember everything reduces stress and allows us to focus on one task at a time. Then, when we’re done, we can open the notebook to see what else needs to be done. If we’re not sure what to pick, we can ask our manager for guidance.
What if you are the manager? There may not be anyone to ask for guidance. This happened to me – a few years after learning about the notebook, I was hired to manage a startup whose CEO was busy raising the next round.
I started with my notebook, adding questions and obvious to-do items: organize the product, look for a new office, plan work for the developers etc. Then after finding answers to most of my questions, when I started on the todo list, I realized that I lacked intuition. I kept having to ask the CEO for guidance on everything: “okay, what kind of an office do we need?”, “what sort of features do we need to build?”, “how should I organize the product’s features in our project management system?”. I just didn’t have a feel for things, which translated to a lack of confidence. Things got worse after a weekend off. On Monday morning, the previous week felt like a blur – lots of busy work but nothing holding it all together. I didn’t have context.
I opened my notebook and on a new page, wrote down what I knew of the company’s current state of affairs and divided it by department (marketing, finance, sales, product, operations etc.).
Then, I wrote down whatever we had done during the previous week for each department. Some items were complete while others needed to be checked on for status. Writing this down gave me the context that I needed to think about what the next steps should be. I immediately felt more comfortable in my role. After a couple of weeks, the CEO took notice of my exercise and asked to participate. We started a shared document online and spent 15 minutes every Monday morning going over the events of the previous week and what needed to get done next.
In a shared document or whiteboard, fill out two sections: “What happened last week?” and “What are we doing this week?”. Each section is broken down further by all the functions / projects that the team is responsible for. All team members are allowed to contribute to all parts of the document.
For executive teams the subsections would be high level (marketing, sales, product-development, operations, finance and accounting etc). For other teams the subsections may be projects or team responsibilities such as outreach, bugs, features, tech-debt, misc, etc.
In the “what happened last week” section, refrain from assigning blame / credit for any of the events. The team gets the credit and takes the blame – whats done is done. This exercise is all about getting in gear for the week ahead.
The “what are we going to do this week” should be filled in collaboratively as well. Individuals can be given assignment if needed, especially for quick reference during the week, but the canonical place for managing work and assignment should be whatever ticketing system is being used by the team (Jira, Trello, Asana etc.). The items in this section can be in response to the “what happened” section or a result of already planned tasks.
As you add weekly entries into this document, it may very well turn into a historical reference. But never forget – the point of this exercise is to create continuity – to give context to you and your team – to help you answer “Why are we doing this? Why now?”.