The Weekly Status Report Blues
It's uncanny how many managers, particularly inexperienced ones, ask their staff to complete a status report on a regular basis. The intention of this report request is usually positive: the goal is to establish communication between the manager and team member to further discussion in one on one meetings. It can also serve as a source for completing the dreadful annual performance review. (I'll have more on the annual performance review in future updates!)
So, if you have a manager that requires these seemingly dreadful tasks completed every week (or some other frequency), how can you make them less impactful on the real work you're doing? Here are a few ideas to help reduce the stress required to produce these reports.
1) Keep a Running List
Track a running list of everything you do, no matter how small in a notebook. This list could be in a Field Notes paper notebook or a list on your mobile phone or tablet. Do whatever works best for you and your workflow. Keep it brief and ensure that it will always be there as you complete tasks. If too much time passes between task completion and writing it down can result in forgetting the accomplishment. This list will serve as a master source of all that you can include in a periodic status report.
2) Discover What is Most Important
Often what is important to you and your customers are not the same things that your manager may view as most vital. It is great to determine the top items that the manager needs to see for them to understand that you're a top performer in the organization in their eyes. It's also an excellent way to inform a manager of some critical items you take care of that they hadn't considered vital.
3) Manage it in your "Down Time"
Mind-numbing meetings are unfortunately a part of many tech professional's daily duties. Use this time to track your progress and add to the list of things you need to accomplish in the near term. Don't let it consume you or detract from your overall performance in the meetings though; be cautious that this doesn't negatively impact your performance.
4) Make it Fun
Making it fun could mean adding color to the notebook or performing Sketch Notes or forming them in the style of a Bullet Journal. Don't focus too much time here - it can become a time suck - but use this technique enough to help keep your logs interesting and to keep your interest in adding to your lists up.
The primary goal of a manager asking for the periodic status report is communication. Unfortunately, many weaker managers rely on this as their only form of communication with their team members. If you have a manager like this, it is imperative that you find alternative ways of establishing communication channels with your manager. If they won't set up a regular cadence of one on one meetings or other less formal contact points, it is your duty to do it in their place. Excellent communication channels between you and your manager are critically important, and if your manager doesn't take communication seriously, you must take it upon yourself to make it happen. It is difficult to grow as a technologist if you're not able to have a pulse on what your management is concerned with. It might feel comfortable to be unplugged from the day-to-day management, but it is very difficult to advance your career without an understanding of the way your organization is managed. It is an extremely valuable experience to see how and why decisions are made, how issues are reacted to, mistakes are recovered from, and what works and what doesn't in their approaches to strategic responses to business pressures.
Don't look at the regular status report as a punishment or as a crutch used by weaker managers. View it as an excellent opportunity to begin an open conversation with your leadership that provides you the ability to learn the inner workings of your organization and ultimately advancing your tech career.