Recently, I started a new job.
To my surprise, I found the onboarding process to be interesting! Typically, it can be tedious and monotonous; however, this time around it was not because my manager had created an Asana board with specific tasks for me per day/week. How awesome is that?
One of the items on my board was to create a “User Manual” for myself. It was called Working with Me document, but I like the term User Manual.
What? A user manual? For me?
We create user manuals for things such as toasters and tape measures. However, the most complicated thing I have ever operated on in my life has been - me!
For those who have trained with me or been mentored by me, it is no secret that I use a bug book concept. On the Tim Ferriss Show, Jim Collins mentioned keeping such a log to unlock hidden insights – as an analogy for self-experimentation wherein you become a scientist of your universe and observe yourself, along with all your behaviors - like mood fluctuations at different times in the day; which hours are you most productive; how much water to drink for optimum health… all things you can keep track of. It’s an invaluable resource!
So, I have been keeping a bug book for years, and have gained a lot of insight on how to operate myself over the years. However, writing a user manual - now that’s brilliant!
The idea of a personal user manual has been around for a bit, it was certainly new to me.
What are the benefits of having a User Manual?
Have you ever been taken aback by a response from a co-worker to something you thought was normal and harmless? Were you hurt? Confused? Surprised? What was going on there? Did you do something wrong? Were they assuming bad intent?
I maintain that most of the human-related issues are that of communication. There is more to it, however, I think that clear and concise communication can solve a lot of issues that arise at work.
Having a user manual does a few important things. It forces all of us to take a look at our patterns and become aware of them. It sets up our boundaries. It creates a space for safe and effective interactions. It reduces confusion, It creates vulnerability. It also highlights our quirks. It can be a place where you can safely share things you consider you are misunderstood about.
It gives the reader some insight into how to work with you effectively. What to leverage. What to avoid.
Also, it’s there for everyone to see - so you don’t have to repeat that learning with every new person. Shorten the learning curve.
How to write a User Manual? What goes into a user manual?
In a work environment, it is essential to ascertain what your job entails - specifically delineating its scope and requirements for the team.
If a comprehensive account of your past work is appropriate, then, by all means, include it. Don’t forget - not everyone will be inspecting your resume; most likely they are simply skimming to ascertain if it merits their attention in any capacity. Be succinct yet inclusive!
You can always add sections with more details for those who want to read through them.
Here are some of the questions to answer to create an effective User Manual:
Some honest, unfiltered things about you An example of this for me: “I get annoyed by last-minute meetings”. I work in batch mode - so am not glued to the calendar. And I do not work in fields that are emergency driven.
What are some of your Quirks? I am NOT a morning person. Monday's 8:00 a.m. meeting will find me very underprepared.
If something is not on my calendar - it might not happen!
How to get a gold star with you? I like staying busy. However, not just doing busy work. I need some meaningful problems to solve. If you are a manager or colleague who notices and appreciates the things I am solving, you get a gold star! If you give me more problems to solve, more gold stars!
What is your recipe for gold stars?
What are some ways that people misunderstand you? I tend to operate in two modes - focused and not noticing the world, and wanting to engage and be social. Sometimes, when I am in focus mode, I can come across as uninterested. Also, I can be brutally honest and direct.
How are you misunderstood?
How do you manage? Coach? Set expectations? Do you micro-manage? Do you set clear expectations? Do you communicate your expectations often? Do you ask enough questions? Do you like on-on-ones or group settings to work things out?
Each of us has a different style and letting your team know what your is will help everyone.
What is the best way to communicate with you? (Chat/email…) Some folks I know respond immediately to chats/emails. I try to check messages about 3 times a day - to set aside “focus times” where I can work uninterrupted. Communicating this pattern is important so people know where you stand.
What is the best way to give feedback? While we all like feedback when it’s positive, negative feedback can get tricky. Setting some boundaries around how to get feedback is important. Also, setting boundaries sets you up to be open to feedback.
What is the best way to convince you of something? Let’s face it - at work, there will always be things you will need to do that you don’t want to. Is there a way to soften that expectation? Can your manager or team present it in a way that works better for you?
…And more There are a lot more things you can add to your User Manual - after all, it is YOUR User Manual. Anything that seems to be a recurring theme in your professional career is a good place to start!
Conclusion We spend more waking hours with our co-workers than our family. Yet, our understanding and communication with our team depend on our relationships with each individual on the team. Creating a User Manual democratizes the access and insights needed for every working relationship. It is an effective way to reduce communication errors and increase clarity and productivity in any work environment.