Keeping a “work log” is a great idea for software engineers. Every week, record key work items you’ve worked on: key code changes, code reviews, design documents, discussions and planning, helping out others, postmortems and anything else that took time, and has impact. Julia Evans calls this a brag document and offers practical advice on why you should keep one and get your work recognized. Read her excellent advice here. Also, see this 16-minute video from Chris Albon, Director of ML at Wikimedia: Don't do invisible work.
A document like this has so many benefits: not just for performance reviews, but also for yourself feeling better on just how many things you did.
Some of the most productive engineers I've worked with have kept a form of "work log". This helped them with several things:
- Priorities. The more productive an engineer is perceived, the more people turn to them with asks for work. Engineers with some list of all the work they are doing - or need to do - had an easier time knowing what their top priorities were, than those who did not have something like this.
- Feeling good about stopping work. At larger tech companies, it's not uncommon to start the morning wanting to get a pull request in: yet, in the evening, you've still not finished it, because of all the other things that came up. With a way of recording of all the things you did do, it puts your day in perspective.
- Saying no. When you have too many things on your list, and something else comes in, you need to either say no, or take something off that list. Engineers who know all their work have an easier way of saying no to new work: or to negotiate on what work to stop.
- Performance reviews, promotions and quantifying impact. When performance reviews come around, writing a self-review is one of the best ways to ensure you'll get fair feedback. With a work log, it takes less time to do one than without it. The same goes for software engineering promotions.
Here is a template work log document I've put together, as inspiration. Feel free to use it: here is how it looks:
Additionally, check out the brag document template by Julia Evans.