Product Manager Tricks for Life

Calling All Obsessive List Makers (I Know I’m Not the Only One)

📸 Mary Kay Parulski

Have you ever had to update your resumé, defend a promotion request, write a bio, or go through an end-of-year review? A few years ago, I needed to share all of my projects and accomplishments with my boss. Trying to remember everything I’d done that was missing from my resumé was frustrating and daunting.

That experience inspired me to start a new process of tracking all my accomplishments. In my note app I keep a quick list, organized by month, where I can pop in and add things on the fly. It’s very simple. Under each month’s header is a bulleted list of accomplishments — just a few words to jog my memory. As part of the process, I schedule a calendar appointment on the first of every month to record everything from the previous month that I accomplished.

Sometimes I cheat — if I know that I’m planning to do something in the month ahead, I do future-me a solid and log it advance. Then I just need to review, confirm, and edit those items when my calendar prompts me, making the process easier.

When it comes time to update my resumé or my website, I’m never stuck thinking, “What the hell have I done in the last year??” I say, “Okay, let’s review the log.” And it’s super easy to add those things to my resumé and website.

It feels awesome to review the list in its entirety at the end of the year and see how well my goals and actual accomplishments lined up.

As a little silver lining, when I’m feeling tired, exhausted or down, I can visit the log and realize, “Holy crap, you need a vacation” or “Don’t be bummed, you’re doing amazing shit.” There’s never an empty month, and that reminds me that I’m moving forward every day.

Not long after starting this list, I started another log for myself when someone asked me for references. This one’s called “Accolades” and it is the warm-fuzzies list. It all started with a text message in 2014. I was giving a presentation at work to about 30 people. When I sat down, I checked my phone and there was this text from a woman in the back of the room: “You are so thorough and on point. When I think of people here who bring their A game, you’re on the short list.”

I wanted to bottle up that feeling from that expression of praise and admiration, because my job, like most people’s, is full of highs and lows. I wanted to save that encouragement and appreciation at that “high” moment so I could revisit it at a low point, to remind me that I am good, I am worthy, and people appreciate what I’m sharing.

(If you’ve ever sent me a note of admiration, you bet your ass it’s on that list. Thank you!)

Late last year I started yet another list: The No Files. It’s literally just a list of things I say no to. I started this exercise because I realized that I was giving away too much of myself. Too much time, too much effort, and too much investment. I needed to figure out how to focus, to determine if everything I was doing contributed to my goals and was based in my values.

I started it in combination with my goal-setting for the year ahead. I set my sights on where I wanted to end up. When I was laid off from my job in January, I started putting every fantastic and generous job offer that wasn’t right for me on this list. I put amazing speaking opportunities here. I put invitations to join other volunteer teams here. I put things here that I quit, too. It was my way of reminding myself that these things coming to me, while wonderful, were not part of my path.

I like to think of them as someone else’s opportunity. A way to make room for others. I’m a big believer in abundance. I look around and see more than enough opportunities for everyone to be successful. And when I say no, I strive to have three other people to refer in my place. (Want to nab a spot on my referral list? Drop me a line!)

The list of NOs started giving me more confidence and perseverance to continue saying no to things that weren’t on my path, and to make room to say YES to things that are in line with my journey and goals. At the end of each month, reviewing this list strengthens my confidence in my vision.

So, my three lists — the List of Accomplishments, the Book of Accolades and the No Files — in combination with my annual roadmap (Hello, I’m a Product Manager at heart, of course I have a roadmap) have become my North Star. When I’m feeling lost, they help root me in my sense of myself, my purpose, and my goals.

I started drafting this post a few months ago, but am finally publishing it now for two people in my life who I wanted to share this trick (which has been so useful and grounding for me) with: for my cousin’s daughter who just accepted her first post-graduation job in her field and for my work wife who, like me, is working on her no list.

And there is no better time to start this reflective practice than the turn of the year. Happy New Year, one and all!