I used to get so stressed out during performance review season. I’d spend a ton of time looking back at everything I worked on, and then I would spend way too much time writing it all out, editing, and overthinking it before submitting it. It wasn’t a particularly efficient or pleasant process.

Performance reviews are a little different for me now. I still write a self-review, and I write reviews for several teammates on the Marketing team, either their full review or leaving overall feedback if I’m not their manager but still a lead in their area. Left unchecked, performance reviews can easily become a monstrous task that I’m not able to complete on time, or they can throw off the rest of my workload for the following weeks.

Fortunately, I developed a system years ago to streamline writing my own performance reviews. I then adapted this system for the teammates I manage, making the process more manageable.

Performance reviews are still a time investment, I still need to reflect to make sure I’m capturing everything properly, and edit to ensure it’s being conveyed with kindness and fairness. But using this system saves me hours every time we do performance reviews, and I go into them confident that I have remembered all of the important details.

So here’s how it works.

What’s included in performance reviews

Performance reviews are different everywhere. At Buffer, we have a few sections that carry over and we complete them every six months. The performance review sections are:

  • How would you assess your performance, focusing on the past ~6 months? (This covers day-to-day tasks, meeting deadlines, and completing work, as well as your demeanor, communication, collaboration, demonstration of values, and overall drive.) [Multiple choice, optional text box]
    • Missing expectations: performance or role fit is a concern.
    • Sometimes missing expectations: I am not consistently delivering the performance or having the impact expected for the role or level.
    • Meeting expectations: I am succeeding and thriving in my role!
    • Exceeding expectations: I am achieving fantastic, above-average results in multiple areas of work, and contributing above and beyond what is expected for my level.
  • What deliverables, accomplishments, and cultural contributions are you most proud of in the past six months? [Text box]
  • What do you wish you achieved that you weren’t able to? What blockers or challenges did you face? What are the areas or skills in which you’d like to improve or grow in the next 3-6 months? [Text box]

For a manager completing a performance review for a teammate, it is the same questions posed to the manager for their perspective. There are a few other optional questions, but these are the largest pieces of the review.

Read more about Buffer’s performance reviews.

Keeping a list of accomplishments

The simple solution I’ve come up with is an evolution of one of the career lists I’ve long used — an accomplishments list. In 2018, I wrote a post about the five kinds of career lists I keep, and ‘career accomplishments’ was the first list I shared. And though some parts of that blog post are due for a rewrite, the idea of maintaining a document to track yearly accomplishments is still very useful.

A list of accomplishments is simply my achievements broken down into whatever block of time is most useful throughout the year — it’s been either monthly or quarterly depending on the frequency of performance reviews.

Here’s how my list is set up at the moment:

What I’ve done is create a list like this for each of the teammates I’ll be writing performance reviews for as well. This way, I am not starting from a blank document when the time comes to write reviews, I’m starting from some rough notes that I can then complete and turn into a full review.

There is nothing fancy going on in these notes — I simply have bullet points that are high-level listing out accomplishments that are worth celebrating.

At the end of each performance review season, I collapse the former celebrations and start a new section that I’ll reference for the next season.

It’s very simple, as most successful systems are. The trick is implementing it properly.

Creating a small weekly routine to cut performance review time down

I wrote that original post about keeping an accomplishments list years ago, but I fell out of practice with it because I hadn’t set up reminders to keep adding to my notes. I was relying on remembering — but the pace of my work has increased over the last few years, and my role evolved a lot. (Plus, I’m a parent now, so if it’s not written down, I forget it.) In all of those changes, I lost the habit I had created of updating my career accomplishments document. After one performance review season upended my work week entirely, I decided to keep better track of what my team and I had all achieved going forward.

I created a small weekly routine to break down performance reviews into something that I’m writing a few bullet points on roughly every week. I have a recurring reminder set up in my to-do list for the end of the week to check in on performance review notes. It takes me less than five minutes. I open all the notes I have, quickly scan what I have so far, think about anything that happened this week, and jot it down, and that’s it.

These aren’t complete notes, they are quick thoughts that will help me better craft a full performance review down the line.

After implementing this new system, I can usually write my self-review in an hour or less. For both me and my team, I can now feel confident that I have captured the most important achievements from the last six months—a big improvement from my initial rounds of performance review.

These lists are really basic documents (just a page of bullet points, organized by time frame if you want) that can have a massive impact on saving time and energy when I need to pull from them and turn them into proper performance reviews. I’ve written before about how smaller more regular actions lead to better results — find a time frame that works for you for performance check-ins, I’d recommend aiming for weekly, and if it happens every other week that’s still likely an improvement. It is worth the time saved on the other end.

I’d love to hear from you if you have an effective system for performance reviews! Leave a comment and let me know.

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy my practice of writing a future job description for career growth.

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