Keeping a Bragdoc

4 minute read

At the beginning of each year, I spend a considerable amount of time speaking and advising colleagues and peers on the topic of goals and ambitions. Regardless of your organisation’s performance cycles, the start of a new year is always a nice time to self assess the previous 12 months, and to look ahead at the next. I’ve previously written a little bit about the latter (goal-setting), but this time I’d like to focus on self assessing your own performance over the previous year.

Assessing our own performance is often something that we find difficult. We find this difficult for a few reasons. Put bluntly, it is because we are not paying enough attention to our achievements, and because we have poor memory. More eloquently, it is because in order to help our brain with information retention, we need to consciously be attentive to something, and because we are all hindered by recency bias. Both of these little nuisances can be mitigated very easily by maintaining a bragdoc. (sidenote: I never liked the word bragdoc, but it is popular in the industry, and it seems to resonate with people).

First, let’s look at those two issues.

Lack of Attention

Memory is an incredibly complex topic. For as long as I can remember, I have had a poor memory. To combat this, I bring my diary (old-school) to each meeting / call, and I take notes on key points and important actions that I need to follow up on. This practice of listening and writing helps me to remember things. It turns out, this happens because I am consciously paying extra attention to the topics, and giving my brain a little nudge towards retaining this. In her book, Remember : The Science of Memory & The Art of Forgetting, Lisa Genova gives a much more informed and authoritative explanation of this, but the core message remains the same.

We do not (easily) remember what we do not pay attention to.

Recency Bias

This is our natural tendency to favour recent events over past ones - to emphasise fresher memories over those that are older. If you asked me to give you a list of three important things that I achieved in work recently, I would probably behave like a stack, and pop three times in a LIFO (last in, first out) order. Later that day, some other things might come to mind that were more important, but I likely forgot to mention, because they were further down the stack. This is recency bias.

How a Bragdoc Helps

The bragdoc is a simple way to alleviate these two issues. A bragdoc is simply a running list, that you keep up to date, of your accomplishments and contributions. Each item in the list is something that you have achieved, created, contributed to, or are otherwise proud of and worth calling out.

  • Helped onboard a new joiner to the team? Pop it in the bragdoc.
  • Joined your company’s interview pool? Pop it in the bragdoc.
  • Helped resolve an incident, and contributed to the postmortem? Pop it in the bragdoc.
  • Presented a new library to your team during a knowledge sharing session? Pop it in the bragdoc.

I don’t spend too much time wondering about how important something needs to be to get added to the list. If it is important to me or relevant to my goals, then I note it. Similarly, I don’t worry about how much or how little detail to add. Most of my items are no more than a single sentence. Just enough to jog my memory. As J.D. Salinger said

“How long should a man’s legs be? Long enough to touch the ground.”

If you feel so inclined, you can always attach a label or category that correlates to your overarching goals, or your role expectations.

Two nice side effects of keeping a bragdoc are that your self assessments are made that little bit easier, and that you now have an ever growing list of your achievements.

Self Assessment Made Easier

Your self assessment of your development should accept your bragdoc as input, and decorate it within the context of your goals and development plan. I personally place an incredibly high value on one’s own self assessment. Your self assessment demonstrates to me that you track and value your progress, that you are acutely aware of your skills and expertise relative to what is expected of you, that you are taking ownership of your own career, and that you have an aspiration or sense of direction. If your organisation practices 360 degree feedback, then your peer assessments are complimenting and reinforcing your own assessment.

My expectation bar for this is relative to your tenure and experience in the industry.

At a Glance Accomplishments

Seeing your list grow over time helps to provide a great sense of accomplishment. If you’re like most of us, then encountering a shitty day at work is typically followed by a momentary bout of imposter syndrome and self doubt. This is normal. It happens to all of us. What I have found though, is that when this happens, it can be nice to peek at your bragdoc to remind yourself of all the great things that you have accomplished. Taking a step back to look at your achievements as a whole is a great way to visualise your progress and to avoid suffering from a development equivalent of change blindness phenomenon.

Start Today

Open a new Google doc, text file, notebook, or whatever you’re most comfortable with, and start noting things that you have achieved. Revisit it regularly. My own one sits in an Asana project that’s always kept as an open tab. I check in on it at least once a week. It’s that simple.