How to Write Better Weekly Check-ins
Writing great weekly check-ins is important for software engineers of all levels because it helps communicate your impact and challenges, get better feedback, grow faster, and get promoted easier.
So how can you both spend less time and write more effective check-ins?
What are weekly check-ins?
Most tech companies ask their software engineers to write weekly check-ins where they list everything they’ve accomplished during the past week, and all their goals for the week ahead.
No matter what you use, the idea is the same: document your work so that your manager can have a high-level view of what you are working on, while you can also keep track of your progress and confirm you are on the right track.
Why are weekly check-ins important anyway?
On the surface, having to write a weekly report might feel like a nuisance: one more thing you’ve got to do before you sign off on a Friday, or even a way for your boss to micromanage you.
But trust me, weekly check-ins can be an incredibly powerful tool for your career growth if you use them the right way, because they can:
- communicate the value you are delivering and the effort you are putting into it
- be a great way to keep track of things you’ve worked on so that it’s easier to write your performance review
- help you understand how you spend your time and avoid being distracted by things that are less important
- allow your manager to stay in the loop, coach you, and advocate for you
- showcase the impact of your work to other’s in your reporting hierarchy, e.g. your manager’s manager
- replace your todo list (I’ve stopped using a separate todo list for example)
Ok, I’m sold. How do I get started?
If your team has already something in place for weekly check-ins, then use that.
If not, you can share the concept with your manager, explain the benefits, and ask them if they’d be ok reviewing your reports once a week for a month as an experiment.
If your manager is not onboard, which will be unlikely, I’d still encourage you to write check-ins, even if they are just a way for you to keep track of your progress.
What does a good weekly check-in look like?
Longer > shorter
Generally, more detailed check-ins are better than terse ones.
You don’t want to write an essay, but conveying enough information is important for a variety of reasons:
- it gives your manager an opportunity to zoom in without coming back to you for more details
- it is better for posterity, in case you want to go back in time and remember why you made certain decisions
- it gives you the space to talk about why your work is important and why anyone should care about it
- documenting your work makes it really easy to write your self-review later
Example of a good weekly check-in
Ship new video analytics pipeline
Built the async queue, message processing worker, and backfill job. Used the Analytics system to store events and generate the aggregates. Also created an API to submit analytics events and to query the results. This was a big win because now our customers can slice and dice their video analytics and find out which videos perform better. It’s only been out for 2 days and already the product usage is high. More info in this issue [github link]
Review all the PRs of our new team member
Left thorough comments on a handful of PRs that Anna put together this week. She did quite well considering it’s only her 3rd week on the team and she’s picked up a lot of things already. Most of my comments were around styling and conventions which was expected. [links to prs]
Fix video player bug [link to Jira]
I started working on this late Friday but wasn’t able to wrap it up. This doesn’t appear to be a widespread issue but rather a minor annoyance for a couple of users. Will wrap this up early next week.
Monitor deployed analytics pipeline, tune and write more tests
Fix the video player bug [link to Jira]
Show our new team member our monitoring and pager tools and pair with her to triage a few of the bugs reported
In this example, the updates are thorough and well documented. As a result, it is much easier for the reviewer to be in the loop and the extra details provide useful context.
Example of a poor weekly check-in
Complet issue #119
Fix a bug
More work on #119 if needed
Fix a bug
Help the newbie
In this example, the updates are very brief and don’t provide any context making it hard for someone reading them to understand what you worked on and the impact it had. It’s also certain that if you look back at it a few months from now, you won’t remember either.
What writing a mediocre check-in feels like
Order your achievements by priority
Why hide your best work?
Put the high-value / high-urgency work you completed at the top of your report and the less important at the bottom.
This usually means sharing your work on big projects first, while smaller things like bugs or reviews can go last.
The only exception to this would be if you have received explicit feedback and are trying to grow a skill. For example, if during your review it was recommended that you coach other engineers and one way to do that would be via reviewing PRs, then feature that work higher up in the list.
Turn your check-in into your todo list
Instead of having two separate lists, your weekly check-in and todo, try consolidating them and save yourself the extra time and effort.
Since I started using the check-in as my to-do list I’ve noticed that I’m much more effective and also more likely to submit a weekly report.
There’s one caveat to that, however. You might not want to list all the items from your private todo list on your weekly check-in, out of concern about what your manager might think. At least, that was one of my main worries when I first consolidated the two, because I wanted to show that I focus and achieve high quality work.
For example, you might hesitate listing an article you wanted to read or refactor you wanted to do because you don’t want to get push-back from your boss.
However, I would argue that this is exactly the reason why you’d want them to know:
- If the task isn’t worth your time, why do it?
- If there are more important projects than what you should be working on, don’t you want to work on them?
- If you are spending too much time “being glue”, shouldn’t you be able to recognize that and pivot?
- If you truly believe that what the task is important, don’t you want your manager to know it and support you?
So, give it a try. Use your weekly check-in as your todo list for a month and see how it turns out.
Share your thoughts and feelings
Sharing what you think and how you feel is very useful in the context of check-ins for a few reasons.
It can help your manager empathize with your concerns and celebrate your accomplishments. It can also be a very useful journaling tool for your growth when you reference your old check-ins as you write your self-review.
Here are some situations where sharing your thoughts or feelings can be helpful:
- You are working on a very challenging project and want to communicate that progress is slow
- You are frustrated with how a situation is being handled and want to get feedback
- You are considering the tradeoffs of an architectural decision and want to ask for advice
- A big project you worked on is finally complete and you want to share your excitement
- You are starting to feel the early signs of burnout and want to ask for help
- One of your team members was very supportive and helpful and you want to share your appreciation
- You had a hard time collaborating with a team member and want to ask for advice
- You are trying to collaborate with another team and you feel concerned of how slow progress is
- You learned a new skill and want to share how happy you are
Why stop here? Reference these in your 1-on-1 meeting and get more concrete feedback from your manager.
Bonus: Create a 1-minute Loom
Loom is an async video messaging tool that I really enjoy using.
You could take your check-ins to the next level by creating a short, 1-minute video, walking your manager through your week, and drawing their attention to the most important subjects.This post was originally published on February 18, 2022
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