Managing To-Do's

How to make your next performance review a whole lot easier

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February 8, 2022

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If you’re like me when I was practicing law, every review season, you think about how much easier that self-eval would be if you tracked your wins throughout the year. Plus, it’d give you somewhere to look to get a nice boost when you had those tougher career days.

But it’s hard to remember to do it when work and life are so busy.

So, let’s set up a pain-free win-tracking system – and make sure it sticks.

I’d love for you to do things right now (and see how these play out using the self-eval example below!):

Performance Review Strategy No. 1: Create an email folder and a document to track your wins

If you don’t have one yet, create an email folder titled “WINS” or “Nice Emails” or however you think of good-feedback/win-type emails. As people email you nice feedback or you get great news showing how amazing you are at your job, drop those emails into your “WINS/Nice Emails” folder (e.g., you’re an attorney and get a court notice you won your motion; you’re in corporate and get an email from a client signing on after your awesome presentation).

Create a document that you only see (or even a phone note in your phone notes app) titled the same. When similar types of wins/feedback come in through non-email channels, write out a quick note about them there – e.g., “On 2/3/22, Laura-the-boss told me ABC client loved xyz part of the presentation, which was my contribution. As a result, they agreed to a larger scope of work.”

Performance Review Strategy No. 2: Remind Future You to update them both

And here’s the trick to keeping these up-to-date:

As part of your weekly planning session (click here to read an article about what I recommend on that front), add in an agenda item to “Update WINS/Nice Email email folder and document.” Link the document if you can for easy access.

Often, we have grand plans to do things like the above but completely forget to do them when life picks up. Calendaring this once a week will help you maintain these documents/folders – without feeling the pressure to do so all the time. Plus, you do it when the memories are fresh, and not once a year when you can’t remember what happened last month.

If a weekly task isn’t going to work for you (i.e., you know you’ll blow right through it), consider making it more rare. Instead of making it a weekly task, protect 30 minutes once a month to update the folder/document. Sometimes, we’re more successful protecting time for and following through on the rare stuff more than the too-frequent things.

Why is tracking your wins important?

1. Obviously, it makes self-evaluation easier to write and better

Well, first of all, just assume no one at work knows what you’re up to.

Everyone is immersed in their own lives and work, and even the people assigning you work forget about it. When they’re considering you for a performance review, promotion, or raise, they likely have a very general idea of how they feel about you but don’t recall the specifics. Help them out. The more specific you can get, the more convincing you are. Help them understand and build the business case for your promotion/raise by being reminded about how incredibly valuable you are to your company/firm/practice.

How to write an awesome self-evaluation

I was told by a more experienced colleague to always answer self-eval questions with a succinct statement and then give three bulletpoint examples. Here’s an example of an answer to the question of what your strengths are (and this is adapted from one of my actual self-evals when I was an attorney – enjoy! ha)

“I enjoy crafting arguments based on law and facts to help resolve clients’ disputes and believe my ability to do so improved during this review period. The following instances are examples of how I was able to use legal analysis and writing skills to benefit clients:

  • “During DEF case with Jane and Joe Partners, my legal research helped us draft a consent judgment as part of settlement that we then used to terminate a pending patent office reexamination of our client’s patent. This allowed our client to exit both proceedings with its patent intact, in addition to resolving its dispute with ACME Co. on favorable terms.
  • “In the SRT matter with Jamila and Jim Partners, I drafted an opposition to a preliminary injunction with Alice Associate that helped limit the scope of the preliminary injunction that ultimately issued such that our client’s ability to operate commercially was not unduly hampered.
  • “For the LMNOP case with Paula Partner, I drafted letters of protest against three applied-for trademarks that would have caused a likelihood of confusion with our client’s marks. The letters were eventually accepted and led to resolution of the dispute in a manner that was favorable to our client.”

See how the details make this way more convincing than me waxing on about how great of a writer I think I am? (Again, all credit to that older associate who taught me how to write self-evals.) And do you also see how having your wins in a folder/doc would allow this process to be a whole lot easier than trying to flip back through the year to remember what you even worked on?

2. Tracking wins is huge for our confidence

Second reason why tracking wins is so useful: we could all use the occasional reminder of how awesome we are at our jobs. When work gets hard and you struggle, you’ll have an email folder and document to go to to remind yourself why you are amazing. (Don’t get me wrong – I think we should also have internal confidence and not rely on external kudos to feel good about ourselves, but I’m also a realist, and sometimes external praise in those tough times just does the trick!)

3. Confidence helps you feel confident drawing boundaries to make your workload manageable

When we have confidence at work, we’re more likely to draw and maintain boundaries to help us protect our time, energy, and lives outside of work. This win-tracking approach will help you gain that confidence and remind you of your value to your company – thereby empowering you to stand up for yourself.

Wins all around.

So, set those three things up right now, and reap the benefits for years to come. And when review time rolls around, let me know how it goes!

Kelly Nolan is an attorney-turned-time management strategist. She teaches professional working women the Bright Method, a realistic time management system designed for bright women seeking bright lives. Her method has been featured in Bloomberg Businessweek, and her work has been published in Forbes, Fast Company, Parents, and more. You can learn more about her at, follow her for practical tips at @_kellynolan_, and take her free time management mini-course here.

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