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productivity

Personal User Manual: Help others understand how to work with you

Help your coworkers understand how to work with you by creating your own user manual.


A personal user manual can help shorten the learning curve of your work style by making explicit things that might otherwise take months, or even years, to uncover.

Adam Grant, a leader in organizational development and positive psychology, has discussed how they have found value in creating a personal user manual to share with their work teams to help improve how teams can work with them as leaders, and vice versa.

By creating a personal user manual you help teams work better together by understanding the strengths, weaknesses, habits, do’s and don’ts, of their teammates and organizational leaders. 

But it’s not just for your work life.

There is also another goal of this that is more underlying, and it entails having to spend time on self-reflection and introspection to create the personal user manual. You can also create a similar version for your personal life to share with friends, family, and your partner.

Check out this great read by Abby Falik for more information and ideas for how to go about creating your own user manual. 

Here is Abby’s example of her user manual:
My Style
  • I’ve been hard-wired as an entrepreneur since I was a kid.  
  • I hover in ambiguity and possibility, and am most energized when I’m connecting dots/people/resources that translate challenges into opportunities. I am always scanning for information to feed ideas in my mind, and typically do my best thinking out loud.
  • My high expectations are matched by my commitment to support people in meeting them. I believe in giving people freedom, flexibility and “stretch” assignments, and equipping them with the tools they need to uncover and develop their potential. 
  • I’m determined to prevent my attention from being hijacked by technology. I never open my computer until I’ve written my quick list of what I intend to do; I hide my inbox to help me focus, and I’ve tried to take control of my phone by removing everything that’s not a “tool” from my home screen. 
What I Value
  • I value resourcefulness and proactivity.  Be smart, move fast and pivot quickly. Ask forgiveness rather than permission. 
  • I’m obsessed with efficiency: I touch each email only once (respond, delete, delegate, or delay), and live by the law of 80/20 – often prioritizing promptness (ie. 24-hour rule in following up on a meeting) over perfection. I start each day by “eating my frog” when my energy and attention are fresh.
  • I expect my teammates to value efficiency as well. Before doing something “the way it’s always been done,” scan for an easier, cheaper, simpler way to maximize your “return on effort”. Before starting something from scratch, ask if it’s already been tried.  
  • I value scrappiness and feel an obligation to our staff, Fellows, partners and donors to focus our limited time and resources on the “real good” vs. the “feel good”. 
  • I believe work-life alignment matters more than work-life balance, and that strategic self-care – whether sleeping enough, leaving work early to exercise, meditate, or spend time in nature – is the key ingredient to becoming our best, most productive and happy selves. I am religious about spending time unplugged – a day a week, and a few weeks a year. 
What I don’t have patience for
  • If you make a mistake or something is heading off the rails, tell me before the crash. Failure is great (as long as you learn quickly); surprises are not. 
  • I get antsy with hypothetical musings and over-analysis. I learn best through experience and experimentation and have a strong bias toward action.
  • I default to trust, but if my confidence is shaken, it’s hard to rebuild. Ways to lose my trust: not following through, withholding important information, avoiding hard conversations, or treating others with disrespect.
  • I am turned off by entitlement, boredom and taking things for granted – it’s a privilege to do what we do, and it’s our joyful responsibility to take our work seriously, but not ourselves!
How best to communicate with me
  • Be crisp.  Start with the headlines. I prefer bullet points to prose, and .PPT to .DOC.
  • I love to solve problems, remove barriers and help others move the ball forward.  Come to me not just with problems, but with plausible solutions and your recommended course of action. 
  • I value authenticity, honesty and transparency. If I say something you disagree with, tell me. I am hungry to be challenged in thoughtful and constructive ways. I respect people who have the right blend of confidence and humility to know when to question someone (even the boss!), and when to defer to another’s expertise. 
How to help me
  • I move quickly and don’t always catch every detail (except when it comes to our brand and communications where I’m a painstaking perfectionist).  I appreciate help making sure the details are covered, and flagging for me any that need my attention. 
  • Nudge me when it’s time to start or end a meeting – but have (some) patience with my flexible approach to time.
  • Tell me what I need to know, not what you think I want to hear. 
What people misunderstand about me
  • I am an introvert, posing as a professional extrovert.  Don’t confuse my tendency to work alone in my office with being disengaged.  My door’s always open. 
  • I speak with conviction, but I’m not set in my thinking. I’m open-minded and always delighted to be shown a better way.  I make decisions quickly, but if you give me reasoning or data that points in another direction, I’ll happily change course. 

So, what will you write in your user manual?

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