Two Habits that Changed my Career

April 10, 2017 •  design

It’s the small things that make big waves. I have two habits I’ve picked up over the years which I can attribute a large part of my productive periods to: taking notes and closing feedback loops.

Taking Notes

I was a bad student. I didn’t bring my homework home; doing it during lunches and classes to avoid lugging my textbooks around. As a result, I never picked up any good learning habits at the time I probably should have.

While this served me okay until past college, my refusal to take notes didn’t serve me so well long-term. It was fine as a Junior Designer but it became a big negative as my projects became more complex.

The weakness of this approach was further reconfirmed for me while listening to “Your Deceptive Mind: A Scientific Guide to Critical Thinking Skills” recently.[1] It turns out, no one can depend on their brain and it’s not for lack of processing power. Your brain will not remember everything in the same way you processed it. It also frequently forgets and sometimes even makes things up.

It was a hard lesson to learn but I take notes now. I have a journal system that’s pretty intense, loosely based on the Bullet Journal system.[2] I also have notes for 1:1s, meetings, and written documentation for anything I want to build.

The added benefit of taking notes is that it frees up headspace. I don’t have to memorize or worry about anything because I know it’s stored on paper when I need to retrieve it. Memory doesn’t quite work the same way.

Feedback Loops

Feedback loops let people know about things immediately which gives them an opportunity for both parties to predict errors before they happen. Feedback loops are a term typically used in system design but the same framework can be applied to working relationships.

You can see a poor feedback loop in action if one person hands off work to another and communication ceases. When you send your work to another person to implement, it’s your responsibility to follow up:

  • Is what I gave you enough to do your job well?
  • How can I test this?
  • What can I prepare for the next stage?

This concept doesn’t apply to just projects shipped but relationships in which one person is dependent on another. If someone asks you to do something, and you do it, get back to them and tell them what happened. If you do this simple thing:

  • It confirms your dependability as a teammate
  • It gives them feedback so they can figure out what to do next
  • It resolves that issue for both of you, taking up less headspace

If there’s any career advice I can give anyone, it’s to take notes and close all feedback loops.


↩︎ [1] Professor Steven Novella, Your Deceptive Mind: A Scientific Guide to Critical Thinking Skills↗︎, 07-08-13

↩︎ [2] Check out the Bullet Journal system ↗︎ but I'd advise not looking at the Instagrams about it...

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