Memory fades. Recent research indicates that the process begins much earlier than we might think. Given this and the lying-for-the-larger-good perspective prevalent in most highly and pathologically political organizations, to protect yourself and your career advancement start keeping a record of important conversations.
The value of this approach is only realized when what you were told becomes what you thought you heard. As I’ve discussed before, especially for women, criteria for advancement tend to shift. A particular project may be described as the “key to your future” at one point in time and “not all that important” at another. If you only vaguely remember what was said to you when you took the project on, you lose.
Journals take time. That’s why so many of us don’t bother. I’m suggesting a few minutes every other night. That’s all it takes. Once a week is better than nothing. If you’re not up to the task now or don’t sense the necessity for it, another option is to use a journal at those times when you notice something is amiss. Are bosses asking for one thing but rewarding another? Are people you respect being edged out? Were you recently told something that doesn’t match with what you’d been told before?
If you work in a highly political organization, waiting for such warning signs may be too little too late. Start keeping notes now. No need to write down everything. You’ll want the where, when, by whom and the circumstances surrounding the advice or instruction. You may never use the record. But it will come in handy when something you spent long hours doing is suddenly diminished in value or when a promise made to you is no longer remembered by the person who made it.
Knowing when and how to use your journal is worthy of another blog, if not a book. If for no other reason, when performance appraisal time comes around you won’t be scrambling to remember what you’ve done well and why you took those projects on. You’ll remember, with persuasive conviction, what was said and promises made.
Trust me. It’s time to start keeping notes.