Since I joined RevenueCat a year and a half ago, I have without fail sent a weekly email summary to my manager and my team, and I am asking all product managers in my team to do the same. It's not something I invented, and it's deceptively simple. However, this weekly ritual has many benefits that I want to talk about in the following.
At its core, the weekly email has two headings with 3-5 short bullet points each: achievements this week and priorities next week. Under the former, you list the 3-5 most important things you got done this week, under the latter, the 3-5 most important things you want to get done the following week.
Here is an example of how such an email could look like:
Achievements this week:
- Charts: Created working prototype charts for all prioritized new charts ideas
- Amazon Appstore support: Finalized launch plan
- Expiration event bug: Helped triage a nasty bug and spec out a solution that will be implemented next sprint
Priorities next week:
- Charts: Start collecting and incorporating customer feedback on prototype charts
- Amazon Appstore support: Launch!
- Next quarter planning: Kick off discussions with team to develop an initial list of potential initiatives
It's important to list achievements or outputs under both headings, not just activities. It doesn't matter that you spent two days on a product spec, but it does matter that you finalized a spec. Examples of achievements could be product launches, critical decisions made, development milestones that were hit, documents that were finalized, etc.
Writing this email every week should be simple and not take more than 5-10 minutes. However, it has many benefits. In the following, I will provide more details on some of them:
- Start the week off right
- Ensure progress on the things that matter
- Enable introspection
- Align priorities
- Make invisible work visible
- Keep a record of achievements
1. Start the week off right
The most mundane benefit of the weekly email is that it allows a much smoother start into the new week. When you write down your priorities in Friday, you can simply pick them back up on Monday and get started on making progress towards them. Without that, with the weekend in between, it can sometimes take some time to get your bearings, or the to do list on Monday can feel endless. By focusing on the 3-5 priorities for the week, though, it becomes much easier to decide where to start.
Of course, occasionally it might happen that the priorities are out of date already on Monday – something might have happened over the weekend, a fire might need fighting, or simply the information processing in the back of your mind over the weekend clarified some things that weren't so clear on Friday. That's completely fine! In these cases, it’s often obvious what to do anyway. It's the instances where that's not the case, where you have way too many things you could be working on, that having 3-5 priorities really helps break the tie.
2. Ensure progress on the things that matter
The first benefit can be extended over the course of the week. Keeping the priorities for the week visible near the rest of your to do list helps make sure that despite all disruptions and distractions that are likely to occur, you make time for the most important tasks.
Also, making these priorities explicit and communicating them to your manager establishes an elevated level of accountability for making progress on them.
As a product manager, it's easy to get distracted by all the urgent things that pop up – questions by engineers, customer escalations, stakeholder requests, etc. It can be easy to lose sight of the less urgent but important tasks, like more forward looking strategy and discovery work. Making the forward looking work an explicit priority for the week helps not lose track of it.
That's not to say that priorities can never change over the course of a week. Sometimes tasks come up that are truly more important than the priorities on the list. That's okay! The reprioritization should be deliberate, though, not accidental.
3. Enable introspection
At the end of each week, you can compare the things you wanted to get done with those you actually got done. This also allows introspection: considering how good you are at both the right amount of priority tasks and focusing on them, as well as how effective you are at shielding yourself from distractions and carving our time for the things that matter. Since the weekly rhythm allows this introspection frequently, you should get better at it quite quickly.
Of course, there are disruptions that are outside of an individual product manager’s control and more systemic in nature. The weekly email also helps surface those and can be used in discussions with leadership to propose changes to address those disruptions.
4. Align priorities
Now, let's turn to the first benefit that’s actually related to sending the email to your manager (and also, why as a manager myself, I am asking my team to send me this kind of email). Listing the top priorities for the following week is a really quick and easy way for the manager to review that the individual product manager is spending time on what the manager considers most important as well. If something that the manager considers important is missing from the list, they can simply mention it as a possible addition, and the product manager can consider it.
Now, this could sound like an invitation to micro-manage. However, I don't think that's the case. Because you are establishing your priorities first, you are putting yourself in charge, but giving your manager the ability to intervene if necessary.
5. Make invisible work visible
In addition to the forward looking alignment aspects, it also enables you to make “invisible work” visible – i.e. the kind of work that is important but your manager might not otherwise notice. In some cases, this could simply be an opportunity for your manager to recognize these achievements. In other cases, it might be an opportunity for re-alignment, if your manager doesn't agree that these tasks should have been high priority. In those cases, the weekly email again provides an opportunity to realign and course correct.
6. Keep a record of achievements
Many companies have regular but infrequent performance reviews (e.g. annual or biannual). Keeping a record of everything you have achieved every week provides a super valuable input to your and your manager’s review.
Humans have imperfect memories and are afflicted by recent bias. It can be easy to fall into the trap of only considering the most recent past when writing reviews. Having weekly notes about your achievements helps counteract that bias.
The weekly email has many benefits, but also a few pitfalls. Here are a few of them.
Listing too many priorities makes the email much less valuable. If everything is a priority, then nothing is. From my perspective, the absolute maximum number of priorities is five: it still allows to spend one day of the week (or at least as much time as isn't otherwise occupied by meetings etc.) on each of the priorities. Even better are three or four though, which still gives you some ability to account for unexpected disruptions. If in doubt, the list should be shorter rather than longer. In some weeks, the list may contain only one priority!
Another pitfall is making your descriptions too extensive. The risk for that is highest when talking about your achievements. The problem with this is that it gets harder for your manager to quickly read and digest the email (and it's more likely to not get read at all), which undermines the alignment benefits.
The last benefit is listing activities instead of outputs. Focusing on outputs makes sure that you actually produce something for your priorities. Spending time thinking about or discussing some problem is not valuable in and of itself. Focusing on tangible outcomes helps ensure that you move the process forward and don't just tread water.
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