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I used to be a consultant. 13 years, in fact, were spent slogging from client to client, doing programming jobs of various sizes and lengths. Consultants are often the scapegoats of projects gone bad, and this can even lead to monetary demands. At first I took notes because I felt it was expected of me. But I soon learned that there were things I could do, every day, to protect myself from the whims of others.
As I thought about these things, I realized that they are applicable to regular employees as well, and decided to share them.
Keep Your Files Neat
If you are forced to keep things on paper, you should make an effort to keep everything neat so you can find it again. Or you can scan in paper and save it with the rest of your project notes.
If you are doing work by project, or client, or some other tangible division, keep your files that way as well. My work comes in assigned to a project number, so everything I do with that project is saved in a folder with the same name. All electronic files, research, final solutions and scanned documents are in one place.
Keep Your Emails
It is vital that you keep correspondence pertaining to your projects. Emails about decisions, pathways and even seemingly minor issues can provide you with a “paper” trail of what was going on.
It isn’t enough to archive your emails in the company-provided system. Make sure you can get to those emails, even should you have to leave the company. With Microsoft Outlook, you can drag the email out of the Outlook window and into a folder, saving it independently of the email store.
If you are concerned that your access to your files may be cut off, and you aren’t allowed to take them offsite, either print out key emails or send yourself a summary.
Always Ask For Email Confirmation
Many times things are agreed upon during conversations or meetings. To protect yourself, send an email summarizing what the outcome was and ask for an email back with confirmation. Most people are willing to do this, just to make sure that everyone understands what was decided.
Then save the email with your project files 🙂
Take Notes…And More Notes
Having detailed notes about what you are doing make it easier to come back to it later and understand where you were. This can be helpful in the following situations:
- You are pulled off to do something else and will need to come back later
- You need to do something similar in the future
- You need to know what you did on a given day
My boss likes to joke (at least I think it’s a joke) that I can find anything I have done in the past six years. I have used my notes to find out what we did in a similar situation last year (contract renewals), scripts to do the same action six months later, and also where I was on a project I got pulled off of three months ago.
How do I manage this? I actually use a personal Wiki, just because I can freely link between pages and subjects. (But even there everything is referenced by project number — see the Files section above)
Isn’t This Overkill?
It may be overkill. But I have had this bail me out on countless occasions:
- I was being deposed about a harassment situation and was able to say I wasn’t at the meeting where the incident occurred…because I was able to pull up my client time sheets and show that I wasn’t at that client site that day.
- A client routinely re-prioritized my task list, bumping Y2K stuff down. When I left the contract, three months before Y2K, they went back to my company, claiming they were owed a refund because we didn’t take care of Y2K. We were able to demonstrate that they had pushed the work off.
- A territory realignment logic for one project was reapplied successfully to another because I was able to find the documents on the source code – saving months of re-work.
So when I am asked what people can do to protect themselves in the workplace, I draw from my experience and give the above recommendations. Do you have anything to add? Share below.
Photo by John Rees