Personal User Manuals

— 5 minute read

What’s a personal user manual? permalink

A personal user manual (PUM) is a document that allows you to explicitly communicate how you best work, who you are as a human being and provide others advice, ideas and a framework to best interact with you.

We often (incorrectly) assume how others work which leads to wasted time, energy, and negative emotions.

We learn about one another’s likes, dislikes, and unique ranges of human experiences through trial and error over a long period of time. A personal user manual is a shortcut to a deeper understanding of one another in our own words which allows us to communicate and collaborate in a much more effective, efficient, and enjoyable way!

A screenshot of a segment of Aidan's personal user manual talking about preferred working conditions
Surrounded by post-it notes and wall space with space to move around is when I'm at my best

My 1 paragraph user manual permalink

"Aidan is at his best when people give him direction and a goal rather than a set of instructions. He gets easily distracted so is happy for people to send multiple reminders/requests of how things are going. He likes feedback to be direct and not sugar coated. He’s not great at planning/writing things far in advance but performs exceptionally well under pressure. Aidan is comfortable talking about mental health/how you’re feeling. The best way to get in touch with him is via email at..."

I decided to write my user manuals in 3rd person as it helped me to think how to interact with me from an outside perspective. Also I got bored of writing "I" so many times :)

Fun fact: my original text-based PUM is 7 pages long (This is probably too much but I got excited writing it and couldn't stop!)

Why personal user manuals are important permalink

We can’t read each other's minds. My idea of fun probably isn't the same as yours! I have no idea what time you work, what your preferred communication platform is, any other commitments you have, what your likes/dislikes are, what your strengths/weaknesses are, how you best work, what type of feedback you like etc.

Some people like to analyse before talking, others (like me) sometimes blurt out the first idea that pops into their heads. Understanding this allows us to create an environment where everyone’s ideas can be shared. Communication is the key to effective personal and work relationships and this acts as a great tool to facilitate those conversations!

You can essentially skip past months/years of trial and error. Rather than making assumptions about how people best work, we can simply ask instead!

Think of it like an extended FAQ for people! :)

A screenshot of a segment of Aidan's personal user manual
Other reasons for a lack of reply: Eating snacks, Unsure how to reply so waiting until future Aidan thinks of words, Staring out the window at a cool bird

How to make a personal user manual permalink

Open up a text editor, grab a template from below, and start writing! :)

I'd encourage you to spend just 5 minutes with a template or blank doc and just start writing. I spent ages overthinking things but as soon as you start writing you'll find that words start flowing. Even if you don't feel comfortable sharing it with others just yet they're a really powerful form of developing self-awareness on their own! By thinking about how others perceive us we can learn some really interesting things about ourselves too. Asking others for their perspectives helps to cover our blind spots and again, helps us to find out more about ourselves!

If you learn by example, or are just curious of how best to interact with me, check my manual out here: Aidan's Personal User Manual. Thanks to Atlassian for their excellent template!

Encouraging one or two people in your team(s) to spend 5 minutes putting something together and sharing can help to create a more open, healthier, and happier team :)

Thanks for reading if you've got this far! This article is still a work in progress, feel free to create an issue on GitHub or email me if you think anything needs changing!

Have a great day, Aidan :)