record keeping — fun, right? But: it can really help you cover your butt at work when you need to. So how DO do you organize, file, and otherwise keep track of your meeting notes, emails, and phone calls? Today’s guest post brings you some exceptional recommendations from Belle of Capitol hill Style — CHS on CYA, so to speak. thanks to Belle for passing along these ideas (and welcome back to the blog)!
Working in politics taught me a number of useful lessons, the most crucial of which was how to keep exceptional records. I save emails, letters, memos, and meeting notes because you never know when you’re going to need a paper trail. So when Kat asked me to write a post detailing how to cover your ass at work, I was delighted to oblige.
Let’s start with the foundation of CYA, keeping good records:
Meeting notes I have over 30 small, spiral-bound notebooks that span my entire career. On the outside they are labeled for job and date, e.g. “Congress. may ’07- Oct. ’07.” On the inside, you’ll find my meeting notes for every appointment labeled with the names of all attendees, their affiliation, and the details of our conversation.
These notes are a record of what was said, what was promised, and what the outcome of the meeting was. keeping accurate notes will help clear up miscommunications and help you freshen your memory before your next meeting with those same people no matter how much time has passed in the interim.
Emails In our digital age, having an organized inbox is crucial to your success as a professional. first off, you don’t want to lose something that you might need later or misplace an crucial correspondence. Secondly, you never know when your commitment to keeping good records will save your hide.
During a re-election campaign, the governor of my state came out in strong opposition to a bill my boss was supporting. imagine the governor’s surprise when one of my co-workers reached into her inbox and pulled out a four-year-old letter, signed by him, expressing his unfailing support for a previous version of the bill he now opposed. The email took us off of the defensive, and put him on it.
So how must you organize your emails? There’s no one way to collate your inbox, but I like to organize mine by year (2014), then by issue (veterans’ affairs), then by group (National Guard). If I’m doing crucial work on one bill or one issue, then it gets its own folder. I also like to color-code crucial emails in blue, emails with crucial attachments in green, and emails that are contentious or from someone who opposes our position in red.
Unlike emails, phone calls have a murky paper trail. This can be a good thing or a bad thing. So I keep an open Word doc on my computer titled “Important Calls.” like my meeting notes, it details who I spoke with, when we talked, what we discussed, and what we resolved. It’s helpful to have when your boss asks for an accurate rundown of your conversation.
Avoiding a Paper Trail
Keeping good records is critical. It can help you resolve disputes, freshen your memory about past discussions, and keep your to-do list on track. but what about those times when you don’t want a paper trail?
Taking a conversation out of the digital realm is needed when information needs to be shared off the record, apologies need to be made, or when you need to make sure that what you’re about to say can’t be passed around with a basic click of the forward button.
Basically, if you’re anxious that what you’re about to write could be used against you, end up in the wrong hands, or harm the project you’re working on, do. not. put. it. in. writing. use your best judgment, and when in doubt choose to dial, instead of type.
Phone calls vs. emails
But what if you want a conversation on the record and the person you’re talking to calls you on the phone? Let’s say you’re trying to lock down support for an crucial piece of legislation from a staffer whose boss is less than trustworthy. The staffer is delighted to tell you on the phone that his boss is on board, but you need something a lot more concrete. You need the paper trail. enter the follow-up email:
“Dear John, thank you so much for taking the time to call me about Rep. Smith’s support of H.R 529. My boss will be so pleased to know that Rep. Smith is on board. His yay vote will be such a strong show of his commitment to this issue. thank you again for all your hard work on this matter, Sincerely, Belle.”
Sure, he can claim he never said that. He can deny that he ever promised you anything, but you have a date and time-stamped record of your side of the story.
Use phone calls and follow-up emails with caution. often taking to the phones can make an innocuous conversation seem covertnull