The First 90 Days
All the self-help books I’ve read and diets I’ve followed seem to follow a common theme of “90 days.” It takes ninety days to build or break habits. People are most productive at work when they break up a project into ninety-day sprints. Employee onboarding within an organization actually takes ninety days (versus the measly four hours of orientation on your first day, like many of your fellow colleagues may think).
That said, assuming those studies are accurate, you have ninety days to land an impression with those around you—both with your direct team, as well as other members of the organization who are watching from afar. I don’t say this to alarm you. In fact, I say it to inspire a bit of challenge and excitement. You have ninety consecutive days to show up to work and consistently ask questions, produce results quickly and effectively, act humbly, and demonstrate your enthusiasm to learn from the people around you. From there, you will earn the necessary street cred to make the remainder of your first year as a full-time employee infinitely more bearable.
By the time day ninety rolls around, your manager is thinking one of two things about you:
1. Best decision of my life! [YOUR NAME] has been such a big help.
2. Oh my god. How much longer am I going to have to hold [YOUR NAME]’s hand?
You don’t want to fall into the second category. Because when you’re in the second category, everything you do (or fail to do) moving forward is going to cause you exponentially heightened amounts of stress and anxiety.
When you’re getting the vibe that your boss is not satisfied with you after your first three months of employment, dipping out to hit the gym during lunch is going to be stressful. Calling out sick (even if you truly are) is going to make you feel worse than the strep throat you may have contracted. Popping out for coffee mid-day because the shit in the café sucks, or leaving fifteen minutes early for happy hour is going to be more anxiety-inducing than your first day. All of these scenarios are commonplace for corporate employees, but if you feel like you have eyes on your back, even the smallest of slipups and slip outs will cause enormous amounts of guilt and anxiety.
You will know if your manager thinks you are incapable of delivering in your role. You will feel it; and once that impression is created, everything you do, no matter what you do, is subject to scrutiny. More than likely, any move you make will somehow manifest itself into becoming an artifact that contributes to “why things just aren’t panning out.” This is called negativity bias. Look it up.
While reversing a less-than-positive first impression is not impossible, it’s significantly easier for you and everyone else involved to start things off on a strong foot. So how do we make sure your first few months of full-time employment go over well? How do we ensure your First 90 Days kick ass, leaving you and your teammates enthusiastic about the days ahead together?
How to Kick Ass: The Basics
One of the most frustrating things I experienced during my first six months working a “big girl job” is the assumption by others that I know things I would have literally no way of knowing due to my tenure at the company. Let me elaborate by giving an example.
When you finally wrap up the first few days of slowpoke mode (aka getting software you need downloaded, creating usernames and accounts, finishing onboarding in whatever way that entails for your company, etc.), your manager and colleagues will be chomping at the bit for you to dive in and begin adding value to the team. In their eagerness, people often forget that you have never worked in this capacity with them, or really ever before in your life. So when a manager asks, “Hey so-and-so, did you already set up time with our compliance department like I mentioned for you to do three minutes ago?” your internal response will likely be something along the lines of: No, I did not set up time with the compliance department for anything. One reason for that being that I’m not a mind reader and have no clue who our compliance department is. The other reason being that this is my second day I’ve ever had a full-time job in my life, therefore I do not even know how one goes about “setting up time” in Outlook.
Your external response will likely be something along the lines of nervously sweating, apologizing quickly and asking your office neighbor how to “set up time.” Buckle up, dear reader, because situations of this nature occur to infinity and beyond throughout employment. It’s awkward when there is an assumption that you possess knowledge, skills, or task urgency that you would have no possible way of possessing. Your team will be eager for you to hit the ground running, and may at times forget that you’re running at a much slower pace than they may be used to. Don’t be scared to remind them that you’re learning and unaware of how to do even the smallest of things they’ve just asked for (like sending a calendar invite).
But in hopes to help you hit the ground running, this section details the very baseline tactical tips I wish a fairy god person had given me as a newbie in the corporate world.
If you work for a super hip organization that uses G-Suite, I apologize in advance because not all of the following content may be applicable for you. For those who will be using Microsoft Outlook: Learn it, breathe it, live it.
General Tips, Strategies, and Other Shit to Learn
To help you get started, learn the intricacies of the program sooner than later.
Organize Your Inbox by Folder
You likely will add/subtract/collapse as your role and responsibilities develop, but at the very least learn how to add folders so you are able to do so easily when the time comes. Searching for items in Outlook can be finicky, so putting in the extra effort to organize your messages by leveraging the Folders feature will save you an ample amount of time later on. Examples of types of inbox folders I have found most helpful are:
· COMMUNICATION: A catch-all folder that houses really anything sent to me by anyone outside of members of my department. This includes auto-notifications from updates made to Jira tickets, company-wide communication, etc.
· “MANAGER NAME”: Obviously, this folder’s title is my current manager’s name—but that is confidential info, my friends. The point is to have separate folders for individuals who frequently delegate you tasks and projects. It could be your direct manager, as well as any key stakeholders you frequently interact with.
· “TEAM NAME”: A similar idea as above. If you are in a position where you consistently support multiple teams, it may make sense to outline a folder for each group you serve. For instance, I currently support four different teams within my organization. Each have their own folders.
· “KEY RESPONSIBILITY”: In your role you may not support specific teams, but you may consistently perform key tasks for a wide variety of teams/departments. If this is the case, it may be helpful to give each key area of responsibility its own folder. Let’s say you are a business analyst who is responsible for managing data vendor partnerships, technical/product writing, and monthly reporting. You could create folders specific to each of the three job functions.
Never Delete an Email Ever
No seriously, never. There is this fancy little function that Outlook has called “archiving” and it will save all folders within your inbox to a drive on your computer whenever your inbox gets full. The primary reason you should literally never ever delete anything in your inbox is twofold:
1. Saving your ass from yourself.
2. Saving your ass from others.
I am sorry to break it you so early in your career, but you will not be perfect. You will be messy, get confused, make mistakes, and blatantly forget entire conversations. You’ll likely mutter “oh shit, oh shit, of shit” under your breath at least once per day, especially during your first six months of employment. Always having your previous dialogue on deck to refer back to will be crucial for you moving forward. And honestly, it can save you a lot of work if you find yourself performing repetitive or annual/quarterly tasks (copy and paste that email, baby).
Regarding saving your ass from others, I am not saying the people you work with are inherently evil. They likely will not intentionally throw you under the bus and giggle as they watch you fail. However, they too will be messy and get confused and make mistakes and blatantly forget entire conversations and mutter “oh shit, oh shit, oh shit” under their breath at least once per day. [A1] Meaning, you need to be armed and ready to reference previous threads of communication to un-drag yourself from that twelve-person email chain with the department head included.
Learn How to Archive Your Email Folders
I think the reason why is obvious now. It’s located in the “Settings” panel.
Recalling an email is slightly different than recalling a thought or memory. The function is not about remembering an email you’ve sent, rather it is about revoking it after you’ve realized, oh shit, I shouldn’t have sent that. That said, teach yourself how to do this IMMEDIATELY. Learn how to recall emails before actually needing to do it. I have never felt adrenaline quite like the rush of the oh fuck moment when you hit send and simultaneously spot a spelling error, the wrong “John” included on the thread, forgotten attachments, someone else’s name because you followed my “copy and paste” advice from above, etc. Sending an email and then noticing that it’s incorrect (or sloppy) just after hitting send is terrifying. Like, life-flashing-before-your-eyes terrifying.
I didn’t get into this habit until a few months in and wished I had used the “flag” feature since day one. It’s hard to forget to accomplish something when it is red and glaring at you every time you scroll through your inbox.
On paper, the main functions of your calendar are to schedule meetings, block out large chunks of time to accomplish “deep work,” and set reminders for yourself (and often others). However, your Outlook (or Google) calendar will soon become so much more than that. It will evolve into the guiding light of your life, comprised of key deadlines, important meetings, your grandma’s birthday, your next dentist appointment, reminders to eat something so you don’t forget and pass out at work—the list goes on. Learning how to do the basics (scheduling, etc.) before this grand evolution occurs will be important, so practice the below early on.
The rest is pretty straightforward once you learn how to schedule your first. Regardless, practice ahead of time how to create a new calendar event (which in corporate lingo can be referred to as “setting up time,” “booking time,” or “scheduling a meeting”) and boom! Instant good impression left on members of your team.
Meeting Invite Titles
This can get awkward sometimes when you don’t know how to phrase things, especially in instances such as pitching something with a leader within your organization. You can’t go wrong with generic titles such as “Sync” or “Catch-Up” or “Quick Chat” with a more detailed message in the body of the invite.
Meeting Invite Body
Always have a message in the body of a calendar invite. And make sure it is thorough. This is a non-negotiable from my point of view. Trust me, the extra five minutes it takes to send a clear and thoughtful calendar invite is well worth it. You don’t want to be known as the teammate who always puts random, wasteful, or unclear meetings on people’s calendars.
If you need to book an urgent meeting and do not have time in the moment to draft a clear, concise message within the invitation, go ahead and schedule the time with a note that says “details to follow” within the calendar invite. Just be sure to circle back and update the invite with details as promised.
Outlook provides a nifty little feature that allows you to color code different types of calendar events. I assume the purpose of this is to help individuals draw attention to very important meetings versus meetings that are simply BAU (business as usual). You can leverage this feature for your benefit in different ways. For instance, I have seen coworkers choose only one color and apply it to high-priority calendar invites, leaving everything else as the default color. This single color differentiation seems to suffice for most parties.
But if you’re like me, you’ll have a color assigned for every type of meeting that could possibly hit your calendar.
§ 1:1 meetings: Pink
§ Group meetings: Blue
§ Presentations/Deadlines: Yellow
§ Interviews: Black
§ Fun/Personal: Purple
Contrary to popular belief, my reasoning for this obnoxious, over-the-top organization is not due to having a type A personality. It is largely rooted in the fact that I am scatterbrained and this helps me understand what is on my plate for the day at a glance. And yes, also partially because I love the pretty colors. Whether you care to have your calendar look like a bag of Skittles or not, I do highly recommend having at least 1–2 colors (black or yellow stand out the most) for really important things that you do not want to overlook. Examples include key deadlines, presentations, or meetings where you are responsible for providing a deliverable.