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I have had my current job for two weeks and it is an internship at a software company that makes financial products. It is an excellent workplace with smart people and a good atmosphere. I got the job after finishing my third year of software engineering and it is fixed-term, summer job. I work with some other interns on a relatively tedious task involving documentation. There is more exciting development work to be done after that.

So here's the problem: I am a bad worker and I know it. The other interns are much faster at the work than I am. My manager has noticed their output (which is measurable by the number of modules documented) is twice mine. I noticed that I get stressed when I realise I am under-performing and when stressed I under-perform! I also get lost easily and often don't know what is "going on". For example one of the senior developers explained a task that needed to be done and I happily agreed to do it but when I got to my desk my mind was blank and I forgot the important points of what he said. I find it hard to take initiative and do work independently because I'm not confident.

As a result of these setbacks my self-esteem has been shaken. I am glad that I am aware of these problems. They have made me feel stupid but I know I am not, and I can do better. What are some ways I can be way more organised at work and be more focused as well as more efficient at my work?

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    Are you writing things down when you are told to do something or how to do it? – Sigal Shaharabani Nov 28 '14 at 21:11
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    No I am not, whenever I have gone to see a senior dev or a manager I have forgotten to take a notepad. I think I'll use a dedicated notebook for this from now one. – YardGlassOfCode Nov 28 '14 at 21:16
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    don't get stressed,a part of internship is to learn how to organize yourself at your future workplace. – ColoredRanger Nov 28 '14 at 22:16
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    @YardGlassOfCode even if you're not with your notepad, ask for a piece of paper and write things down – Sigal Shaharabani Dec 1 '14 at 12:39
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    I congratulate you on recognizing that there is room for improvement and being proactive. When I used to teach, I noticed my A students worried about every missed answer and my C students couldn't care less. Shouldn't that be reversed? Then I realized: I had cause & effect reversed: They ALL started as C students, but the students who wanted to improve got better. What you need to do is DEBUG your WORK-METHOD. Identify the BUG (like "can't remember stuff") and try a fix. Test. Repeat. Move on to the next one. Best of luck! – Clay Nichols Dec 4 '14 at 21:55
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There are several things you need to do.

First, own your problems. If you don't know how to do something, or can't remember what you were told to do, you have to go to the person involved and admit this. It's embarrassing, but there's no alternative. You have to say something like "I know you just explained all this, but I have forgotten. I'm sorry." Don't ask someone else or try to look it up online or anything like that.

Second, find your crutches and use them. Many people write everything in a notebook. It's not for ten years from now, it's for ten minutes from now. Use a different colour every day, use stickers in it, whatever you need to do to help you keep track of what you were told and what you need to do. Maybe you need One Note or some other online tool, though paper is easier to take to someone else's desk. There are tons of apps to help you track your todos and your progress and keep you focused and the like.

Third, find a way to lower your stress levels. Mindfulness, meditation, more sleep, giving yourself a pep talk that you're working on your weaknesses, whatever it is, find it, so that you don't spiral down to worse and worse productivity.

Fourth, measure. They're doing how many modules a week? And you are doing how many? Observe yourself. Are you getting better? Are your techniques working?

Fifth, ask and observe. Do you hand type everything while they copy and paste? Are your modules longer? Better? Is this just about your getting lost on a task, or are there simple techniques specific to this work they can teach you? Try asking them, perhaps over a lunch you pay for, for some advice with the specific task of documenting modules. As your peers they should be happy to help.

Sixth, try doing things that you believe need confidence (such as taking initiative and working independently) even though you don't have confidence. This strategy is sometimes called fake-it-till-you-make-it and in many cases it works very well. It can fail spectacularly though, so start with small steps not with giant rewrites or rearrangements of your priorities.

Seventh, understand that everyone is different. Techniques, tools, books, and tutorials that work for some people may not work for you. Don't feel bad in that case, just keep looking. For example you can find any number of people who swear the secret to being organized is a clean desk - mine is a total disaster to most eyes, yet I am the most organized person I know and one of the most productive. Find what works for you.

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    Thank you, I think general common sense advice like this can really help me. Using a notebook is my first change I am going to make since losing information is one major problem. You're so right that techniques, tips, tools etc. do not work for everyone so I think I'll integrate the advice that I know will work for me me into an improvement plan. – YardGlassOfCode Nov 28 '14 at 21:26
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    I definitely agree with your first point. If you forgotten what you've been asked to do or don't understand - ask again. When I was first starting out this was a VERY difficult thing for me to do, but with time and experience you realise that you're only human and others realise that too. Combine this with the other advise given here and you probably won't have to go back and ask again all that often. – pi31415 Nov 28 '14 at 22:42
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We all have weaknesses. You need to identify yours and work out ways to manage them effectively, ideally by turning them into strengths and if the ideal is not achievable, by mitigating their impact. Don't fight your limitations. Instead, recognize them, respect them, and work with them. Your limitations are not your enemy, they are your friend.

  1. If you have short-term memory issues as I do, one way to mitigate their impact is by putting it down in writing. If I have to meet someone for an extended meeting, I ask him to email me what the meeting is about and what he intends to discuss during the meeting. Taking active participation in the meeting, even by asking a series of seemingly obvious questions, makes it much easier for me to internalize the contents of the meeting and to remember what's important from what's not so important. If you passively listen while the other party is droning on and on for 45 minutes straight, you're probably doomed because he just lost you within the first three minutes.

  2. Iterate your efforts. If it can be done, quickly come up with a first draft of your doc and run that first draft by those who assigned the task to you with an instruction to them to check that you didn't miss anything major. Then iterate a second draft. Nothing is perfect the first time around, so I settle for a first draft where I didn't miss anything important. The biggest cause of time wasted is work done for nothing because there was miscommunication.

  3. Don't play any guessing games if you can go straight to the source and ask for clarifications. A few minutes' worth of clarifications may save you hours if not days of effort.

  4. Do the job well but don't put in more time and effort into doing a better job when the investment in extra time and effort will result in a marginal improvement.

  5. The most effective way to do the work optimally is not to spend time and energy on work that does NOT need to be done.

  6. Get into the habit of budgeting time for your tasks. The idea is to find which parts of the tasks are the most time consuming. Then bend your energies on finding ways to do the tasks more efficiently. If you have done some part of the task on some other project, don't reinvent the wheel. If you determine that not doing this task will have a marginal impact on the quality of the work, don't do it. If simplifying your task will not impact the quality of the work, then simplify.

These above are just guidelines - You need to do the heavy lifting of working with the specifics. I am as a lazy bum: if I have to deal with any task that involves significant amount of time, I will get indignant and ask myself "How do I get the job done with the least amount of work?" And because I constantly asked that question, I would usually - not always - come up with a disruptive answer :) You are at the stage where you need to ask yourself this question. Because you don't get answers for questions you don't ask :)

On the subject of confidence: I got rid of my confidence issues when I stopped caring about failure. Because when I stopped caring about it, I also stopped worrying about it. When I was an undergrad in engineering school, I once asked a fellow student about an assignment he was supposed to have done over the weekend. He answered "I didn't do it but I worried about it" I smiled knowingly, and he smiled - with a grimace :)

  • Thank you for the rough guide. Yeah I know I have to implement this advice myself and I'm putting everything I get here into a personal plan, as I said in another post. – YardGlassOfCode Nov 28 '14 at 23:57
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    @YardGlassOfCode Get used to systematically thinking, when someone asks you to do something, not just about what to do but how to do it. And IN PARTICULAR, how to do it with the least amount of work. If all you think about is what to do, then your approach is not likely to be optimal. And it's not likely to be optimal because you are not putting a value on your time and effort. – Vietnhi Phuvan Nov 29 '14 at 0:08
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You may be on the wrong side of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Psychologically, individuals who are truly incompetent are too incompetent to notice this and are totally convinced that everything they do is correct. People who are slightly below average, at average, or slightly above, know that they have faults, and somehow assume that others don't have these faults, and believe themselves to be not very competent. Only when you look at truly outstanding people you will find the same level of confidence as with the truly incompetent.

Since you believe that you are disorganised and inefficient, you can't be doing too bad :-)

An important thing to do is to find out how you learn. Different people learn in different ways. Myself, I have to write down things. Once I write them down, I know them. (I don't actually use these notes that I write down, the act of writing them down is what makes things stick in my mind). Others learn by listening, still others learn by doing.

Use tools. Take a notebook with you at all times. Your phone probably has a voice recorder or even a video recorder. If I had to explain something to you, most likely I wouldn't mind it being recorded. If things are written on a whiteboard, take a photo.

Vietnhi's point about not worrying is absolutely right. Worrying doesn't help you in any way, it just undermines your mind's capability of doing things right. If you think you miss a deadline by five days and worry about it, you'll miss it by ten days. If you tell your boss, he has to worry about it, possibly can make adjustments, and because you don't worry you might be late by three days only. Which is a huge improvement.

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    The wrong side of the Dunning Kruger effect is called imposter syndrome ;) – Journeyman Geek Dec 2 '14 at 22:37
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I somewhat similar to you.

I'm slow. I wouldn't say I can do much to it but I constantly monitor myself and my behavior.

What I have found so far:

It's extremely critical for me to sleep >= 8 hours. Without good sleeping my performance degrades almost completeley.

Overworking initially helps but then accumulated fatigue wins. And usually it interferes with the previous point: brains become stuck and excited at the same time.

Don't seat all the time: have walks, do some excercises. (WorkRave and mosti.com can help you with it.)

I'm very intolerable to context switch: it takes quite long for me to transit into flow state. So I perform better having less and larger tasks than more but smaller. Here by 'task' I mean some activity which does not require context switching. Pomodoro with its short breaks does not contradict to this statement as it creates a repeating pattern.

You have told nothing about quality vs speed. This is a very important metric and different people have their own comfortable point on the curve.

Do you find your task interesting? I've noticed how boredom affects not only my mind but the body as well.

Perfectionism. There is a joke: "The site of Perfectionism community is still under construction." Competence on one side can result in so many questions appearing inside your mind that you short term memory overloads at a glance when you try to interconnect everything.
Try to approach the task from the far. Come and ask some very common information (stop them if they give you much details). Work with new knowledge then try to retell it to someone or even to rubber duck. You'll definitely have some questions, try to unswer them by guessing or logical reasoning. After doing that repeat everything lowering one level deeper.
Yes, it distracts other person and yes it can be more painful for him because it happens several times. Nonetheless there hardly will be repeteations when he tells the story.

Find the way to put yourself under stress. There is always an optimal level of it yielding better performance than not heaving stress at all.

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