Creating and Using a Plain Text Recap File


If you work in the software world, you’re probably familiar with Scrum. If you aren’t and are curious, feel free to follow the link in the last sentence. Otherwise, keep reading.

One aspect of scrum is its workflow. And one aspect of that workflow that you can apply to your work and to your life is the retrospective. Yes, the retrospective does exactly what it says on the tin.

How can you bring a retrospective into your work and life? Using what I call a recap file. Let’s take a look at how to create one in plain text.

A Little More About the Recap

A recap is a look back. At your week. At the last month. At a project or a stage of a project you’ve just wrapped up. It can look at:

  • What you did
  • What you didn’t or weren’t able to do
  • What went right
  • What went wrong
  • Ideas for improvement

The goal of a recap isn’t to bludgeon yourself with your failures, but rather to improve the way in which you do things. To find ways to be more efficient. To avoid mistakes. But it’s also an opportunity for your to pat yourself back on a job well done.

Structuring Your Recap File

You don’t need anything fancy. All you need is a text file (what a surprise there!). However, I do like to add a bit of structure to my recap files.

At the top of the file is a header, which looks something like this:

----
Week Ending: 2019-11-15
Project(s): Project Crimson
Type of Recap: Personal Work
----

Your header will undoubtedly look different from that.

Next, add some headings. You can format the headings with a markup language (like Markdown) or just make them all caps so the headings stand out. A few paragraphs ago, you might have noticed a list of the types of things that a recap file covers. Use the items in your list as the basis for the headings in your recap file.

Once you have that set up, start writing. Don’t go all stream of consciousness or write a long essay. Focus on key points, key victories, and key problems. Write in short, concise, declarative sentence. Or, use bullet points to capture the key bits of information.

Here’s a sample of one of my recap files:

An example of a recap file

It’s simple, but it does the job.

Single or Multiple Files?

That is the question, isn’t it? It’s up to you. Your choice depends on how you work.

When I create a recap file, it’s either for a week or for a particular project I’m working on. My preference is to use multiple files — one per week or per phase of a project.

On the other hand, I realize that some people prefer to use a monolithic file or a set of monolithic files. That works well if you’re doing weekly recaps and need to keep the recaps for a month in one location.

Templates

As usual, I have you covered. You don’t need to create a recap file. You can use the single weekly recap and monthly recap (divided into four week segments) file templates I’ve cobbled together. Feel free to download and use or modify them. I’ve released these templates under a CC0 public domain license that lets you do anything you want with the files.

Final Thoughts

A recap file can be a solid tool to help you not only improve the way you do your work, but also for you to reflect on what has gone right and what you’ve done well. Don’t use a recap file as an instrument of self flagellation, though. Don’t stress or obsess about it. Instead, use a recap file to nudge yourself forward. You never know what you’ll learn about yourself and how you work.