Streamline Your Workflow: How A Personal User Manual Can Improve Collaboration

Streamline Your Workflow: How A Personal User Manual Can Improve Collaboration

Collaboration is an essential component for enhanced thinking.

We learn from others by engaging in an open, honest and vulnerable manner. We can also learn with others by actively listening to their input, respecting their ideas and allowing ours to be challenged. So we cannot ignore the importance of collaboration in our process of thinking, decision making and sensemaking.

Collaboration supports all manner of processes including team meetings, strategic planning, interactive learning to name but a few. But collaboration requires a good deal of self-awareness and knowledge of our collaborators. In addition, to be most effective, it requires openness, honesty and being prepared to be vulnerable. Such an environment creates personal growth for everyone involved.

That’s where Personal User Manuals enter in the scenario.

Personal User Manuals are short documents that communicate to yourself and others many of your traits and preferences. They contain how you tend to communicate and how you like to receive feedback. Needless to say, if you are going to use this technique to maximum advantage, your Personal User Manual needs to be completely honest if you expect others to become truly effective collaborators.

In this article we will explore the benefits of having a Personal User Manual and how to create one.

Benefits of a Personal User Manual

1. Tells People Who You Are and Saves Time

A well thought out Personal User Manual can inform people about who you are and how you operate. We tend to treat others as we like to be treated, but often this is not the way others like to be treated. It is just our default position because we don’t know any better. A Personal User Manual can provide others with a window to who you are and help them communicate with you.

2. Be Prepared for Vulnerability

Detailing your preferences can provide you with great personal insight, which, if documented correctly, can create vulnerability. Such openness is a refreshing change from the faces and walls we erect to protect our inner selves. Being vulnerable can lead to greater understanding and closer relationships, but requires courage on your part. Courage is a quality to be encouraged.

3. Particular Useful in Online Situations

We seem to deal less and less with people in real life. When working in an online situation, our interactions are specific. We don’t get to engage in the coffee room or Friday night drinks where personalities are more visible. A user manual can help break these situations down and create talking points for people. It’s almost like a “get to know me better” invitation.

How To Create Your Personal User Manual in Obsidian

  1. If you use a Personal Knowledge Management System like Obsidian, you can set your Personal User Manual up like a Map of Content (MOC). It becomes your master document. Add your headings in here and some brief instructions of insights and then create notes linking back to this MOC note. Working in this way will avoid a really long single note and provide focus in each area with a specific note.
  2. Another way you can use Obsidian is with a Canvas and include all your notes above the Canvas. This will create a visual representation of your Personal User Manual.
  3. If you prefer a short and sharp Personal User Manual, you could use a slide presentation. Although this might be useful to present to others, it won’t afford you the deep dive into the various headings that making notes will. Here is a link to a slide template you can use based on the Atlassian slides.
  4. You can also create slides in your Obsidian vault using the Advanced Slides Community plugin.

Creating Your User Manual

The content of the manual should be broken up into well-considered headings. Share what you feel comfortable with sharing and take comfort in the fact that you can edit, add and subtract from your Personal User Manual at any time. It should, in fact, be a dynamic document that is always a work in progress.

1. Introduction

Write an introduction to the user manual to explain its purpose to people. Explain why you have taken the time to prepare it, an overview of the contents and even an invitation to engage in discussions about the content.

2. Share a Fun Fact

Share something light and interesting about yourself to set the tone of your personal user manual. Can you think of something that would surprise people about you and initiate a conversation perhaps?

3. My Preferred Work Hours

We all operate best at different times of the day. Some people are better in the morning and others in the afternoon or evening. When do you perform at your best? Do you have better times for creativity and meetings? Provide people with the information that will allow them to interact with you for maximum results.

4. My Core Values

Personal values are important and tell others a lot about what is always critically important to you. Selecting four core values that rise above all others signifies quite clearly the areas where you probably don’t compromise and can convey a lot about interacting with you. For example, if authenticity is one of your core values, people can expect a very direct, no holds barred communication style. You can do a free core value survey at the Personal Values Assessment website.

5. My Personality Type

There are several personality type assessments online. We are all different and some personality styles work well together while others clash. Disclosing your style up front can be useful to others to gain greater insight into how you operate. There is no right or wrong personality style, it is just who we are.

Here are some links where you can do a free test:

6. What Energises Me?

What sort of work do you enjoy the most? Are you a creative who loves to come up with big ideas or are you better at the details? This can be both at work and at play. Disclosing the sort of activities that you respond to best helps others call on those talents and activities you enjoy the most. This is where you do your best work, so create the opportunities to become involved where you love to be.

7. What Drains Me?

Motivation equals production and interest.

What are the things that have the opposite impact on you? Do you switch off in long meetings? What sort of impact does stress have on you? Do you find small talk frustrating and like to get to the point? What are the things that reduce your motivation levels and cause you to lose interest?

8. I Have a Superpower

What is your superpower? What is it you have that is different and can make a difference?

In Tim Duggan’s book “Cult Status”, he talks about developing and refining your superpower. We all have one, and it is just a matter of identifying it. Let people know in this section what you believe your superpower to be, as this is the point where you will have maximum impact.

9. My Feedback Preferences

There will always be times when people will need to communicate feedback to you.

How you like to receive feedback is crucial to how it will be received and implemented. Do you need examples of what people are referring to with feedback? Do you like direct feedback without a dance around the venue with flowery words and terms? Do you prefer immediate feedback? Providing this information will give others the structure you prefer so you can achieve maximum improvement.

10. Where I Am Most Misunderstood

Others can often misunderstand our motivations, so it is worthwhile sharing these things.

For example, do you believe in calling out conflict early rather than letting it get to a stage where it becomes really emotional? Many people avoid conflict and could see your willingness as a confrontational approach.

Do you speak your mind and hurt people as a result although that is not your intention? Let people know this is how you communicate and there is never an intention to hurt.

11. How I Like To Learn

People enjoy learning in different ways.

Do you prefer written instructions or would you prefer a video? Do you like to be shown how to do something and then practice it under guidance to hone the skill?

12. Where I Can Struggle

What annoys you the most?

You are being vulnerable here, but if others are to avoid annoying you, they will need to know what not to do. Be open and honest and review this area deeply. Not only will it help others, but it will also provide interesting insights into your own self.

13. Closing Fun Fact or Favourite Quote

End the deep dive into who you are with another interesting fun fact about yourself. Alternatively, include a favourite quote and what it means to you.


Now that you have created your living Personal User Manual, the next step is to share it. Initially, it may be a good idea to share it with trusted confidantes and seek their feedback. When writing about ourselves, it is often easy to leave things out because we already know them. Others, however will have noticed it and there may be things you need to add to your Personal User Manual.

To ensure your Personal User Manual is up to date, keep a diary for some time and make sure to spend some time going through the various sections of it. You will find the manual is as much help to yourself as it will be to others. It is also worth recording your personal reactions and those of others for future reflection.

This article was originally published in Ric Raftis' Personal Website


Ric Raftis is semi-retired after a lifetime in finance, accounting and web development, currently completing an MBA for his love of learning. He identifies as a neurodivergent philomath who is passionate about knowledge management practice, artificial intelligence and helping small community organisations and non-profits. You can learn more about Ric's ideas at

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