How to Write Your Own User Manual

If it works for C-suite execs, it might also come in handy at home, especially right now

Melody Warnick
Forge
Published in
5 min readMar 25, 2020

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A couple sits on a couch in front of a laptop while one person writes in their notebook.
Photo: chee gin tan/E+/Getty Images

By day three of our family quarantine, I was dangerously close to turning into a Gremlin.

In Gremlins, the 1984 comedy-horror masterpiece that Gen Xers like me watched through our fingers at childhood sleepovers, three simple rules keep the adorable creatures known as Mogwais from morphing into their evil alter egos, the Gremlins. Those rules were:

  1. Don’t expose them to bright lights.
  2. Don’t let them get wet.
  3. Don’t feed them after midnight.

I don’t want to spoil the movie for you, but just know that when people don’t follow the ownership guidelines, stuff goes south fast.

About 36 years later, I’m feeling a lot like the Mogwai. We’re all the Mogwai. Like it or not, most of us have a short list of instructions for our care and feeding, strict adherence to which keeps us from turning into monsters.

The problem is, the people around us don’t always know our rules. Half the time, we don’t know our own rules.

But what if we could write a document that would lay out the rules, for ourselves and others? A personal user manual of sorts?

The idea of human user manuals has already gained some traction in business circles. In a 2013 New York Times article, Ivar Kroghrud, the CEO of QuestBack, described writing a one-page user manual for his colleagues, “so people can understand how to work with me.”

Since then, the DIY user manual has become a C-suite communication exercise. LeadX CEO Kevin Kruse posted the short manual he created, complete with his CliftonStrengths test results. Abby Falik, the CEO of Global Citizen Year, described her user manual as “an important communication tool for my team, and a learning process for me.”

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Melody Warnick
Forge
Writer for

Author of ThIs Is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live (Viking, June 2016). http://amzn.to/1Qyp5Jb