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Fans of GTD will already be familiar with the weekly review. Weekly reviews are designed to give you uninterrupted thinking time each week. Instead of tackling the big questions of your life between coffee breaks and morning commutes, you can set aside time to do a review.

Weekly reviews are a great concept and I’ve used them faithfully for the past few years. But I’ve found just setting aside time to review isn’t enough. Without any structure for your review, these weekly sessions don’t accomplish much. Random musings of the week aren’t as useful as specific ideas for tackling the next seven days.

What Are Your Mental Bottlenecks?

A bottleneck is a term used to refer to the limiting step in a process. If you have enough fabric to make 200 shirts, but only enough buttons to make 20, the button sewing is your bottleneck. Mental bottlenecks occur when a lack of ideas or planning keep you from doing your best. Overspending because you didn’t plan out a budget or wasting work time because you didn’t organize your week are both examples of mental bottlenecks.

Weekly reviews can help you overcome mental bottlenecks. With a structured review you can prevent wasting time and energy in the week ahead.

Weekly Review Tips

Here are some ways you can upgrade your review to overcome mental bottlenecks:

  1. Time Off Review. Carve out when your downtime will be during the week. By deciding when your time off will be first, you prevent work from expanding to fill your entire week. Don’t let your energy levels get down so low that you can only function on caffeine and adrenaline. Try to pick a day where you won’t work on major projects, and move your work to morning hours instead of in the evening.
  2. Weekly To-Do. Write a list of all the tasks you want to accomplish in the next week. A weekly to-do allows you to squeeze in activities that don’t scream with urgency, but have long-term importance. Weekly to-dos also help set the pacing for your week so you can see how much work you need to split up for each day.
  3. Goal Review. Go through any written goals you have and write out what you did to work on them in the past week. Spending time to carefully review your goals each week can help you stay aligned.
  4. Optimization Review. When you use a traditional goal setting + to-do list approach, every activity becomes either a multi-month project or a short task. Weekly optimizations help you find the middle ground. Brainstorm a list of short projects that would take less than a week, but could have long-term significance. Then pick one of these short projects to work on next week.
  5. Expenses Review. Tally up all of your expenses for the past week and compare this to your monthly budget. Keeping track of your spending on a weekly basis can make for easier purchasing decisions later. If you know you’re going over the amount you wanted to spend, you’ll know to cut back on non-essentials in the following week.
  6. Habit Review. I have several habits that I do my best to run each week. Exercising, waking up early, staying organized and batching my internet usage are just a few. Reviewing these habits can help you pinpoint possible trouble spots before they start. If you’ve missed a few days from the gym, you can make a point of going next week so your habit stays conditioned. Habit reviews can also help in deciding what new habits you might like to change in the future.
  7. Learning Review. What books did you read this week? Doing a quick review of the major ideas you’ve picked up in the last week can help in two ways. First, it can help you anchor in that knowledge. Second, it can help you see how much you are learning. If you read little in the last week, you can set aside more time to read in the following week.
  8. Social Review. What social activities will you be doing in the upcoming week? A lot of social events are spontaneous, but knowing when you want to visit with friends or family can make organizing your work easier. If you know about an event ahead of time, it can help schedule your work to avoid conflicts later.
  9. Entertainment Review. Beyond just work, what fun and interesting things would you like to do next week. Boredom is usually a lack of planning. By picking out potentially interesting activities for the next week, you already have a list of things to do when you get some free time.
  10. Dietary Review. Track everything you eat for a week. Measuring everything is a lot of work to do all the time. But occasionally doing a weekly dietary review can help you see exactly what you’re eating. It’s easy to delude yourself that you are “mostly healthy”, until you track the numbers and see a lot of junk.
  11. Character Review. What did you do last week that went outside your comfort zone? If you keep drawing blanks to that question week after week, you’re stagnating. Decide to do something that will make you uncomfortable next week.
  12. Productivity Review. What system of lists, calendars and schedulers are you using? Going over your productivity system can help you find holes where information is slipping out. A regular review can also point out places where you are keeping lists and folders that go unused. Reviewing your system keeps your life simple and stress-free.

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