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How to Improve Your Relationship with a Weekly Review

How to Improve Your Relationship with a Weekly Review
How to Improve Your Relationship with a Weekly Review

One of the big complaints that people trying to get themselves more organized and productive have is that no matter how on-the-ball they get, their family still throws them curve balls. While it’s clearly insane to expect a 6-year-old to start worrying about todo lists and ubiquitous capture, I think at least part of the problem lies with our attitudes and expectations about our home life. Home is supposed to be a respite, a sanctuary from the pressures of work and public life, and I think that makes us a little hesitant to apply some of the principles at home that we know work for us in our professional lives.

One thing we can easily apply to our home life is the weekly review. The idea was planted in my head by a comment Jonathan Fields made when I interviewed him on Lifehack Live. I had asked him how he takes care of his relationship with his wife, who he works with both as a business partner and as an employee of a major client. Jonathan suggested something like a weekly review, a regular meeting with his wife to go over their plans and processes and see what needed work. A comment made by David Allen in some material I received from DavidCo (which I’ll be reviewing in greater depth here soon) gave the idea greater weight — Allen recommends taking an hour or two to do a weekly review with your spouse, though he doesn’t elaborate very much.

What would such a review look like? We have lots of great advice, from Allen and others, on how to do a personal weekly review — collect “open loops”, process your inbox, review your lists, review your calendar, and so on. It makes sense in a workplace setting where you have clear “buckets” to collect things in and clear objectives that have to be met. In a family setting, where things can be a lot fuzzier around the edges, what would be a workable weekly review?

Here’s what I came up with. It’s a good idea to set up a family binder or notebook to keep track of this stuff while you do the review — or else, just make sure that whatever system you each use already is at hand and ready to be added to. Schedule an hour or two when you’re both at home (maybe on a weekend morning?) to:

  • Gather loose ends: With your spouse or partner, collect bills, statements, slips from school, letters, etc. and dump them into some kind of inbox, even if it’s temporary. It’s not a bad idea to set up a basket or tray where all this stuff goes. But as long as there are children, pets, and gremlins haunting your house, be prepared to do some gathering.
  • Process your inbox: Go through everything together and decide what action needs to be done. Write it down — I suggest you set up a family calendar with space for notes (to put a todo list on) and add tasks either into the calendar (on the day you plan to do them) or in the notes area (for non-date-specific tasks).
  • Empty your head: Talk to each other about things that have gone wrong over the past week, things that you’re struggling with, things you’d like to do, and so on. Share. Here are some triggers:
    1. What went wrong over the past week?
    2. What did you particularly enjoy that you’d like to do more of? (meals, activities, TV shows, trips out, etc.)
    3. How are you each handling your respective household duties?
    4. What is coming up that you need to be prepared for?
    5. What kind of help do you need from your partner?
    6. What issues in the house have been occupying your thoughts lately? (problems with kids, repairs needed, messiness)
    7. What’s going on at work, or coming up at work, that could affect your family life?

    This is where the two-person review is dramatically different from a solo review. You might want to have both of you prepare for this beforehand. You also both need to commit to toal honesty and to constructive response. This isn’t a time to criticize each other; it’s a time to be open about what’s bothering you, with an eye towards fixing it.

  • Review projects and actions: Write down any projects that you need or want to do: upcoming vacations, household repairs or remodeling, car repairs, school performances or meetings, doctor’s appointments, etc. Figure out a plan of action for each, and decide who is going to take care of each action.
  • Review checklists: It’s a good idea to make up checklists for anything you do with any frequency. The most obvious is a shopping list — I have a single list, organized by store aisle, with the items we buy most frequently (and spaces for additions). We decide what we’re going to make in the upcoming week (I should have a checklist for that, too!) and go through the shopping list, cross out anything we don’t need, and add anything unusual. Other checklists could include:
    • Travel and packing (if you travel frequently for work)
    • Monthly and quarterly household maintenance (change AC/heater filters, check outside lights, reset thermostats, test smoke detectors, etc.)
    • Birthdays and holidays
    • Health (doctor’s and dentist’s appointments, pets shots, prescription refills, etc.)
    • Chores (both adults’ and kids’)

    Check your lists to make sure everything that needs to be taken care of gets taken care of,

  • Dream time: Discuss long-term future plans. Maybe you want to take a vacation — where should you go? Maybe you want to redo the backyard? Or maybe you’d like to change jobs, or careers? This is for someday/maybe-type stuff — think of things that you’re not ready to commit to but that would be nice. This lets you start incubating the idea and making plans, together. Give yourself free rein, here — this is where you’re bringing your and your partner’s wishes into harmony.
  • Last look-over: Review your waiting-for list (if you have one) and any other material to make sure there are no other actions you need to capture.
  • Be creative and courageous: This is straight out of GTD — what “new, wonderful, hare-brained, creative, thought-provoking, risk-taking ideas” can you come up with?

I find in my own relationship that the hardest part is not working out the compromises that keep things running but keeping both of us on more or less the same page. Most people today have very different lives from their partners as far as their primary occupation is concerned; unless we work hard to keep each other in the loop, it’s easy to grow out of touch, to make wrong assumptions, to let little resentments grow into major problems.

A weekly review gives you a safe space to air all those little maladjustments before they turn into big problems. They also help you and your partner to better anticipate what’s coming up, so that neither of your plans are thrown out of whack when the other does something new. And because you’re working together, you’ll be better able to face the truly unexpected — the trip to the emergency room when a child is hurt, the sudden business trip, a death in the family, etc. — comes along.

Most importantly, though, you’ll be acting as partners, sharing the important work of maintaining and expanding a relationship. You’ll be expressing and reaffirming your commitment to making your relationship stronger — and doing the work that allows that to happen. And what could be better than that?

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Published on May 18, 2021

How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

We have two ears and one mouth for a reason—effective communication is dependent on using them in proportion, and this involves having good listening skills.

The workplace of the 21st century may not look the same as it did before COVID-19 spread throughout the world like wildfire, but that doesn’t mean you can relax your standards at work. If anything, Zoom meetings, conference calls, and the continuous time spent behind a screen have created a higher level of expectations for meeting etiquette and communication. And this goes further than simply muting your microphone during a meeting.

Effective workplace communication has been a topic of discussion for decades, yet, it is rarely addressed or implemented due to a lack of awareness and personal ownership by all parties.

Effective communication isn’t just about speaking clearly or finding the appropriate choice of words. It starts with intentional listening and being present. Here’s how to improve your listening skills for effective workplace communication.

Listen to Understand, Not to Speak

There are stark differences between listening and hearing. Listening involves intention, focused effort, and concentration, whereas hearing simply involves low-level awareness that someone else is speaking. Listening is a voluntary activity that allows one to be present and in the moment while hearing is passive and effortless.[1]

Which one would you prefer your colleagues to implement during your company-wide presentation? It’s a no-brainer.

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Listening can be one of the most powerful tools in your communication arsenal because one must listen to understand the message being told to them. As a result of this deeper understanding, communication can be streamlined because there is a higher level of comprehension that will facilitate practical follow-up questions, conversations, and problem-solving. And just because you heard something doesn’t mean you actually understood it.

We take this for granted daily, but that doesn’t mean we can use that as an excuse.

Your brain is constantly scanning your environment for threats, opportunities, and situations to advance your ability to promote your survival. And yet, while we are long past the days of worrying about being eaten by wildlife, the neurocircuitry responsible for these mechanisms is still hard-wired into our psychology and neural processing.

A classic example of this is the formation of memories. Case in point: where were you on June 3rd, 2014? For most of you reading this article, your mind will go completely blank, which isn’t necessarily bad.

The brain is far too efficient to retain every detail about every event that happens in your life, mainly because many events that occur aren’t always that important. The brain doesn’t—and shouldn’t—care what you ate for lunch three weeks ago or what color shirt you wore golfing last month. But for those of you who remember where you were on June 3rd, 2014, this date probably holds some sort of significance to you. Maybe it was a birthday or an anniversary. Perhaps it was the day your child was born. It could have even been a day where you lost someone special in your life.

Regardless of the circumstance, the brain is highly stimulated through emotion and engagement, which is why memories are usually stored in these situations. When the brain’s emotional centers become activated, the brain is far more likely to remember an event.[2] And this is also true when intention and focus are applied to listening to a conversation.

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Utilizing these hard-wired primitive pathways of survival to optimize your communication in the workplace is a no-brainer—literally and figuratively.

Intentional focus and concentrated efforts will pay off in the long run because you will retain more information and have an easier time recalling it down the road, making you look like a superstar in front of your colleagues and co-workers. Time to kiss those note-taking days away!

Effective Communication Isn’t Always Through Words

While we typically associate communication with words and verbal affirmations, communication can come in all shapes and forms. In the Zoom meeting era we live in, it has become far more challenging to utilize and understand these other forms of language. And this is because they are typically easier to see when we are sitting face to face with the person we speak to.[3]

Body language can play a significant role in how our words and communication are interpreted, especially when there is a disconnection involved.[4] When someone tells you one thing, yet their body language screams something completely different, it’s challenging to let that go. Our brain immediately starts to search for more information and inevitably prompts us to follow up with questions that will provide greater clarity to the situation at hand. And in all reality, not saying something might be just as important as actually saying something.

These commonly overlooked non-verbal communication choices can provide a plethora of information about the intentions, emotions, and motivations. We do this unconsciously, and it happens with every confrontation, conversation, and interaction we engage in. The magic lies in the utilization and active interpretation of these signals to improve your listening skills and your communication skills.

Our brains were designed for interpreting our world, which is why we are so good at recognizing subtle nuances and underlying disconnect within our casual encounters. So, when we begin to notice conflicting messages between verbal and non-verbal communication, our brain takes us down a path of troubleshooting.

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Which messages are consistent with this theme over time? Which statements aren’t aligning with what they’re really trying to tell me? How should I interpret their words and body language?

Suppose we want to break things down even further. In that case, one must understand that body language is usually a subconscious event, meaning that we rarely think about our body language. This happens because our brain’s primary focus is to string together words and phrases for verbal communication, which usually requires a higher level of processing. This doesn’t mean that body language will always tell the truth, but it does provide clues to help us weigh information, which can be pretty beneficial in the long run.

Actively interpreting body language can provide you with an edge in your communication skills. It can also be used as a tool to connect with the individual you are speaking to. This process is deeply ingrained into our human fabric and utilizes similar methods babies use while learning new skills from their parents’ traits during the early years of development.

Mirroring a person’s posture or stance can create a subtle bond, facilitating a sense of feeling like one another. This process is triggered via the activation of specific brain regions through the stimulation of specialized neurons called mirror neurons.[5] These particular neurons become activated while watching an individual engage in an activity or task, facilitating learning, queuing, and understanding. They also allow the person watching an action to become more efficient at physically executing the action, creating changes in the brain, and altering the overall structure of the brain to enhance output for that chosen activity.

Listening with intention can make you understand your colleague, and when paired together with mirroring body language, you can make your colleague feel like you two are alike. This simple trick can facilitate a greater bond of understanding and communication within all aspects of the conversation.

Eliminate All Distractions, Once and for All

As Jim Rohn says, “What is easy to do is also easy not to do.” And this is an underlying principle that will carry through in all aspects of communication. Distractions are a surefire way to ensure a lack of understanding or interpretation of a conversation, which in turn, will create inefficiencies and a poor foundation for communication.

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This should come as no surprise, especially in this day in age where people are constantly distracted by social media, text messaging, and endlessly checking their emails. We’re stuck in a cultural norm that has hijacked our love for the addictive dopamine rush and altered our ability to truly focus our efforts on the task at hand. And these distractions aren’t just distractions for the time they’re being used. They use up coveted brainpower and central processes that secondarily delay our ability to get back on track.

Gloria Mark, a researcher at UC Irvine, discovered that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds for our brains to reach their peak state of focus after an interruption.[6] Yes, you read that correctly—distractions are costly, error-prone, and yield little to no benefit outside of a bump to the ego when receiving a new like on your social media profile.

Meetings should implement a no-phone policy, video conference calls should be set on their own browser with no other tabs open, and all updates, notifications, and email prompt should be immediately turned off, if possible, to eliminate all distractions during a meeting.

These are just a few examples of how we can optimize our environment to facilitate the highest levels of communication within the workplace.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Effective communication in the workplace doesn’t have to be challenging, but it does have to be intentional. Knowledge can only take us so far, but once again, knowing something is very different than putting it into action.

Just like riding a bike, the more often you do it, the easier it becomes. Master communicators are phenomenal listeners, which allows them to be effective communicators in the workplace and in life. If you genuinely want to own your communication, you must implement this information today and learn how to improve your listening skills.

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Choose your words carefully, listen intently, and most of all, be present in the moment—because that’s what master communicators do, and you can do it, too!

More Tips Improving Listening Skills

Featured photo credit: Mailchimp via unsplash.com

Reference

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