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Audiobook Review: David Allen’s “GTD > Weekly Review”

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Audiobook Review: David Allen’s “GTD > Weekly Review”
GTD Weekly Review

One of the most difficult demands that David Allen’s Getting Things Done makes on followers of his system is to set aside a couple of hours a week for a weekly review. It’s hard enough to find the single block of uninterrupted time, but harder still to know what to do with it. Allen only devotes five pages to the weekly review in Getting Things Done, and maybe a few more scattered throughout Ready for Anything — hardly enough to really flesh out what is an absolutely central and crucial part of the overall system.

Because of this, the weekly review is the part of GTD that people are most likely to skip — or, if they actually do it, the part they’re likely to get the least out of. Which is a shame, because done well, the weekly review is where the real “action” in GTD happens, when long-term planning and creative dreaming are brought front and center.

Allen’s new audiobook set, GTD > Weekly Review addresses this gap, devoting about 2 1/2 hours over 3 CDs to a discussion of what a weekly review is and can be. I asked the people at the David Allen Company if they would send me a copy to review for you, and they graciously agreed.

What’s a Weekly Review?

Before getting to the specifics of the Weekly Review audiobook, let’s revisit what a weekly review is supposed to be. According to Getting Things Done, the purpose of a weekly review is to “[build] in some capturing, reevaluation, and reprocessing time to keep you in balance”. By taking a step back from your day-to-day task management, a weekly review allows you to “focus on your important projects”.

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Allen outlines several steps of a weekly review:

  1. Collect all your loose papers and put them into your inbox for processing.
  2. Process your notes to glean any action items, appointments, new projects, etc.
  3. Review your previous calendar data to remind you of any ideas, tasks, etc. that you might not have captured at the time.
  4. Review your upcoming calendar to see if there are any new actions you need to add to your lists.
  5. Empty your head. Write down anything that’s currently on your mind or capturing your attention.
  6. Review your project lists to determine each project’s status and if there are any actions you need to take to move each of them forward.
  7. Review your next action lists. Bring them up to date by marking off any actions you’ve already completed. Use completed actions as triggers to remind you of any further steps you need to take not that an action is done.
  8. Review waiting for lists. Add appropriate follow-ups to your action lists. Check off anything that you’ve already received.
  9. Review any relevant checklists.
  10. Review your someday/maybe list and decide if there is anything you’re ready to move onto your active projects list.
  11. Review your project support files to make sure you haven’t missed any new actions you need to take.
  12. Be creative and courageous. This is the hardest and most poorly described part of the process in Allen’s books, which is too bad, since this is where the magic happens. Having cleared your mind of everything you need to do at the moment, take time to dream up new ideas — risky ones, creative ones, etc. Essentially a free-form brainstorming session around the topic of “what could I be doing?”

GTD > Weekly Review gathers these steps together into three stages: Get Clear (collect any loose ends and empty your head), Get Current (review your lists and calendar data), and Get Creative (activate your someday/maybe projects and dream up new harebrained schemes).

Tips and Tricks for Better Weekly Reviews

The core of GTD > Weekly Review is a three-way conversation between David Allen, and two of DavidCo’s professional organizers, Marian Bateman and Meg Edwards, who draw on their own experiences working with clients in the field to illustrate and expand the general concepts laid out by Allen. This takes up the first two discs; the third disc walks you through the weekly review from beginning to end, a kind of “virtual” coaching session. The set also comes with a CD-case-sized weekly review “cheat sheet” that outlines the steps of a weekly review.

Here is a sampling of some of the advice they offer.

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Get clear

The weekly review is an opportunity to clear your head and really explore where you’re at and where you’re headed. Pay special attention to when you schedule it, because it needs to be a time that works best for you — when you’re not only uninterrupted but most likely to be “at peace”, without any huge problems hanging over your head demanding immediate attention. A weekly review can still be useful even if you’re hurried and there are urgent matters pressing, but if your weekly review is always under those conditions, you probably need to schedule it to a more appropriate time.

Be sure you do schedule it, though. For too many of us, the weekly review is a “when I get around to it” kind of commitment, which more or less undoes what a weekly review can offer. Make a hard commitment to yourself, in your calendar, to do a weekly review every week.

One important point Allen and the others bring up is that a weekly review is not “catch-up” time — it’s not a couple of extra slack hours for doing everything you’ve gotten behind in over the course of the week. This especially applies to email. While Allen does recommend keeping your email inbox empty, if you aren’t doing this on a weekly basis, your weekly review is not the time to start! If you have a large email backlog, schedule time to clear it up over the course of the upcoming week.

Get current

Review your calendar

How much of your calendar should you review. Allen’s answer is simple: as far back as you need to, and as far forward as you need to. For Allen, this means many months forward, because he travels frequently and wants to make sure his upgrade requests are sent in a timely fashion. For others, this might only be a week or two in advance. Put a little thought into determining your own “event horizon”, the distance in the future when events start to require immediate actions.

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Keeping your projects on track

David Allen calls projects “outcomes”, to distinguish them from actions — you don’t do projects, you do actions that take you towards a desired outcome. Your project list, then, is a place to think, not do. What is the very next action you need to do to move towards each outcome on your list?

Allen reminds us that life has projects, too — projects aren’t limited to our work and career. Remodeling your house, cleaning your garage, moving — these are all obvious projects that our non-work life might involve, but there are also things like making time for a family outing or spending more time with your kids. It might seem cold to add these to your project lists next to “Create proposal for city education grant” or whatever, but if they’re not on your lists, they’re burning up thought cycles that you could be using to figure out how to spend more time with your kids instead of just worrying that you should.

Checklists and reference lists

This is probably the least utilized part of the weekly review (itself a poorly utilized part of GTD). Allen says that you should consider creating a checklist for any routine task that you find yourself doing more than once or twice. Checklists help us to a) not rely on memory to make sure everything’s done, and b) not have to think up next actions for tasks we’ve already figured out the next actions for.

Reference lists are exactly what the name says: lists of reference information you need to refer to often. An example might be books you want to read, logins and passwords, places you want to visit, recipes you want to get, and so on. As you go through your weekly review, make sure you add any relevant information to your reference lists.

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Bonus tip: Check out Checkser and Gibb, two online apps for creating and storing checklists.

Get creative

As I said before, this is where the weekly review shines. Now that you’ve gotten all the mundane stuff off of your mind, you can relax and let your mind fly. Take out your someday/maybe list and see what crazy ideas you had a month ago that might be worth doing. Be liberal with your someday/maybe list — put ideas there to “incubate” and see if they don’t grow into things you really want to do.

This is the time for what Seth Godin calls “edgework” — see what radical new ways you can push whatever it is you’re doing now. What new risks could you take? What could you be if you could be what you dream? What new things would you like to learn — or teach? What crazy idea do you have that nobody would ever take seriously? Remember, you don’t have to do everything you come up with in your weekly review; the idea is to give yourself the freedom to think about things without committing yourself to action.

Final Assessment of GTD > Weekly Review

GTD > Weekly Review does a great job of explaining the role of the weekly review and its relationship to productivity. If you’ve ever heard David Allen speak conversationally, you know that he can be a very inspiring and accessible speaker, and Meg Edwards and Marian Bateman are just as engaging. Their personal experience goes a great way towards deepening the idea of a weekly review, transforming it from an idea in a book into a practical and tested reality. The third disc in the set, while not as interesting to listen to, adds real value as something you can play while you get yourself into the habit of doing the weekly review — play a little, pause it, do some review, play a little more, pause, do more review, et

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My only qualm is the price: $99 US for a 3-disc set. Whether the content of GTD > Weekly Review is worth the price will depend a great deal on who you are; if you’re in David Allen Co.’s target audience of corporate executives, mid-level management, and successful entrepreneurs, then this is definitely a set worth having. Compared to the cost of one of David Allen’s seminars, or even a seminar from a DavidCo coach, $99 is a steal but there are plenty of people who could use this kind of push in the right direction for whom both the seminar and the GTD > Weekly Review set are both too far out of reach.

If you can get around the price, this is a really valuable extension of the GTD system. I can virtually guarantee that you’ll listen to this more than once — just like Allen’s books, it’s the kind of material that you’ll refer back to again and again.

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8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

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8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

What Makes People Poor Listeners?

Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

How To Be a Better Listener

For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

1. Pay Attention

A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

2. Use Positive Body Language

You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

According to Alan Gurney,[2]

“An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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Be polite and wait your turn!

4. Ask Questions

Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

5. Just Listen

This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

6. Remember and Follow Up

Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

  1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
  2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

8. Maintain Eye Contact

When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

Final Thoughts

Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
[2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
[3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
[4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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