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

Audiobook Review: David Allen’s “GTD ><noscript><img src=
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

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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Last Updated on July 8, 2020

3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

It is easy, in the onrush of life, to become a reactor – to respond to everything that comes up, the moment it comes up, and give it your undivided attention until the next thing comes up.

This is, of course, a recipe for madness. The feeling of loss of control over what you do and when is enough to drive you over the edge, and if that doesn’t get you, the wreckage of unfinished projects you leave in your wake will surely catch up with you.

Having an inbox and processing it in a systematic way can help you gain back some of that control. But once you’ve processed out your inbox and listed all the tasks you need to get cracking on, you still have to figure out what to do the very next instant. On which of those tasks will your time best be spent, and which ones can wait?

When we don’t set priorities, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. (And following the path of least resistance, as the late, great Utah Phillips reminded us, is what makes the river crooked!) That is, we’ll pick and sort through the things we need to do and work on the easiest ones – leaving the more difficult and less fun tasks for a “later” that, in many cases, never comes – or, worse, comes just before the action needs to be finished, throwing us into a whirlwind of activity, stress, and regret.

This is why setting priorities is so important.

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3 Effective Approaches to Set Priorities

There are three basic approaches to setting priorities, each of which probably suits different kinds of personalities. The first is for procrastinators, people who put off unpleasant tasks. The second is for people who thrive on accomplishment, who need a stream of small victories to get through the day. And the third is for the more analytic types, who need to know that they’re working on the objectively most important thing possible at this moment. In order, then, they are:

1. Eat a Frog

There’s an old saying to the effect that if you wake up in the morning and eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you that day has already passed. In other words, the day can only get better!

Popularized in Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, the idea here is that you tackle the biggest, hardest, and least appealing task first thing every day, so you can move through the rest of the day knowing that the worst has already passed.

When you’ve got a fat old frog on your plate, you’ve really got to knuckle down. Another old saying says that when you’ve got to eat a frog, don’t spend too much time looking at it! It pays to keep this in mind if you’re the kind of person that procrastinates by “planning your attack” and “psyching yourself up” for half the day. Just open wide and chomp that frog, buddy! Otherwise, you’ll almost surely talk yourself out of doing anything at all.

2. Move Big Rocks

Maybe you’re not a procrastinator so much as a fiddler, someone who fills her or his time fussing over little tasks. You’re busy busy busy all the time, but somehow, nothing important ever seems to get done.

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You need the wisdom of the pickle jar. Take a pickle jar and fill it up with sand. Now try to put a handful of rocks in there. You can’t, right? There’s no room.

If it’s important to put the rocks in the jar, you’ve got to put the rocks in first. Fill the jar with rocks, now try pouring in some pebbles. See how they roll in and fill up the available space? Now throw in a couple handfuls of gravel. Again, it slides right into the cracks. Finally, pour in some sand.

For the metaphorically impaired, the pickle jar is all the time you have in a day. You can fill it up with meaningless little busy-work tasks, leaving no room for the big stuff, or you can do the big stuff first, then the smaller stuff, and finally fill in the spare moments with the useless stuff.

To put it into practice, sit down tonight before you go to bed and write down the three most important tasks you have to get done tomorrow. Don’t try to fit everything you need, or think you need, to do, just the three most important ones.

In the morning, take out your list and attack the first “Big Rock”. Work on it until it’s done or you can’t make any further progress. Then move on to the second, and then the third. Once you’ve finished them all, you can start in with the little stuff, knowing you’ve made good progress on all the big stuff. And if you don’t get to the little stuff? You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you accomplished three big things. At the end of the day, nobody’s ever wished they’d spent more time arranging their pencil drawer instead of writing their novel, or printing mailing labels instead of landing a big client.

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3. Covey Quadrants

If you just can’t relax unless you absolutely know you’re working on the most important thing you could be working on at every instant, Stephen Covey’s quadrant system as written in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change might be for you.

Covey suggests you divide a piece of paper into four sections, drawing a line across and a line from top to bottom. Into each of those quadrants, you put your tasks according to whether they are:

  1. Important and Urgent
  2. Important and Not Urgent
  3. Not Important but Urgent
  4. Not Important and Not Urgent

    The quadrant III and IV stuff is where we get bogged down in the trivial: phone calls, interruptions, meetings (QIII) and busy work, shooting the breeze, and other time wasters (QIV). Although some of this stuff might have some social value, if it interferes with your ability to do the things that are important to you, they need to go.

    Quadrant I and II are the tasks that are important to us. QI are crises, impending deadlines, and other work that needs to be done right now or terrible things will happen. If you’re really on top of your time management, you can minimize Q1 tasks, but you can never eliminate them – a car accident, someone getting ill, a natural disaster, these things all demand immediate action and are rarely planned for.

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    You’d like to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II, plugging away at tasks that are important with plenty of time to really get into them and do the best possible job. This is the stuff that the QIII and QIV stuff takes time away from, so after you’ve plotted out your tasks on the Covey quadrant grid, according to your own sense of what’s important and what isn’t, work as much as possible on items in Quadrant II (and Quadrant I tasks when they arise).

    Getting to Know You

    Spend some time trying each of these approaches on for size. It’s hard to say what might work best for any given person – what fits one like a glove will be too binding and restrictive for another, and too loose and unstructured for a third. You’ll find you also need to spend some time figuring out what makes something important to you – what goals are your actions intended to move you towards.

    In the end, setting priorities is an exercise in self-knowledge. You need to know what tasks you’ll treat as a pleasure and which ones like torture, what tasks lead to your objectives and which ones lead you astray or, at best, have you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

    These three are the best-known and most time-tested strategies out there, but maybe you’ve got a different idea you’d like to share? Tell us how you set your priorities in the comments.

    More Tips for Effective Prioritization

    Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com

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