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Back to Basics: Your Weekly Review

Back to Basics: Your Weekly Review

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    No matter how organized you are, how together your system is, how careful you are about processing your inbox, making a task list, and working your calendar, if you don’t stop every now and again to look at the “big picture”, you’re going to get overwhelmed. You end up simply responding to what’s thrown at you, instead of proactively creating the conditions of your life.

    Almost every productivity expert recommends some kind of review, whether it’s a formal process you crank through (like David Allen recommends) or simply a few minutes of “me time” to think about where you’re at. Although there’s nothing magical about the week as a unit of time, doing such a review weekly seems to work best – it’s a block of time that’s very deeply ingrained in us as a scheduling unit.

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    Although there are lots of variations on the “review” theme. the basic idea is the same no matter what system you’re looking at. A weekly review boils down to three questions:

    1. What do I have to do in the upcoming week?
    2. What am I doing wrong that needs to be fixed?
    3. What new things should I do to take my life in the direction I want it to go?

    Preparing for your review

    While some people manage to do ok by doing their review whenever they find time, for most people, having a dedicated time for a review each week will be far more fruitful. It should be a habit, a regular appointment you keep with yourself.

    • Schedule your weekly review in your calendar. Allow yourself at least an hour, preferably two.
    • Finish all your work before the review starts.
    • Get comfortable. You might want to go somewhere you don’t associate with work.
    • Take 5-10 minutes of quiet time. Meditate, doodle, or just stare at the head – whatever it takes to put a “buffer” between you and your everyday stuff.
    • Have something to write in/on.
    • Make sure you won’t be disturbed. This is your time!

    The GTD Weekly Review

    I’ve already written a pretty thorough overview of the weekly review as defined by David Allen, so I’ll start by repeating what I said there. According to Allen, a weekly review should consist of the following steps:

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    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?”

    These steps follow a three-stage format:

    1. Get clear: Tie up any loose ends from the week before so you can turn an eye to the future.
    2. Get current: Plan out the steps you need to take over the next week to advance whatever projects you’re currently working on.
    3. Get creative: Think about and start planning things you could be doing to move your life in a new direction, or to advance you past your current level.

    Another take on the weekly review

    I prefer to think of my weekly review as a set of questions to answer, rather than a set of steps to churn through. While I still try to do a review weekly (every two weeks seems to be more practical for me, though), I also do a few “mini-reviews” as time permits in between full reviews.

    A mini-review consists of just a few questions:

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    1. What do I have to work on the next few days?
    2. What deadlines do I have coming up?
    3. Are there any new projects I have time to start working on?

    I do this with my Moleskine in front of me, listing tasks as I think through each of those questions. (Later, I’ll transfer them into my task management system – a mini-review is, to me, a kind of “capture” rather than “processing”.)

    The point of the mini-review is just to make sure I stay on track and don’t let anything important fall through the cracks. When I sit down to do a full review, I’m more concerned with the way my life is going overall. The full review consists of these questions:

    1. What do I have to work on the next few days?
    2. What deadlines do I have coming up?
    3. Are there any new projects I have time to start working on?
    4. What went wrong over the past week? What lessons can I learn from that?
    5. What went right over the past week? How can I make sure more of that happens?
    6. How well am I keeping up with all my duties and obligations?
    7. What is coming up that I need to be prepared for?
    8. What kind of help do I need?
    9. Is everything I’m doing contributing to my advancement towards my goals? What can I do about the stuff that isn’t?
    10. Am I happy with where I’m at? What would I like to change?
    11. What are my goals for the next week? Month? 90 days?

    I like the question/answer format better than Allen’s step-by-step because a) I do most of the practical stuff on a daily basis anyway, and b) I like that the focus of (most of) these questions is me, rather than my stuff.

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    That’s the point of the review, after all – not to keep up with the stuff you should be doing but to check in with your self. And that’s important – we tend to resist looking too closely at our selves, whether because it feels selfish or narcissistic, or because we’re afraid of what we’ll find if we look too closely.

    If that sounds too “mushy” for you, then you probably need it more than most. Because as I keep saying, the point of all this productivity stuff isn’t to get more done. It’s to lead a better life.

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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