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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.

    More by this author

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide) The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain) How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works) Building Relationships: 11 Rules for Self-Promotion

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    Last Updated on September 10, 2019

    How to Master the Art of Prioritization

    How to Master the Art of Prioritization

    Do you know that prioritization is an art? It is an art that will lead you to success in whatever area that matters to you.

    By prioritization, I’m not talking so much about assigning tasks, but deciding which will take chronological priority in your day—figuring out which tasks you’ll do first, and which you’ll leave to last.

    Effective Prioritization

    There are two approaches to “prioritizing” the tasks in your to-do list that I see fairly often:

    Approach #1 Tackling the Biggest Tasks First and Getting Them out of the Way

    The idea is that by tackling them first, you deal with the pressure and anxiety that builds up and prevents you from getting anything done—whether we’re talking about big or small tasks. Leo Babauta is a proponent of this Big Rocks method.[1]

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    Approach #2 Tackling the Tasks You Can Get Done Quickly and Easily, with Minimal Effort

    Proponents of this method believe that by tackling the small fries first, you’ll have less noise distracting you from the periphery of your consciousness.

    If you believe in getting your email read and responded to, making phone calls and getting Google Reader zeroed before you dive into the high-yield work, you’re a proponent of this method. I suppose you could say Getting Things Done (GTD) encourages this sort of method, since the methodology advises followers to tackle tasks that can be completed within two minutes, right there and then.

    Figure out Your Approach for Prioritization

    My own approach is perhaps a mixture of the two.

    I’ll write out my daily task list and draw little priority stars next to the three items I need to get done that day. They don’t need to be big tasks, but nine times out of ten, they are.

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    Smaller tasks are rarely important enough to warrant a star in the first place; I can always get away without even checking my inbox until the next day if I’m swamped, and the people who need to get in touch with me super quickly know how.

    But I’m not recommending my system of prioritization to you. I’m also not saying that mine is better than Leo’s Big Rocks method, and I’m not saying it’s better than the “if it can be done quickly, do it first” method either.

    The thing with prioritization is that knowing when to do what relies very much on you and the way you work. Some people need to get some small work done to find a sense of accomplishment and clarity that allows them to focus on and tackle bigger items. Others need to deal with the big tasks or they’ll get caught up in the busywork of the day and never move on, especially when that Google Reader count just refuses to get zeroed (personally, I recommend the Mark All As Read button—I use it most days!).

    I’m in between, because my own patterns can be all over the place. Some days I will be ready to rip into massive projects at 7AM. Other times I’ll feel the need to zero every inbox I have and clean up the papers on my desk before I can focus on anything serious. I also know that my peak, efficient working time doesn’t come at 11AM or 3PM or some specific time like it does for many people, but I have several peaks divided by a few troughs. I can feel what’s coming on when and try to keep my schedule liquid enough that I can adapt.

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    That’s why I use a starred task list system rather than a scheduled task list. It allows me to trust myself (something that I suppose takes a certain amount of discipline) and achieve peak efficiency by blowing with the winds. If I fight the peaks and troughs, I’ll get less done; but if I do certain kinds of work in each period of the day as they come, I’ll get more done than most others in a similar line of work.

    You may not be able to trust yourself to that extent without falling into the busywork trap. You may not be able to tackle big tasks first thing in the morning without feeling like you’re pushing against an invisible brick wall that won’t budge. You might not be able to deal with small tasks before the big tasks without feeling pangs of guilt and urgency.

    My point is:

    The prioritization systems themselves don’t matter. They’re all pretty good for a group of people, not least of all to the people who espouse them because they use them and find them effective.

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    What matters is that you don’t fall for one set of dogma (and I’m not saying Leo Babauta or David Allen preach these things as dogma, but sometimes their proponents do) until you’ve tried the systems extensively, and found which method of chronological prioritization works for you.

    And if the system you already use works great, then there’s no need to bother trying others—in the world of personal productivity, it’s too easy to mess with something that works and find yourself unable to get back into your former groove.

    “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

    In truth, this principle applies to all sorts of personal productivity issues, though it’s important to know which issues it applies to.

    If you thought multitasking worked well for you each day and I’d have to contend that you are wrong—multitasking is a universal myth in my books! But if you find yourself prioritizing tasks that never get done, you might need to reconsider which of the above approaches you’re using and change to a system that is more personally effective.

    More About Prioritization & Time Management

    Featured photo credit: Sabri Tuzcu via unsplash.com

    Reference

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