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”.
Allen outlines several steps of a weekly review:
- Collect all your loose papers and put them into your inbox for processing.
- Process your notes to glean any action items, appointments, new projects, etc.
- Review your previous calendar data to remind you of any ideas, tasks, etc. that you might not have captured at the time.
- Review your upcoming calendar to see if there are any new actions you need to add to your lists.
- Empty your head. Write down anything that’s currently on your mind or capturing your attention.
- 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.
- 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.
- Review waiting for lists. Add appropriate follow-ups to your action lists. Check off anything that you’ve already received.
- Review any relevant checklists.
- Review your someday/maybe list and decide if there is anything you’re ready to move onto your active projects list.
- Review your project support files to make sure you haven’t missed any new actions you need to take.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.