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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

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    Last Updated on March 31, 2020

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Procrastination is very literally the opposite of productivity. To produce something is to pull it forward, while to procrastinate is to push it forward — to tomorrow, to next week, or ultimately to never.

    Procrastination fills us with shame — we curse ourselves for our laziness, our inability to focus on the task at hand, our tendency to be easily led into easier and more immediate gratifications. And with good reason: for the most part, time spent procrastinating is time spent not doing things that are, in some way or other, important to us.

    There is a positive side to procrastination, but it’s important not to confuse procrastination at its best with everyday garden-variety procrastination.

    Sometimes — sometimes! — procrastination gives us the time we need to sort through a thorny issue or to generate ideas. In those rare instances, we should embrace procrastination — even as we push it away the rest of the time.

    Why We Procrastinate After All?

    We procrastinate for a number of reasons, some better than others. One reason we procrastinate is that, while we know what we want to do, we need time to let the ideas “ferment” before we are ready to sit down and put them into action.

    Some might call this “creative faffing”; I call it, following copywriter Ray Del Savio’s lead, “concepting”.[1]

    Whatever you choose to call it, it’s the time spent dreaming up what you want to say or do, weighing ideas in your mind, following false leads and tearing off on mental wild goose chases, and generally thinking things through.

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    To the outside observer, concepting looks like… well, like nothing much at all. Maybe you’re leaning back in your chair, feet up, staring at the wall or ceiling, or laying in bed apparently dozing, or looking out over the skyline or feeding pigeons in the park or fiddling with the Japanese vinyl toys that stand watch over your desk.

    If ideas are the lifeblood of your work, you have to make time for concepting, and you have to overcome the sensation— often overpowering in our work-obsessed culture — that faffing, however creative, is not work.

    Is Procrastination Bad?

    Yes it is.

    Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re “concepting” when in fact you’re just not sure what you’re supposed to be doing.

    Spending an hour staring at the wall while thinking up the perfect tagline for a marketing campaign is creative faffing; staring at the wall for an hour because you don’t know how to come up with a tagline, or don’t know the product you’re marketing well enough to come up with one, is just wasting time.

    Lack of definition is perhaps the biggest friend of your procrastination demons. When we’re not sure what to do — whether because we haven’t planned thoroughly enough, we haven’t specified the scope of what we hope to accomplish in the immediate present, or we lack important information, skills, or resources to get the job done.

    It’s easy to get distracted or to trick ourselves into spinning our wheels doing nothing. It takes our mind off the uncomfortable sensation of failing to make progress on something important.

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    The answer to this is in planning and scheduling. Rather than giving yourself an unspecified length of time to perform an unspecified task (“Let’s see, I guess I’ll work on that spreadsheet for a while”) give yourself a limited amount of time to work on a clearly defined task (“Now I’ll enter the figures from last months sales report into the spreadsheet for an hour”).

    Giving yourself a deadline, even an artificial one, helps build a sense of urgency and also offers the promise of time to “screw around” later, once more important things are done.

    For larger projects, planning plays a huge role in whether or not you’ll spend too much time procrastinating to reach the end reasonably quickly.

    A good plan not only lists the steps you have to take to reach the end, but takes into account the resources, knowledge and inputs from other people you’re going to need to perform those steps.

    Instead of futzing around doing nothing because you don’t have last month’s sales report, getting the report should be a step in the project.

    Otherwise, you’ll spend time cooling your heels, justifying your lack of action as necessary: you aren’t wasting time because you want to, but because you have to.

    How Bad Procrastination Can Be

    Our mind can often trick us into procrastinating, often to the point that we don’t realize we’re procrastinating at all.

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    After all, we have lots and lots of things to do; if we’re working on something, aren’t we being productive – even if the one big thing we need to work on doesn’t get done?

    One way this plays out is that we scan our to-do list, skipping over the big challenging projects in favor of the short, easy projects. At the end of the day, we feel very productive: we’ve crossed twelve things off our list!

    That big project we didn’t work on gets put onto the next day’s list, and when the same thing happens, it gets moved forward again. And again.

    Big tasks often present us with the problem above – we aren’t sure what to do exactly, so we look for other ways to occupy ourselves.

    In many cases too, big tasks aren’t really tasks at all; they’re aggregates of many smaller tasks. If something’s sitting on your list for a long time, each day getting skipped over in favor of more immediately doable tasks, it’s probably not very well thought out.

    You’re actively resisting it because you don’t really know what it is. Try to break it down into a set of small tasks, something more like the tasks you are doing in place of the one big task you aren’t doing.

    More consequences of procrastination can be found in this article: 8 Dreadful Effects of Procrastination That Can Destroy Your Life

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    Procrastination, a Technical Failure

    Procrastination is, more often than not, a sign of a technical failure, not a moral failure.

    It’s not because we’re bad people that we procrastinate. Most times, procrastination serves as a symptom of something more fundamentally wrong with the tasks we’ve set ourselves.

    It’s important to keep an eye on our procrastinating tendencies, to ask ourselves whenever we notice ourselves pushing things forward what it is about the task we’ve set ourselves that simply isn’t working for us.

    Learn more about how to fix your procrastination problem here: What Is Procrastination and How to Stop It (The Complete Guide)

    Featured photo credit: chuttersnap via unsplash.com

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