WHAT IS A WEEKLY REVIEW?
There’s one thing I do every week that sets the stage for everything I’m able to accomplish. It is incredibly simple and yet it seems to be one of the most overlooked components of personal organization and development. I look forward to doing it every week and everyone I’ve taught how to do it agrees that it has truly changed how they approach their work. Those of you familiar with Getting Things Done will be familiar with it — The Weekly Review.
A weekly review is simply an appointment I set with myself to review the previous week and look ahead to what’s upcoming. It allows me to step back from the brouhaha of daily action and get a better perspective about where my work and my life are headed. While David Allen lays a great foundation for what a weekly review should look like in his book, I think it’s vitally important that you figure out what the weekly review needs to be for you to actually keep doing it. Over time my method has evolved, expanded, and then streamlined into the version I use today. By allowing it to change and modify I created something that is intimately tied to the way I work. Now, if I don’t get my weekly review every Sunday I feel like I spend the next week perpetually stuck in a meeting I wasn’t prepared for.
Before we get into the details of what you should include in your weekly review, I’d like to expound on its virtues a little bit more. One of the key benefits of doing a weekly review is that it primes my brain to do what its best at in the coming week — solve problems. It’s amazing how much we try to hold in our heads. If you’ve ever forgotten a great idea, or an important ingredient for dinner, or forgotten an appointment, you know just how bad your brain can be at remembering things. Getting this type of information out of my head and into a trusted system every week gives me the mental capacity to turn energy toward solving problems, not remembering what the problems are.
Lastly, spending time in a weekly review looking at my to-do list (or “next actions” if you’re a GTD aficionado) is like making sure my fishing tackle is ready to go before I get in the boat. Every week I make sure that all my projects have actionable next steps that I can easily take without too much effort. I’ve learned that having the energy to work on a project is not the same thing as having the energy to figure out what to do on a project. It’s a subtle, but important, difference. If I haven’t figured out what it means to “work on my psychology paper” or what “home” means on my to-do list I’m very unlikely to spend the energy to both figure it out and work on it. By figuring out what everything on my list means beforehand (“work on psychology paper” means “find 5 research papers to read” and “home” means “research plane tickets home for Christmas”) I’ve given myself a better shot at actually moving the project forward when I sit down to work on it during the week.
HOW DO YOU DO A WEEKLY REVIEW?
There are as many ways to do a weekly review as there are people that will read this article (yes, more than 9 you smart aleck). As a good starting point, I always recommend that people try reading Getting Things Done by David Allen first. He gives a great explanation of what a good weekly review entails and he orients it in the larger scope of a complete personal productivity system. However, in order to save you the ten bucks and several hours you’d need to invest to read the book, I’ll give you the Sam Spurlin Version. It consists of several steps:
1. CLEAN OUT MY PROJECT AND NEXT ACTION LISTS
During the heat of the moment throughout the week sometimes I let my lists get a little outdated. I’ll finish a task or a project and forget to remove it from the list or sometimes a project is no longer relevant. I like to start this whole process by going through my lists and clearing it of all the flotsam. I like my system to be clean and lean before I start throwing a ton of stuff at it.
2. COLLECT MY CRAP INTO ONE PLACE (INCLUDING MY HEAD)
This can be a pretty huge step depending on how much new information I took in during the week. This is when I take all the information that is strewn across my various inboxes and throw it all together in one place. My “inboxes” include: email inbox, text messages, saved bookmarks, favorited Tweets, iPhone notes, loose papers in my bags, loose papers on my desk, downloads folder, Evernote inbox, and undoubtedly something I’m forgetting. I go through each of these areas and add any of the relevant information to my task management software’s (Things in my case) inbox. If a piece of information is useful but doesn’t generate a task or a project, it is therefore reference material and I put it into the appropriate notebook inEvernote. At the end of this step I should have completely empty inboxes except for one incredibly full Things inbox.
3. GO THROUGH INBOX AND PLACE EACH ITEM ON A LIST (OR FILE AWAY AS REFERENCE)
The next step is to go through the one location that currently has about 12592 pieces of information in it and put them on the logical lists. Lots of the items I generated will be standalone tasks that don’t require being put on a project list. However, some of the items I put in my inbox aren’t actually next actions — they’re projects. Anything I can’t resolve with one action I consider a project. I’ll talk more about this at the end, but it can be helpful to have various Areas of Responsibility to help figure out a.) where I should put this information, and b.) whether I've truly captured everything that’s residing in my head.
Keep reading for Part 2!