Two weeks ago I wrote the first article of a two-part series about how I conduct my weekly review. If you haven't read part one yet, check it out before moving on to today's article.
As a quick reminder, a weekly review is something I learned from Getting Things Done by David Allen. It is hands-down the most important thing I do to keep myself sane in the face of multiple projects, responsibilities and competing demands. Without the weekly review I'd be a blithering, stress-ridden, and scatter-brained idiot. I need my weekly review like the desert needs the rain. Or a fat kid needs cupcakes.
Moving on to the final three steps of the weekly review, I'll focus on wrapping everything up and getting crystal clear about what I'm facing in the upcoming week.
4. CREATE AND CLARIFY PROJECTS
A lot of the "stuff" that I generated in step 2 are actually projects that will require more than one action on my part to bring to completion. A key component of my productivity is making everything on my to-do list be as "doable" as possible. That means reducing everything down to the simplest next step possible. Therefore, I need to turn a lot of the amorphous items into projects where I can break it down into smaller steps. At this point I'll often look at my Areas of Responsibility (just the various roles and responsibilities I have such as Student, TEDxOrganizer, Friend, etc.). Looking at each Area of Responsibility and asking myself if there's anything I need to do to do a good/better job fulfilling that responsibility helps me ensure that I get all my projects out of my head and into my list.
5. DOUBLE CHECK FOR STUPIDLY EASY NEXT ACTIONS
I kind of already mentioned this, but it's important enough to give it its own step. My next actions have a couple of characteristics that are very important. First, they must start with a very clear verb. "Homework" is not a next action. "Download homework set #3" is a next action. See the difference? It may seem silly to get this nuanced, but this is actually one of the most important habits to get into if you want your to-do list to actually get done. Figuring out ahead of time (what I call front-end decision making) what it actually means to do all of the items on your list, and clearly articulating it, means you can use all of your energy on actually completing the items. When you're in the trenches trying to get things done the last thing you want to do is figure out what it actually means to complete the items on your list (what does "Homework" ACTUALLY mean?) and doing the work to finish them.
6. WRITE OUT “HARD LANDSCAPE”
Once I've gotten to this point I know that all of the various commitments, worries, and tasks that I've been carrying around in my head or in my notes all week are safely within my system. All of my projects are listed and each of them has at least one next action step that is super clear and ready to go. I'm feeling pretty good at this point. The final step is to make sure I know exactly what my upcoming week looks like (David Allen calls appointments and other calendar items your "hard landscape"). I keep all my appointments and important due dates in iCal (synced to Google Calendar) but I like the upcoming week to be visible all the time. Therefore, I take a piece of paper and write down every single appointment and due date in the upcoming week. I also make a short list of due dates that are coming up within the next two weeks and another short list of the current projects that are active and need to have my attention the most. At any time I can take a look at this sheet (which I tape to my desk) and know where I'm supposed to be at any time during the week, what is due soon, and what I should be working on if I have some free time.
Thinking you don't have time for all of this hullabaloo?
I have a feeling a lot of you are thinking, "How in the world does he have enough time to do all of this every week? I'm way too busy to do something like this." To put it bluntly, you don't have enough time to NOT do this. Spending an hour or two doing this every week saves me countless hours throughout the week by clarifying my focus and not having to worry about what I should specifically be working on. By doing a weekly review I know that I can go full bore on my work during the week and not have to worry about getting off course. If I know I'll be stepping back and getting a bigger perspective on my work and life every week I don't have to worry about trying to do both the work and figuring out what my work should be. The weekly review is for figuring out what my work looks like. My week is for actually doing it.
As I've mentioned a couple times before, this is a grossly simplified version of David Allen's weekly review fromGetting Things Done. However, I've been doing this long enough I know what I need to do each week to clear my head and prepare for what's coming up. Your weekly review doesn't have to look my weekly review. The value isn't in the style -- just the substance.