I fell in love with Getting Things Done about two and a half years ago. I was planning for an extended, six-month stay abroad in Germany, and I had too much to do and too little time to do it. The simplicity of disecting projects at the action level and sorting those actions by context helped me minimize stress and maximize productivity. Although I thought I knew how to work the system, I didn’t keep up with it after my trip. Now, after reading David Allen’s new book, Making It All Work, I finally understand that weekly reviews are the secret to keeping it all together.
Whether you use GTD or not, spending an hour or two each week on a weekly review will save you significant amounts of time and effort, and it will help you stay on track with your goals and avoid distractions. What makes the weekly review work so well its ability to give you perspective. Here’s a breakdown of how to conduct a weekly review and why the weekly review process works so well. I’ve included the template I use, so you can try (or retry) the weekly review yourself without too much effort.
The weekly review works because it forces you to look at the entirety of your decisions and actions over the past week and plan for the week ahead at the same time. It gives you a thorough view of all your commitments, both to others and yourself, and forces you to evaluate what you’re doing to keep them.
For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, here’s a quick and dirty breakdown of the weekly review:
- Gather all your inputs and process them: Grab all your loose papers, read your emails, listen to your voicemails, and make a decision about what you’re going to do with them. (This will take a while the first time, but I can now finish my weekly review in about 30 minutes). There are three options: act on it, file it, or throw it away. If an action takes less than two minutes, go ahead and just do it now. If it takes longer than two minutes, add it to your list of next actions (your to-do list) and come back to it later. Filing things and throwing things away, incidentaly, both fall into this less than two minute category and should be done immediately to eliminate clutter and increase focus. You’ll be surprised how much you get done by just completing this single step.
- Process your notes: Why did you write all that down? When you process your notes, you increase your effectiveness considerably. Chances are, if you wrote something down, it was for a reason; it’s worth actually looking at your notes to figure out why you took them in the first place. Ask yourself if there’s anything you need to do based on any notes you took. Are there actionable thoughts in there or is it just reference? Add any actions to your list and then file the notes or throw them away.
- Review Your Calendar: Review both the past week and the week ahead. Is there anything you missed or that you need to follow up on? Is there anything you need to do to prepare for what’s upcoming? This step keeps you prepared and helps you tie up loose ends.
- Review Your Action Lists: What happened to all those next actions (TO-DOs) you promised yourself you’d do? Are they still relevant? Are they really the next action in the project? A next action is defined as the next physical action you need to take to get something done. Very likely, if you’ve added a next action like “Plan Vacation”, you’re going to put it off until the last possible minute because it’s a large, amorphous project that you haven’t really thought through. If your next action is “look online for flights to France for the week of May 18th,” you’re much more likely to do it because it’s easy to slot in the 15 or 30 minutes it takes to do that small task when you’ve already decided that that’s the next step.
- Review Your Waiting For Lists: If you don’t have a list of things you’re waiting on others for, you should make one! Call it an agenda or a “waiting for” list, but having notes on what others promised is one of the keys to being effective. Review this list every week as part of your review. Have you been waiting too long? Do you need to follow up? Is there a better way to get the same result? Can somebody more reliable supply you with what you need?
- Review Important People List: I have a list of all the people in my life that are really important to me. This list includes my family and close friends, my mentors, and important bosses, co-workers, and business partners. I review this list every week and ask myself if I’m expecting anything from them. I also ask myself what I’ve done for them lately. This is an excellent way to maintain relationships and make sure they’re fruitful.
- Review Someday/Maybe Lists: Keep a list of all the things you want to do some day. These may be simple things like trying a new restaurant or big projects or goals like climbing Mt. Everest. You won’t accomplish all of these in your life (and some of them may be pipe dreams) but that’s okay. The key is to have someplace to store those things you’ve “always wanted to do” and to add some to your list of projects every once in a while. This helps keep your life balanced, and you’ll be surprised at all the fun new things you’ll try because you haven’t forgotten about them.
- Incorporate New Knowledge: The final weekly review step is a bit like the dinner table when you were a child. Ask yourself what you learned at school today. In other words, what new things did you learn this week? Are there new concepts or ideas you can apply to doing business or living life? Is there a change in your workplace that you hadn’t heard about that may alter your career strategy? Think about your week a bit and ask yourself if you’ve made any progress in learning new things. If you don’t think you’ve learned anything, why not? Maybe it’s time to read a new book, take a class, or ask for an assignment outside of your normal area of responsibility.
This may sound like a lot of work, and an hour or two every week spent on simply “getting organized” would be. The reality is, though, that after you’ve done it once or twice, you can do it in about 30 minutes.
Perhaps more importantly, the power of the weekly review lies in its ability to force you to see your world as a whole. When doing the weekly review, you remember the little commitments you forgot to write down and the items you should follow up on. You actually review those notes you took so that they weren’t a waste of time to take. You’re able to anticipate challenges in advance and plan for them while, at the same time, remembering to follow up with all the people who promised to do things and just haven’t quite time them.
In short, the weekly review makes you effective because it allows you to see it all. Try using this template or designing your own for your weekly review. That ounce of perspective saves hours of grief.