One of My Best Kept Secrets to Improving Your Life

secret, improvement, organization, david allen, review, weekly review, stress, productivityNo matter how organized you are, 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,. 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 as a scheduling unit.

I have been a fan of David Allen’s work for over seven years and it has helped me enormously.  I also subscribe to his GTD Connect series, in which he interviews a variety of highly successful people in all areas of life, and it seems that the weekly review is consistently where most people struggle in the program.

However, it is also one of the most essential and critical, and if it is avoided the entire program tends to fall apart.

Although there are lots of variations on the “review” theme. the basic idea:

  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

  • 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 to meditate, doodle, or 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

The GTD Weekly Review

According to David Allen:

  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
  8. Review waiting for lists, and add appropriate follow-ups to your action lists
  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

Another Take on the Weekly Review

You can also think of a weekly review as a set of questions to answer, rather than a set of steps to churn through. And you can also do a few “mini-reviews” as time permits in between full reviews.

A mini-review consists of just a few 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?

The point of the mini-review is just to make sure you stay on track and don’t let anything important fall through the cracks. The full review might consist of these questions:

  1. What do you have to work on the next few days?
  2. What deadlines do you have coming up?
  3. Are there any new projects you have time to start working on?
  4. What went wrong over the past week? What lessons can you learn from that?
  5. What went right over the past week? How can you make sure more of that happens?
  6. How well are you keeping up with all my duties and obligations?
  7. What is coming up that you need to be prepared for?
  8. What kind of help do you need?
  9. Is everything you’re doing contributing to your advancement towards your goals? What can you do about the stuff that isn’t?
  10. Are you happy with where you’re at? What would you like to change?
  11. What are your goals for the next week? Month? 90 days?

The point of the review, after all is to check in with yourself. And that’s important -- people tend to resist looking too closely at themselves, whether because it feels selfish or narcissistic, or because they’re afraid of what they’ll find if they look too closely.

If that sounds too “mushy” for you, then you probably need it more than most. The point isn’t to get more done. It’s to lead a better life.

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