The Weekly Review

Feeling like you’re working hard but not getting anything done? As if you don’t know what you actually accomplished in the past month or 3?

The simple truth is: you’re disorganized.

I’m not talking about how clean your home is, you are disorganized in how you manage your time. Your productivity system is in shambles.

Sure, maybe you have all 327 tasks you need to do saved to your favorite task manager that you can access from your smartwatch at all times of the day or night, but that doesn’t mean you’re getting any of them done. And it definitely doesn’t mean you’re getting the right tasks done at the right time.

If you’re spinning your wheels, feeling disorganized or not ‘on top’ of things, you’re almost certainly neglecting an essential part of any productivity system: The Weekly Review.

Basics of a Productivity System

Your personal productivity system probably doesn’t align perfectly with anything spouted by the ‘experts’. Though to be honest, there are so many different supposed ‘correct’ systems that you’d never be able to figure that out anyways.

Or maybe you don’t have any system at all, in which case you should probably fix that.

Personally, I tend to work with a mix of GTD (Getting Things Done) and Deep Work. Most of what I’m talking about today is taken from the Weekly Review ideas in GTD.

Regardless of what system you are using, any good, complete system is going to have a few things in common.

  1. Track tasks somewhere outside your own head.
  2. Schedule work according to its importance/deadline.
  3. Do the work.
  4. Review the results and course correct.

And that’s really it. You can add all sorts of other things on top of that; Inbox Zero, Pomodoro Sprints, etc. You can organize everything using a notebook or in the cloud. It doesn’t matter.

What matters is that it works for you.

The problem is that a lot of people forget about that last bit, the Review. Some days it can feel pointless, and not worth your time. After all, you know what you’ve already completed.

But it is important. It’s an opportunity for you to review what you’ve been doing, ensure you’re on track, and look to the future to see where you want to go.

Think of it as a weekly check in with yourself. It’s a time to touch base with all of the things in your life, both personal and professional, that you care about. It’s a time to think about not just doing work, but to take a step back and review the how and the why of the work you’re doing.

Most importantly, it’s a time to view all of your life together in one place and plan the direction you want to go. A high-level planning session if you will.

So let’s get started.

Schedule Your Review

Start by scheduling the review in your calendar. The first time may take you an hour or two if you’re being thorough, but after doing one or two it will probably take less time (especially if you’re on top of things).

You can do one as often as you’d like, but once a week tends to work best. Schedule it either for the end of your workweek or the beginning of your workweek.

Personally, I block off time at the end of my workweek to go through it. Doing it just before the weekend helps to clear my head of work and unload that from my mind. Knowing that I’m up to date on everything helps keep me from thinking about work too much so I can enjoy the weekend.

When I get back to work on Monday mornings I like to plan out my work for the week as much as possible. Reading through the Weekly Review from the week before re-loads all of that information into my mind, and helps me make smart decisions on where I should be directing my efforts for the week.

You could, of course, do both your planning and review at the same time. I prefer to split them up because it gives me some solid bookends for my weeks worth of work. I start the week by scheduling work by importance into time blocks, and I end the week by taking a higher level look at my progress and performance, which then feeds into how I prioritize and schedule work for the following week.

Do the Weekly Review

When it comes time to do the review, don’t try to remember everything you need to do. Use a checklist.

The GTD community has created lots of complicated templates to provide direction on doing a review, but personally I find simpler is better. Here is the very basic Weekly Review Checklist that I use [PDF Warning]. I customized mine a little bit, but overall it is still very similar. I’d suggest you do the same; start with this simple checklist and, once you start to see what works for you, make changes to it to suit your own needs.

Let me walk through and explain the different steps. If you’re not familiar with GTD then some of their explanations probably won’t make sense.

The Weekly Review has three different parts: Get Clear, Get Current, and Get Creative.

Get Clear

We start by getting all your various inboxes cleared out. If you’ve stayed on top of this throughout the week it won’t take long.

  • Collect Loose Papers and Materials
    • Gather together everything you need to process. Receipts, notes, etc. If you don’t work with paper do this digitally.
  • Get “IN” to Zero
    • Inbox Zero. Everything you need to ‘process’ you should. Make sure everything in your Inboxes (physical and digital) are sorted out and processed. You shouldn’t have any unknown things you need to do after this is done.
  • Empty Your Head
    • Put down into your task list/calendar/notebook anything you haven’t yet written down. Don’t rely on your memory to keep track of things you need to do.
    • Many people find that a ‘Trigger List’ of potential tasks is useful to remind them of things to do. Something like this.

Get Current

Next, we review everything to get up to date. Check in with everything you’ve got going on and everything you need to do, don’t leave anything out.

  • Review Action Lists
    • Read through your task list. Mark off things you’ve completed and ensure it’s organized how you like.
    • If I find a couple small (<2 minute) tasks that I’ve forgotten about I tend to just do them immediately.
  • Review Previous Calendar Data
    • Check in with what you did this past week for any remaining tasks or follow-up.
    • What I also like to do is review how successfully I managed my time over the past week. While going over the past calendar I ask myself:
      • What was my most useful time spent?
      • What was my least useful time spent?
  • Review Upcoming Calendar
    • Review what you’re doing next week (or even farther out). Schedule anything you need to do to prepare, or resolve any conflicts you find.
  • Review Waiting For List
    • Check your lists of things that you are waiting for. E.g. waiting for an email response? Ping them or schedule a follow-up.
  • Review Project (and Larger Outcome) Lists
    • Evaluate status of projects, goals, and outcomes, one by one, ensuring at least one current action item on each. Browse through project plans, support material, and any other work-in-progress material to trigger new actions, completions, waiting for’s, etc.
  • Review Any Relevant Checklists
    • Use as a trigger for any new actions.

Get Creative

Lastly, we look towards the future. This is a time to plan for things you want to do (personally or professionally) and try to fit them into your calendar.

  • Review Someday Maybe List
    • For GTD, this is a combined Bucket List / Future Projects list. While going over these look for next steps you can fit into your schedule.
      • The Future Self is my personal ‘Someday Maybe’ list, and I review it at this point.
    • You may find it helpful to also have a work related ‘Someday Maybe’ list. Keep a list of professional development things you want to do, future work-related projects, etc.
  • Be Creative and Courageous
    • Any new, wonderful, hare-brained, creative, thought-provoking, risk-taking ideas to add into your system??? Add it to your Future Self list and start planning for it.

That’s It

That’s all there is to it. At the end of your Review you should be up to date on everything you’re doing in your personal and professional life. You shouldn’t have any outstanding work to do that isn’t scheduled (or at least saved and written down). You should be aware of all your future plans, and you should be comfortable with how your next few weeks are going to go.

Most importantly, you should know whether or not you’re on track to what you want to be doing. And if you’re not, this is the time for you to identify that and schedule time to get back on track.

Remember, this is something you should enjoy. It’s a time for you to take stock and sort through your life. To figure out what you’re doing and where you’re going.

So indulge yourself a little. Go to your favorite coffee shop, or work on it over a glass of wine. Celebrate a little, it’s the end of a long  (and hopefully productive) week.

Just don’t forget to work on it, it will probably turn out to be the most valuable hour of work you do all week.