What to do in 2014 to achieve “Mind Like Water”

Mind Like WaterAs the year winds down and we look towards 2014, we look forward to what we can do better ourselves in the coming year. For anyone who has experienced the stress-free productivity that GTD produces but for one reason or another has stopped practicing GTD then now is the time to commit to making GTD a lifelong habit.

Year-end is the perfect time to get back on the GTD bandwagon because we are in a reflective mode of self-improvement.  We know it works and know the stress reduction it can provide.  We also know when practiced diligently it can provide what David Allen calls “Mind Like Water.”  When you are in this state you feel great about where you are, what you are doing, and ironically what you are not doing.  For anyone who has experienced this feeling it is amazing and you want to get back there.

So many people ask me how they can “really do GTD right this time?”  Like a diet or a new year’s resolution, they really want to be successful, but deep down fear they will fail over the long-term.  The want a magic bullet or trick that will help them to succeed with GTD over the long-term. Well, like anything there is no magic bullet that will do it for them.

Fortunately, there is one way to succeed with GTD over the long-term and that is to do a Weekly Review every week.  This is the single most important thing that determines success or failure over the long-term.  If you really want to succeed you need to commit to spending one hour a week doing a Weekly Review – without fail, no exceptions.

Think about the payback – one hour a week to improved productivity and reduced stress.  A bargain from my perspective.  I do my Weekly Reviews on Sunday evenings with my wife and bottle of wine or Monday mornings in the office.  Either way, I’m ready for the week. Here is how I break down the hour:

1 – Review My Calendar (5 min)

It is important to understand what you have ahead of you to set the context for how much available time you will have to work on projects and next actions in the future.  Start with looking at your calendar in month view to look at the big picture.  Travel and all day events like birthdays, vacations, trips and holidays will pop out at you.  This gives you  a sense of is this a “normal month” or not and will alert you to any big items on the horizon.  Review the next three months.

After you look at the big picture by month, focus on the week view to get a sense of is this a “normal week” or not.  As Peter Drucker stated “the week is the unit of measure to connect daily tasks to their strategic priorities.”  Review the next two to three weeks to get a sense of what is immediately ahead of you.

2 – Review my Projects (40 min)

This is the bulk of your Weekly Review and if you do nothing else in the hour you need to review your projects.  Start at the top of your list and move down one by one and do the following:

Is the project written in a way that it can be checked off as “done” when the description is true?  If not, describe the project to denote “what does done look like?” and be sure to include the desired outcome as the first word in the description of the project.  Use words like draft, finalize, implement, research, publish, distribute, maximize, learn, set up, organize, create, design, install, repair, submit, handle, resolve, think about.

Once you are comfortable with the description of the project, you need to break down the project into the discrete tasks needed to complete the project.  I use the notes section of the Evernote note to do this.  I am not a stickler for breaking down every project into it’s related tasks.  I usually ask  ”Do I have the bandwidth and resources to do this project?”  If not, I tend to go on to the next one.

For the ones I do have the bandwidth and resources to pursue I ask “What do I want to accomplish this to move this project closer to completion?” and “When do I need to accomplish it by?” I add any items that come to mind in a more or less free-form manor with each task or idea on a separate line.  Do not worry about formatting as that will only slow you down during this critical process.

Finally, and this is critical, put the next action to move the project closer to completion to the next actions list.

3 – Review my Waiting For items (5 min)

Do a quick scan of your Waiting For items to see if you can move any into Projects or Next Actions because you are no longer blocked or waiting for someone or something that you may have delegated.

4 – Review my Areas of Focus (5 min)

Do a quick review of areas of focus to keep them fresh in my mind.  Often, this review will spur new projects that you will add to your projects list.

5 – Review Someday/Maybe items (5 min)

Do a quick scan of your Someday/Maybe items to determine if any items need to become active projects and if they do then change the Evernote notebook to the Projects notebook.  If you determine that you really are never going to do and item because it is no longer of interest then delete it.

It is very important to resist the urge to “do” during a weekly review. Don’t do it. The Weekly Review is for reviewing not doing. This is even true for the two minute rule. Focus on reviewing your “stuff” and getting current and you will immediately feel the stress relief of “Mind Like Water.”

How do you do your Weekly Review?

About Michael Keithley

8 Responses to What to do in 2014 to achieve “Mind Like Water”

  1. Michael,

    I really appreciate the simplicity of your weekly review template. Many of us know that, if we’re not careful, our GTD process can get way too confusing. Your simple check list is perfect.



    • Robb – I couldn’t agree more. Less is more in this case. Early on in my GTD journey I fell into the “tweak the system” trap where I would create all these elaborate tags and processes that ultimately made it tot complicated and therefore I gave up. I believe David has a saying that “your system should only be as complicated as it has to be and nothing more.”

      I would like to hear more about your journey and experiences.


  2. Josh Horton says:

    For someone who obviously takes a Jeet Kune Do approach to quality of life & immediate/lasting results in business (which go hand in hand), or at least a monk’s approach to ratio of words to actions, I would love to hear your thoughts on how on how to escape traditional formalities that do not bring results. The Renaissance is not a thing of the past; it is as real as the market is today.

  3. Victoria says:

    I like this approach. I have always conducted both daily and weekly reviews. Daily’s, due to the fact that priorities change from day to day during any given week, however, looking at the day alone is too narrow and focuses more on my “to-do” list for the day. Weekly allows me to see the bigger picture, however, I think I also need to incorporate some sort of view into my monthly plans on a weekly basis as well, just to make sure I am not deviating off path.


    • I agree that both the Daily and Weekly Reviews are critical but most people do some form of a daily because they have to in order to deal with their reality. The weekly is more of a discretionary thing that most people neglect over time.

  4. armistead1955 says:

    This is a nice synopsis of the weekly review. But I do not see anything about review of goals at the 30,000 foot level. Do you integrate this into your reviews?


    Sent from my iPad

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