How to Make Doing a Weekly Review a Habit

Time for ReviewAt this time of the year many people want to get back on the GTD bandwagon because they are in a reflective mode of self improvement. If you read my last post Don’t make New Year’s Resolutions (do a Year-End Review instead) then you are in a great place to start 2016. Now, all you need to do is figure out how you are going to do your weekly reviews consistently on an ongoing basis.

Inherently, you know doing weekly reviews is the critical component of a successful GTD practice and the stress reduction it can provide.  When practiced diligently they can provide what David Allen calls “Mind Like Water” and when you are in this state you can feel great about where you are, what you are doing and what you are not doing. For anyone who has experienced this feeling it is amazing and they want to get back there.

Unfortunately, somewhere along the way many people lose steam and stop doing their weekly reviews. Once this happens they no longer trust their systems are accurate and complete inventories of all of their commitments and the system fails.

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 to success or failure over the long term.  If you really want to succeed you need to commit to spending an hour to and hour and a half a week doing a weekly review – without fail, no exceptions.

So, how do you do that? Make it a habit. In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg explains that habits are a result of three things – a cue, a routine and a reward. Once you set up these three things you will create a new habit and once you make your weekly review a habit, you are on the way to ongoing stress-free productivity.

I was able to make doing a weekly review a habit by scheduling time with my wife to do our weekly review together on Saturday afternoons over a nice bottle of wine. We alternate weeks choosing a nice bottle of wine to share when we are doing our review. This provides the critical “reward” – delicious wine – that is part of Charles’ three parts of successful habit formation. So, the “Cue” is Saturday afternoon, the “Routine” is the Weekly Review, and the “Reward” is wine and mind like water.

I suggest you get your partner and figure out what a desirable common reward would be and then schedule time to enjoy that reward while doing your weekly review. Not only will you enjoy the reward but you will have synced with your partner on all the upcoming stuff that affects both of you. Once performing weekly reviews with your partner becomes a habit you will be on GTD auto-pilot.

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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?

The GTD Elevator Pitch

Elevator PitchLike many professionals, I work in a high-rise building and spend a lot of time riding elevators. Inevitability, people know that I am “into GTD” and they ask me “what is GTD?”

What they really want to know is “GTD for Dummies”

Many people ask me what is the gist of GTD. They want to know the Cliff Notes version of GTD before they decide if they are going to invest the time and effort in reading David Allen’s book “Getting Things Done – The Art of Stress Free Productivity” or not.

I struggle to convey the basics of GTD as I want to elaborate on all of the goodness of the system and its benefits. This forced me to really think how I would describe the basics of what GTD is in its simplest form.

Here is my GTD Elevator Pitch:

GTD consists of three basic concepts.

  1. Outcome-Based Thinking – Articulating in the most specific terms possible what a successful outcome looks like for any give use of your time.  Another way to think about it is “How will I know when I’m done with this?” or “When will I be able to mark it done or complete?”
  2. What is the Next Action? – You don’t need to track everything you could conceivable do about a Project but rather you just need to know the next physical action that would get you closer to completion. Ask “What is the next action?”
  3. The Weekly Review – Accepting that the heart of the Trusted System that lets you move through a day with a high tolerance for ambiguity is the knowledge that eventually everything you’re doing gets looked at once a week without fail.

What is your GTD Elevator Pitch?

The Weekly Review – How to maintain “Mind Like Water”

At this time of the year many people want to get back on the GTD bandwagon because they are in a reflective mode of self improvement.  They know it works and know the stress reduction it can provide.  They know when practiced diligently it can provide what David Allen calls “Mind Like Water.”  When you are in this state you can feel great about where you are, what you are doing and what you are not doing.  For anyone who has experienced this feeling it is amazing and they 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.

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 to 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 in my book.  Here is how I break down the hour:

1 – Review Projects (40 min)

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 Evernote title 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.  Not all projects need to define a completed task.  It is okay to have projects that say things like “Draft three ideas…” or “Think about…”

Once you are comfortable with the description of the project, you need to break down the project into the 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, move the next action to move the project closer to completion to the next actions list.

2 – Review Your 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 and look at the big picture.  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 alert you to any big items on the horizon.  Review the next three months.

After you have looked at the big picture by month, you need to 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.

3 – Review 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.

4 – Review 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.

The Weekly Review

Schedule a non-negotiable time each week for a “Weekly Review.”  The Weekly Review is the single most important thing to do in order to keep up a successful GTD practice.  I cannot emphasize how important the Weekly Review is to ongoing success in reducing stress.

Life moves fast – we often have so much to do that’s it’s difficult to take a step back and examine whether or not we’re getting the results we want.  That’s why it’s extremely important to schedule some time each week to do a “Weekly Review.”   I schedule my Weekly Reviews first thing Monday mornings so I will have a good roadmap for the week.  The actual time or day of the week does not matter – some people like to do their Weekly Reviews on Friday’s to wrap up the week.  The critical thing is that you schedule it and ensure that it happens. This is the most critical part of keeping GTD on track.

Here are a few things you should include in your weekly review:

Review your Goals & Objectives – Are you moving in the right direction? Are you making progress? Are any changes necessary?  This is where you take a quick review of the big picture.  What personal and professional goals do you have?

Review your Areas of Focus – Are you devoting sufficient time and energy to the true priorities in your life?  Areas of Focus are the areas of responsibility in your life that are never “done.”  If you can complete it and check it off as complete then it is not an Area of Focus, it is most likely a Project.  Areas of Focus might be ongoing responsibilities at your work like Employee Development, Budget, Vision & Strategy, etc.  Other Areas of Focus might be health and fitness, finances, family, home improvement, etc.

Review your calendar – start with a month view and look at the upcoming things on your calendar.  Then switch to week view and look at the next few weeks to see what is coming up.  This gives you context for what is ahead.

Review your active projects – Break down each project into the actions necessary to be “done” with the project.  Then take the “next action” you need to take to drive towards completion of the overall project and make it its own task and assign it to the “next action category.”  When describing the next action in the task subject field use specific action verbs to describe the action that needs to be “done.”  Include as much information as possible to help you complete the next action.  Instead of “donate old furniture” use “call Goodwill to schedule pickup – 310-234-8730”, Instead of “learn Spanish” use “add Spanish learning podcast in iTunes”, Instead of “Finalize Budget” use “email Rob to get Storage Forecast for the rest of the year.”

Review your Someday/Maybe Items– Review your someday/maybe list to see if anything has risen to the level where you want to make it an active project

Don’t skip this review – it’s extremely important if you want to decrease your stress levels.

Skipping the “Weekly Review” is the most common way people fall off the GTD bandwagon.

I dedicate 1 hour per week to the Weekly Review.  Here is how I break it down:

Review Projects (35 min) – This is the most important part of the weekly review

  • Do I have the bandwidth and resources to do this project?
  • Breakdown each project into discrete tasks
  • What do I want to accomplish this to move this project closer to completion?
  • When do I need to accomplish it by?
  • Move each projects next action to the next actions list
  • Add new projects describing “What does done look like?” – include the desired outcome as the first word in projects: finalize, implement, research, publish, distribute, maximize, learn, set up, organize, create, design, install, repair, submit, handle, resolve
  • Okay to have projects that say things like “Draft three ideas…” or “Think about…”

Review Areas of Focus (5 min) – A quick review of areas of focus to keep them fresh in my mind and see if it triggers any Projects

Review Goals & Objectives (5 min)
–  A quick review of goals and objective of focus to keep them fresh in my mind and see if it triggers any Projects

Review Calendar (10 min) – Start with three months out, then next month, then current month, then this week

  • Look at the big picture by month view then focus on the week view because the week is the unit of measure to connect daily tasks to their strategic priorities
  • Family first – schedule time with the family – only one night out per week, schedule breakfast one day per week, what are we doing on Saturday?
  • Schedule time to process email/inbox three times a day
  • Schedule “Walk the Halls” time once a week
  • Do I REALLY need to be in the meetings

Review Someday/Maybe items (5 min)

  • Add individual items to the master list
  • Determine if any items need to become active projects
  • Delete Items that are no longer of interest