The Weekly Review

Posted on May 4, 2009. Filed under: Professional | Tags: , , , , |

I initially thought this article would be about clearing-the-decks. A term I learned from David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done. Clearing-the-decks is something that helps us get back on track when we’ve fallen off the GTD bandwagon. But circumstances in my personal life have conspired to remind me of the importance of not allowing things to get this far! Seems only fair to write first about how to do things and then, later, I’ll write about how to pick yourself up after life gets the better of your attempts to remain organized.

This article is a companion to the previous Levels of Perspective article. It is my intention to focus on what I’ve done and am doing now rather than on the GTD theory behind it. Weekly reviews are extremely pragmatic activity – essentially, this is where the rubber meets the road. In my four distinct iterations of applying GTD, I have discovered that effective use of the Weekly Review directly determines my success and sanity. I cannot over-emphasize this activity!

Review Happens Every Week!

Figure 1 is a screen shot of the appointment in my Outlook calendar for a Weekly Review on 11 MAY 2009. I’ve scheduled a recurring Weekly Review appointment for every Monday morning from 0800 to 1000 hours. The time of day tends to move around periodically. As mentioned earlier I’m in my fourth iteration of using GTD since first being introduced in 2004 — I had two different jobs at one employer then was notified of a workforce reduction and began looking full-time for another job (Thanksgiving 2008); finally I’m back to work (as of 27 APR 2009). Each of these change of circumstances has dictated a different application of the weekly review. What you’re looking at now has evolved even more than the four job changes. In fact, it will likely change again when I begin teaching at the university. That’s the nice thing about GTD, it’s incredibly flexible.

Weekly Review

Figure 1. Weekly Review Appointment

Cleanup

There are three distinct steps to the Weekly Review — cleanup, review, preparation. Cleanup is kind of like clearing-the-decks. The idea is to gather everything together, start at the top of each in-box (I have an in-box on my PCs desktop and an in-box tray on my desk) and triage each item one-at-a-time. By triage I mean, to pick up a single item and spend up to 2-minutes reviewing what to do. If the item can be deleted, filed or completed in 2-minutes or less, I’ll do it on the spot. If it looks like it will take longer, I disposition it in my system. (See Mastering Workflow for a more detailed discussion of this process.)

Note the final two bullets of the first step refer to gathering tasks from my calendar and notes. I use Microsoft OneNote because it has a powerful search engine built in to identify action items for the past week. However, in the next month I will go from having a single PC where all of my data resides in one place to having my information scattered across four locations — home, two different employers and a laptop. To make this task easier and to ensure I capture things as they are happening, I’ve “moved into the cloud.” (The cloud is a reference to cloud computing where a desktop, laptop or palm top device allows access to data stored on the Internet.) I am experimenting with a private blog to capture a daily summary of work, an on-line Google Calendar for synchronizing several calendars into a single place and a pair of Google Docs spreadsheets for consolidating and archiving projects/tasks. This system is a bit cumbersome presently but it allows all of the same functionality without having to remember where I stored a file!

Review

Now that I’ve got everything that happened over the past week in one place, I’m ready to pull out some lists of things I’ve been tracking  — and consolidate them into an updated project/tasks list. I tend to be a pack rat when it comes to getting things done. Although I keep only active and future items on this list, I don’t want to forget anything either. Imagine having to prepare a report of what you did six months ago without notes! But I don’t want to keep all of this stuff in my head either. That’s where the archive spreadsheet comes in… in MS Excel, I was able to use one spreadsheet with two tabs, but Google Docs is not that sophisticated yet. Still, because I have have two browser tabs open next to each other, this seems to be working OK for now. See Figure 2.

Note the key in the top two rows of the spreadsheet. I’m a nut about keeping things consistent without having to memorize. The first row refers to the Levels of Perspective. The second line reminds me how I’ve kept track of my notes, there are examples of each within the figure. Also, note on the far left of the diagram where the row numbers have skipped from 4 to 14 to 29 and so on, the spreadsheet allows me to collapse rows so I can have a more compact view of the projects. Those hidden rows are simply tasks that support the projects listed in Column A. By the way, the Weekly Review and this spreadsheet are an excellent place to conduct Natural Planning.

Project-Task List

Figure 2. Project-Task List

 

Preparation

Now that I have gathered everything together from the past week and reviewed it so I know what needs to happen in the coming weeks or months, I’m ready to set my intentions for next week. Referring back to Figure 1, the third section shows I have 7 tasks. From Figure 2, you can see I have already completed 3 tasks (as indicated by the cells with stricken text) and one has been “added to my system” (as indicated by the green highlighting.) The other four tasks still need to get done, but not this week. This is what I mean when I refer to getting things out-of-my-head. I must have a place where I trust they’ll stick around until I have either the time, energy or motivation (like a deadline!) to work on them. By having them in this spreadsheet I don’t worry about losing them and I know I’ll revisit them in no more than one week.

A note on writing tasks… in a previous blog article I mentioned a movie called Memento  in which the protagonist, Leonard, forgets everything when he falls asleep. He is trying to find a murderer but someone is trying to kill him. So, each day before he falls asleep from exhaustion he leaves himself a warning note. Unfortunately, he writes these notes so ambiguously he can’t figure out the warning until yet another death attempt. Don’t be like Leonard, write your tasks as if they will be read by someone who is unfamiliar with their content — avoid all but the most common acronyms, leave breadcrumbs (links) to important reference materials, write complete sentences as appropriate, etcetera.

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