Our second episode in the series on essential habits. This week we discuss the regular review — daily, weekly, monthly and annual.
We’re starting a series on the essential habits to build for any productivity system. This week we’re looking at the mindsweep — a tactic to clear your brain so you can focus on what’s important.
Pivoting from the Weekly Review to Multiple Reviews
The classic GTD Weekly Review has been a cornerstone of the GTD system. But it’s been a troublesome beast for many practitioners. When I started GTD and attempted to do the weekly review, I set aside a Sunday afternoon to do it. Three hours later, I was spent. It was not something I looked forward to do every Sunday afternoon. I started loathing the weekly review. Here is a short podcast from the official GTD podcast regarding the weekly review:
The weekly review is a popular subject. Here are some Guild topics that dealt with the weekly review:
The main purpose of the weekly review is to get your task manager up-to-date. Trust is important and if I can’t trust my task manager, I won’t look at it. So much can change in just one day. New events occur and renders a task obsolete or change the direction of a current project. Performing a review will bring my database back to reality and regain my trust. My anxiety drops and I can get back to focusing on my current work.
I sensed a lot of anxiety building up throughout the week because I couldn’t wait for my weekly review to come every Sunday afternoon. Breaking up the weekly review into multiple reviews with different levels of focus gives me a sense of calm. Every project, task list, or checklist needs to be reviewed at different frequency cycles. Instead of one big three hour weekly review on Sunday afternoons, I’ll break that three hours into digestible chunks of 15 minutes throughout the week.
When Do I Need To Review?
I review as often as I need to.
The General Rule: The more frequently a checklist or project changes, the more frequently I should review it.
If a checklist is fairly dormant (packing checklist, spring cleaning), I can review it on an infrequent basis such as once a month, once every quarter, or longer.
Schedule the review
Reserving a time block into my schedule ensures that I’m going to get to it. The [Due app] has been my go-to app to remind me to work on a daily review. It prompts me once every 30 minutes until I eventually mark it as done.
Time flies and I don’t realize it’s 4:30 pm until the Due app notifies me from my iPhone and Apple Watch. When I hear the familiar Due chime, it’s time to start wrapping up today’s work and go into my daily shutdown routine. You’ll find your own suitable time for shutdown. Some folks might be too exhausted at the end of the day to think clearly. Perhaps a small 15 minute time block right before dinner or after dinner would be better. I’ve learned to pace myself (especially late in the afternoon) and try to get ready for my review time.
At my local bank, the bank closes its doors at 4:00 pm. This gives the bank employees one hour to go through their shutdown routine. They review their work and reconcile anything that happened today. This is an example of reserving time at the end of the day to get some quality review at time.
The Due app has reinforced my daily review. At US$4.99, this app has paid itself over many times. There are other options including your smartphone’s built-in alarm app or other apps available at your favorite online app store.
Just 15 minutes a day
Depending on the number of projects and list to review, my typical review period takes 15-30 minutes. I found myself disgruntled if I have to spend more than an hour doing a review. Trying to do one weekly review for 3 hours was soul crushing and not something I looked forward to.
If I schedule a 15 minute time block to work on a different part of the review, I’ll eventually catch up with my backlog. Not everything has to be reviewed every week. It’s not about getting to Inbox Zero or doing a full review. It’s about chipping away at the review process and get up-to-date on the important stuff. Keeping my system at manageable size and knowing that the most important projects, tasks, and checklists are up-to-date is enough for me to trust my system.
Create A Review Checklist
One way to keep track of everything is to create a checklist of everything that needs to be reviewed. Create a schedule for every line item that is up for review.
Projects that I am actively engaged in right now (usually a Big Rock project that has a due date in the very near future) or checklists that changes daily or semi-daily will need to be reviewed once a day or every 2-4 days. Currently, I have a house renovation project that’s been keeping me busy. I have to check with the contractor every day to see if I need to buy new construction materials. If this project was dormant, I would have checked on it once a month to see if I want to start it. But now that it’s started, my review cycle becomes daily because there’s always something going that changes the project scope.
Here is a list of general review cycles I might look at:
- Currently active projects (Big Rocks) (every 1-3 days)
- On Hold projects (Someday/Maybe) (once a week to once every month)
- Inboxes from e-mail, social media, apps (Drafts, Ulysses, Bear) (daily)
- Deadlines (Due projects and tasks) (once a day to once a week)
- Calendar (daily)
- Action Lists for different Areas of Focus (home, work, church, community) (every 1-7 days)
If you need to be kept aware of anything in your life, it should belong in your review checklist. Then review each list as needed.
Planning for tomorrow is an essential part of my plan to start off the next day with a running start. I usually spend 10-15 minutes at the end of each day doing an end-of-day review. When the morning comes, I am already in action mode and don’t need to drag out my daily planning. I can get immediately start on my daily frog to eat. I look at my Action Lists and my currently active projects for tasks to work on.
I look at my Action Lists quite frequently. I have my Office Action List which contains single one-off tasks that gets updated daily. I need to review the Office Action List more frequently than something like my Homeowners Association Action List. The Homeowners Association list doesn’t get updated frequently but I do peek at it once a week to see if I want to start work on something in that list.
In addition to my single one-off tasks from the Action Lists, I’ll schedule a 60-90 minute time block to make progress in a currently active project. If I can complete at least 2-3 tasks from a project each day, I can make significant progress until the end of the week.
I look at my projects list to see what I need to focus on next week and what to put on the backburner. I have a handful of projects that I am working on each week. The Someday/Maybe projects are not considered when I go to the daily review. I look at currently active projects and see if I need to put it on hold for a while or consider revising the next actions within. Sometimes the next actions may not be inline with reality. Perhaps I need to break it down into small next actions or I can delegate them to someone else who can more capably complete the next action?
After choosing my 3-5 Big Rocks, I’ll print them out and place them next to my desk calendar. I have the active projects I want to work on and the next group of actions to work on.
Monthly, Quarterly, Annually
This is where I reach for my goals. I look for any quarterly goals or long-term plans that I want to make progress on. I also go back to my Someday/Maybe projects to see if there is anything in there that can help get me closer to my goals.
I also review my currently active Big Rock projects and see if I need to course-correct myself to get closer to my goals. In these long-range plans, I’ve found that I can set sail in a general direction and then course-correct over time. I might drift off-course by a degree or two but then incrementally get back going in the right direction. Experience has taught me that I can get a sense of where I’m going and if I’m hitting my monthly or quarterly targets. I often revisit projects and goals with my wife and work partners when I feel like I am going off course.
I have a mind map to keep me on my flight plan. My Vision mind map holds the various projects that will contribute to creating projects that will get me to the next milestone.
Do you do your weekly review? Or even a daily review? What does look like? Do you like to do one big weekly review or do you break it up into mini reviews throughout the week and month? Share your thoughts by commenting below or create your own post at the Productivity Guild!
Building strong routines is a great way to up your effectiveness at work and home. Justin outlines his two routines that help him do just that.
Planning my week with the BuJo
In my latest experiment, I’ve been trying to use the Bullet Journal (BuJo) to plan my entire week. I wanted to balance time spent between different groups of tasks. Here are the three groups that I wanted to spend time in:
- Urgent Items – I have a wave of urgent tasks that come up in life. They typically have due dates assigned. These are the high priority tasks that I need to work on before I can start working on the other two groups.
- Big Rock projects – A group of tasks that are geared towards achieving a final goal. They are not as urgent as the Urgent Items but they are an important part of improving
- Small Rocks – Single next actions that appears throughout the week. It is a constant surge of incoming tasks that is generated from daily life. They aren’t as important as the urgent items in the first group but I do need to take care of them. If possible I try to delegate or automate as many of these small rocks as possible.
My first attempt at the BuJo started here.
This layout idea worked for a while but it didn’t cover everything I needed to work in throughout my day. I’ve found that my layout has changed over time to reflect my current demands. Everyone will have a layout that works for them. It will take time to figure out what works. Weeks of field testing a new layout will tweak your two-page spread to fit your needs.
I wanted to take a group of Big Rock projects and single actions from my massive list in my task manager and schedule them for the next week. When I look at my task manager, I am swimming (or almost drowning) in a sea of possible projects and tasks to work on. If I can narrow down my list of projects and tasks to a select few, I reduce my resistance to my task manager backlog and redirect my focus back to projects and tasks that will take care of the immediate needs (urgent and due) and make systematic improvement for a future "me" with Big Rock projects.
Daily Pages vs. Weekly Pages
Daily Two-Page Spread
I’ve gone back and forth between a daily two-page spread and a weekly two-page spread. There are adbantages to both layouts. Here is a popular daily layout that I found many moons ago:
There are many different types of planner pages available for sale. Find one that is predesigned for you or design your own. It’s your choice! I did use a Franklin-Covey Planner setup during my college years and it fit me perfectly for that period. Fast forward decades later and I’ve moved on to a custom BuJo setup. Many of the day planners I’ve tried had a daily two-page spread like this:
The daily page spread allowed me to focus on each day. I had a column of today’s tasks, a day schedule to fill in my day with the day’s classes, appointments, and party times. There’s also a large notes page for me to capture anything that catches my eye. This two-page spread focused on one day but it lacked a higher horizon of control for me. Looking at this layout, I can see today’s landscape but I couldn’t see anything that would come up in the next seven days.
Weekly Two-Page Spread
I am always trying to stay ahead of the Game of Life. I am concerned about today’s work but I also have to look ahead to urgent tasks that will be arriving at my office door in the next few days. I needed to plot my game plan for the week in my BuJo. After much experimentation, I’ve updated my BuJo layout to include my calendar appointments, Due Tasks, MITs (Most Important Tasks for today), Big Rocks, and Small Rocks (maintenance tasks). I took my inspiration from the weekly two-page spread from my old Franklin-Covey Planner:
Preparing My BuJo Weekly Two-Page Spread
After much thought and re-organization, my BuJo layout evolved to what I have here:
I love the A5-sized notebooks. It’s big enough to hold my two-page spread but compact enough to toss into my messenger bag or backpack when I am on-the-go.
The left page has a seven day block which will contain my due tasks, appointments, and MITs. I’m not a micro-manager and need to account for every minute of every day. But if I needed to do fine-grained recording of my time spent, I’d just use a digital calendar or go to a larger-sized notebook to give me more room to create a fully day calendar similar to the Franklin-Covey Weekly Planner page. For my daily work driver, day blocks with my tasks for the day are sufficient.
The right page is split into two halves. The first half holds the Big Rock projects and the first 3-5 next actions. The second half will hold any one-off tasks or maintenance tasks that aren’t scheduled in yet but are available to me. I called this section my "Menu."
Creating My Menu For Next Week
I use my digital task manager as my second brain to store all of my projects and tasks. I have a mixture of Big Rock projects, Someday/Maybe, repeating maintenance tasks, single one-off tasks, and checklists. I don’t need to refer to many of these items daily but I do need a place to park them. The task manager serves this purpose well. I’ve tried many times to work exclusively from my task manager but I just couldn’t do it. I get enough screen time and sometimes I’m away from my computer or iPad. Carrying a notebook was much easier and more carefree for me. Who knows? I might just return back to my iPhone or iPad but I’m still in love with my BuJo.
I have so many tasks stored inside my task manager. It’s time to figure out what I am not doing and focus on what I intend to do next week. Using my task manager, I can say “no” to many tasks and projects and say “yes” to the right ones. I will choose my two to three Big Rocks and find a handful of other tasks to focus on next week.
Choosing the Big Rocks
I want to include my Big Rock projects in my weekly plan. At the end of the week, I look for two to three Big Rock projects to focus on for the next week. I’ll write them down in my Big Rocks section. I write down the next 3-5 next actions for each Big Rock. If I have three Big Rocks with three next actions, that’s already a minimum of nine next actions to work on for the next week.
Designing My Menu of Next Actions
I have a variety of single one-off tasks and repeating maintenance tasks that I want to include in next week’s game plan. After choosing the 3 Big Rocks, I start adding the Small Rocks to work on next week. I refer to my task manager and write down 10 or more tasks to work on next week. These are tasks that I should be doing but are not scheduled into my day calendar yet.
I still have room for more tasks that inevitably needs to be added throughout the week. If I get a new request/order today and it needs to be done this week, I will write it down here. If the request/order can be done later (hopefully next week), I will just enter it into my task manager.
In the picture above, I have 13 single actions in the Menu section and 11 actions in the Big Rock section. I have decided to work on these group of tasks in between my appointments (the hard landscape). I’ll be adding more throughout the week. Keep the number of tasks fairly low. For me, 24 tasks will probably take me the whole week to finish. This is on top of any incoming tasks that will eventually arrive on my desk throughout the week.
I have finished designing my group of tasks for next week. It’s time to fastforward through the weekend to the beginning of the next workweek.
The right page spread shows my list of tasks that I want to work on next week. The left side page shows my calendar and what I will work on each day.
Planning My Dashboard
Now it’s time to start filling out my week’s work agenda with:
- Due (urgent) tasks
- Big Rocks
- Small Rocks
Planning My Dashboard (Appointments)
I fill in each day block in the Dashboard with major appointments that will be happening. These are the first items that I must respect because it represents my hard landscape. I look at my digital calendar and transfer major events and appointments into the BuJo. In the next photo, I see that I have some early appointments on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday. The rest of my week looks clear for me. I can plant tasks around days that are not full of appointments. I’ll look at my digital calendar and record any major appointments that must happen on my day blocks.
For the moment, I don’t necessarily need an 8 am to 5 pm day block. My schedule tends to be chaotic because I might have walk-in customers and requests that pour in throughout the day. I have tried hyper-scheduling and planning time blocks throughout each day but I get frustrated when I want to do something at 10 am but I get called in to put out a fire at that time.
I keep my digital calendar events so that I can get alarm notifications on my smartphone and my computer when the time comes. But I also record it in my BuJo to get an idea of my busy days and my quiet days.
Adding Due Items (Urgent) To The Dashboard
There will be many tasks that must be done by a certain date. This also becomes a part of my hard landscape along with appointments. I’ll look at my Due tasks from my task manager or from the Menu column and put them into my day block. I will list these tasks immediately after my appointments.
Planning For Tomorrow
I plan to work on at least one Big Rock project and at least three MITs. I’ll consider the day a success if I can complete them by the end of the day.
Planning My Dashboard (The Big Rocks)
I most likely won’t work on a Big Rock project if I don’t schedule it. I look into my weekly schedule and look for possible days to work on a specific Big Rock. I’ll schedule one Big Rock a day. If I’m feeling brave or if the Big Rock projects have a lot of quick tasks, I might schedule one for the morning and one for the afternoon.
Sometimes I won’t plan a Big Rock until the day before. It depends on the progress of the current Big Rock I’m working on. I am free to move Big Rocks around but I would like to stay on track. The Big Rock goes immediately after appointments and due tasks.
Planning My Dashboard (The 3 MITs)
At the end of each day, I will take a look at my Menu on the far right column. I choose 3 MITs for tomorrow and write them into the day block. The MITs are the single one-off actions or repeating single actions that I need to get done but aren’t urgent.
The Weekly Gameplan Is Complete
Planning my week ahead of time reduces the need to think of the next project or task to work on in the heat of the moment. I get decision fatigue if I have to choose a random task or project in my task manager. This BuJo layout assists me by reducing all the distraction that a task manager provides. I would endlessly scroll through lists of tasks and projects and feel that there is probably something easier or more attractive to work on. I might get back into planning mode and create new plans for world domination when I should really get back to work on what’s on today’s agenda.
At the end of each day, I pick at least one Big Rock project and 3 MITs to work on. If I can complete these items, I can always continue working on the Big Rock or choose a few more MITs from my menu.
I’ve been tweaking my BuJo and OmniFocus workflow to its current layout. As I encounter more friction or face a new situation, I’ll be looking at ways to acommodate the new demands. I’ve realized that my digital task manager isn’t the tool to help me with the day-to-day workflow. Its place for me is to store all of my projects and tasks. I’ve further entrenched myself in the hybrid task management system for the moment. Who knows? Maybe I’ll go back to all-digital one day.
Have you been planning your week or are you flying by the seat of your pants? How are you designing your week or day schedule? I’m curious to see what everyone has here. Create a new post here at the Productivity Guild and take a snapshot with your BuJo layout! It’s a great way to get inspired by other people’s layouts.
The space you work in is just as important as the systems you use. In today’s episode, Justin discusses considerations around a few common work locations.