During the course of the week, we get so caught up in the doing of things, that we don’t spend enough time thinking about the things. Due to the nature of knowledge work, we have more things to deal with now than we have the capacity to deal with. Besides, things are coming at us faster than we can decide what to do with them. This is fine during the week and is to be expected, but it’s not easy to step away from the daily grind during the week.
As Socrates has said:
The unexamined life is not worth living.
We need to be able to spend time every week away from the daily grind to think about the daily grind. We need to be able to step back, reflect, and see our work and personal life from a slightly elevated perspective for at least a couple of hours every week. Think of it as a weekly renewal that is required for us to stay clear, current, and on top of things.
I know for me at least, before I travel for work or leisure, I review my existing commitments and ensure nothing will need my attention while I’m gone. Over time, I’ve noticed that doing this kind of executive thinking for myself on a weekly basis instead of doing it only before traveling helps me stay on top of things without having to worry about missing something important while I’m gone. And when I’m back, I have my trusted system to fall back onto.
Weekly Review is about stepping back from the daily grind and reflecting on your life. It’s about reviewing the past so you can live in the moment and prepare for the future.
Specifically, it is about setting aside some time every week to review our commitments. When we review our complete inventory of everything we have on our plate, we can begin the new week with renewed focus and fresh energy knowing that we have looked at our commitments at least once a week and nothing is falling through the cracks. You can think of it as a “weekly detox”.
A Weekly Review is about reviewing your projects. We do it to keep track of progress on our projects and the actions associated with them. Are you moving them forward each week? Do you feel you’ve made any progress on things that matter to you? This is your time for reflection and review. Where are you now in relation to where you said you were going to be a week ago? Think of it as a weekly pit stop for your life.
It involves reviewing each and every commitment from the past, present, and future so that you are up to date with your commitments to yourself and others. It occurs on a weekly basis (at least) so you’re always in control no matter how much things get out of control during any given week.
This is about taking some time to review your past week. What have you done? What do you need to do? Looking at our calendar events from the past week triggers things that we may otherwise not think of. This is when we look at our lives from a slightly elevated perspective as opposed to looking at the ground level and the actions/things we need to do on a day-to-day basis. Are we making progress on the projects? In other words, we look at the forest instead of hugging the trees. Think of it as a map that we look at once a week. When we do a daily review, we are looking at a different map, one that entails reviewing our calendar and reviewing next actions.
How do we know when we do a weekly review correctly? After doing such a review, we’ll have nothing on our minds because we have thought about things that had our attention, decided what those things meant for us, parked those things in our trusted system, and reviewed those things. When we have nothing on our minds, we are fully present in the moment and engaged in whatever we want to do. Getting to that present state is possible, but not free.
Only when we are fully present in the moment can we give our complete attention and focus to whatever it is we are doing in that moment.
There are a few reasons why we should review our commitments every week instead of doing it once in a while.
During any given week, things can quickly get out of control. When they do, we need a process in place to fall back on that we can trust. We know that no matter what happens in a week, we have blocked time for this review in order to help us stay clear, current, and complete.
Without doing such a review, our system will atrophy. We will no longer be able to trust it because it won’t be current and complete. At that point, we will stop using it altogether.
When we do this review consistently, we gain control of our time and we see things from an elevated perspective where we manage our projects, define our work, and reflect. We see the forest at least once a week instead of hugging the trees all the time.
When we do this every week (and at the same time), it helps us stay on top of our commitments. This helps us stay completely present and engaged in whatever we’re doing and is part of creating order (Order and Chaos), which enables us to be fully creative. That’s what it’s all about — freedom. It is about having nothing on our minds except those things with which we’re currently engaged. Everything else should be “someday-maybe” except for what is in front of us.
Doing the Weekly Review every week enables us to clear our heads, be present, engaged, and focused with what we are doing, and that gives us the space to be fully creative. It works because we have captured everything in our trusted system and we are using a process to engage with it regularly.
It allows us to create more space for ourselves so we can engage with things in the present. It helps us manage our agreements with ourselves as well as manage others’ expectations.
We can only make quick, intuitive decisions about what we need to do during the week when we have clarified our commitments during the weekly review and captured the results of that thinking in our trusted system. Because we are not worried about missing anything and because we are able to trust our intuition.
Doing the Weekly Review is a great example of using the process to determine the outcome (stay present and focused).
Without taking weekly time off to do this kind of executive thinking for your life, you’ll be living in reactionary mode instead of being proactive. If you don’t take a step back every week to think about your work, to review, and to reflect on it, how will you know you’re going in the right direction and making progress?
Peter Drucker once said:
What gets measured gets managed.
So, how do we do a weekly review? First, set aside some time each week. I prefer doing it on the weekend (Sunday evenings) since that is a good time for me to review the past week and plan for the week ahead. I know others who prefer doing it on Friday afternoons at work before they leave for the weekend since whatever they have done during the week is fresh in their minds. And when they get back on Monday morning, they are ready to re-engage with their commitments.
Block at least a couple of hours for doing this review combined with (and followed by) planning for the following week. Try to keep the weekly planning/review at the same time every week, and understand that this time spent with yourself should be non-negotiable for you in terms of your personal commitments relative to other things in your life. The more consistently you do this, the less time it will take on subsequent occasions.
If you find yourself traveling a lot, you could even do this review on a long flight, provided you have everything you need in your notebook computer or enough that you can at least make do for the time being. That said, you still need a “home base” where you have set up your own workspace with the tools you need to be able to do a full-scale review.
Start the process by capturing everything that has your attention by doing a “brain dump”.
Then, process all inboxes to empty: list manager, email, physical folders/trays, phone/text/voicemail, etc. This means deciding (not doing) what to do with each of those things. Capture the results of that thinking in your trusted system.
The next step is to review your lists. Review your Projects list, which forms the critical part of the review. The projects you work on typically map to your short-term goals (but it doesn’t have to). Make sure that you have at least one physical action that you can do in each of your projects. These should be parked in your Next list.
Review your Next list to make sure it is up to date. Mark off actions that you may have completed during the week. Marking them off as done during the weekly review gives you personal validation and motivates you to keep doing it.
Review your Waiting-for lists. What things are you waiting to hear about from others that require a response or some kind of action? This list is meant to be a placeholder for that. This can be in the form of email responses you are waiting on or actions you may have delegated to others. Reviewing this on a weekly basis will ensure that it is current and complete.
Review your Scheduled list to see what’s coming up during the following week. You should be able to see the actions/tasks that are set to start in the upcoming week. This is also a good time to reschedule things if you find you have too much on your plate.
Review your calendar for events during the past week. Does that trigger any potential actions that you might want to do? Does it remind you of something you should have done?
Review your calendar for the upcoming week. What things have come up as a result of thinking about the past week? Do you have meetings coming up? Do you have time blocked to prepare for them? What things do you want to keep for the week? What things do you want to move around based on your priority for the week? Do you need to create projects based on events that are coming up? Personally, as an example, I use this time to schedule emails for contacts with upcoming birthdays. This is a great way for me to stay connected with those who matter to me.
Review your Someday list to see what actions you want to remove, move to other (active) lists, or create projects around. This may also be a good time to practice some divergent thinking to get some creative juices flowing.
The main thing we need to learn here is that we need to create some sort of time and space where we build a habit of sitting down and being an executive for ourselves and our lives. This is the most lacking behavior among knowledge workers right now. Most of us who are engaged in our work today lead busy lives. We are highly engaged, creative, and focused at very detailed levels and the most needed thing is to back that world off for at least a couple of hours every week. We need to reflect on what’s happened. We need to be able to manage the forest instead of hugging the trees.
Build some sort of self-executive, self-examination reflective time. Weekly Review is the most basic level of executive thinking we need in order to see that forest. This means we need to review our projects list every week and make sure our trusted system is up to date. When it’s not, we won’t trust our system, which means we won’t trust our head.
Weekly Review is not about weekly review per se. It is about what it enables you to be and to do, which is to give you the mental space and freedom to be fully present, engaged, and focused in whatever you’re doing in the moment.
The Weekly Review enables you to look at your commitments to feel comfortable enough to not think about it. Doing this review every week puts you in control rather than being controlled by things. It is the difference between being proactive and reactive.