At some point in the last twenty years, the “Getting Things Done” (or GTD) system took the world by storm. I’m going to say it was sometime around 2005 – before Merlin Mann did his Inbox Zero speech at Google, back when Twitter was a startup called Odeo. “Getting Things Done” was (and is) a system for “getting control of your time and life” that promises a “mind like water”. Essentially, better living through time management. I’m not here to talk about what works (for me) in that pile of advice and what doesn’t. There are a lot of simple, actionable nuggets to talk about. That being said, the entire system has a tendency towards the baroque and over-complicated rather than the simple, in my opinion. Interestingly, I think this is more of a problem of the way that people implement the system rather than a problem with the system itself. David Allen’s original work, I think, is basically an extended way of saying “You really are trying to do too many things: you have too many commitments and you need to cut back”. But the entire process Allen outlines is the communication, and I think it’s worth people going through once in their life, just so they can see all the little interrelated commitments spelled out in an explicit way, realize that there’s no earthly way that they can do all of this right now, cry, and then get serious about cleaning up what a real commitment is vs. what is just something that they’d like to do, “someday, maybe.”
All of this is a long way of saying, “Hey, if you haven’t checked out this ‘Getting Things Done’ thing, it’s worth a look.”
I want to talk about one of the practices that Allen talks about in that book, and how, even though I follow very little of the other advice in his books (at least on a consistent basis – I’m looking at you, writing down every ‘next action’ for every ‘project’ [multi-action objective] that I want to achieve) I do the weekly review every week, and why.
Modern fighter pilots use something called the “Heads Up Display” or HUD – that allows them to keep their eyes on the skies while they see a status report of everything that’s going on around them. I find that the weekly review brings something that’s like a HUD to your life.
Let’s talk details.
Here’s a PDF of the weekly review process, as it’s taught in GTD books, classes, and in personal coaching around the world. It’s essentially three steps: get clear, get current, get creative.
I do basically two of these – getting current and getting creative. Not because I don’t think the other two have value, I do. I just know that I am not in a place where I can get clear every week – I’m too far behind in my emails, in my physical inbox, and so on. That’s a problem that wasn’t created in one day, and won’t be solved on a random Sunday either. The other thing that I do that isn’t technically part of the weekly review is I do this with my wife. We do a lot of stuff together, and going through our calendars together and setting our priorities together helps to prevent any weirdness from coming up, especially since we only have one car. Also, having two sets of eyes on things helps prevent awkward situations from arising.
- Calendar Three Weeks Back: Go through, day by day, and check to see if there are any follow ups. Oh, I had that meeting scheduled but we never rescheduled it, let me do that. Oh, I was supposed to do some research and get it back by the next meeting. Let me make sure I follow up on that, and so on.
- Calendar Three Weeks Forward: Go through, day by day, and look at what needs to happen. Oh, we’re going to be out of town, I’d better schedule a dog walker. Oh, it’s Jamie’s birthday, I’d better get her a present. And so on.
- 2017 Travel – We have been travelling so much that we have been reviewing what travel is coming up so that we can make sure we’ve planned for it. Even if it’s further than three weeks out.
- Friends & Family – This is just a reminder to get friends and family on the calendar so we actually meet with them. When was the last time we saw my parents, my best friend, our friends the Smiths, my wife’s best friend, her parents? Do we need to get something on the calendar with them? Let’s go ahead and schedule this.
- Road Map – We set up a road map with projects outlined in January. Let’s review it: are any of the projects completed? Do we need to move any of them around? Do we need to drop one? Has something new come up that we need to account for? Which of these can we get working on or get finished this week?
- What are this week’s priorities? (Three Things – These are Most Important Tasks, Big Rocks, Ivy Lees, or whatever way you want to talk about them. The idea is to ask yourself: “If these were the only things I really got done this week, would the week be a success?”) This is something that is canonically NOT in GTD, but I find it helpful to focus my week in a specific way like this. About five projects per quarter, three per month, three per week, three per day, making sure I’m working on the right stuff. For more details, I’ll be writing another article about MITs.
- Food Planning: who’s cooking what, when? What do we need to add to the grocery list?
- FOR NEXT REVIEW: stuff that we want to talk about next time that came up out of this review. Do we need to add or delete any sections? Allen’s suggestion about “new checklists” actually is important and useful. We have recently moved to a small town that’s at least an hour away from the nearest metro area, so when we go to one of the bigger towns, we need to make sure that we’re prepared so we don’t have to backtrack or make a second trip.
So the key to getting stuff done that happens less than daily is to get it on the calendar, then use the calendar on a daily basis to plan your routine.
Basic schedules include:
- Daily (easiest)
- Week-daily (Monday through Friday – 2nd easiest)
- Do one thing Monday/Wednesday/Friday and another thing Tuesday/Thursday. If you want weight train twice a week and do cardio three times a week, one of the easiest ways to schedule it is to block out the same hour Monday through Friday, then alternate days. If you can do the same routine to open and close your workout, this will help you build stronger habits.
- Weekends only (tough). Weekends vary so much they are hard to plan something for weekends only.
We block out a few hours every Sunday for Weekly Review and it really keeps us on track.