Working smarter, not harder, every day

Weekly review: 9 steps to make yours efficient and painless

What is a weekly review?

A weekly review is so much more than simply “clarification” of your inbox items during a particular time of the week. It’s a chance for you to formulate short-term goals this week and plan your time to execute your long-term game-plan. Performing a weekly review is imperative to keeping productive throughout the week and ensuring you are keeping all of your tasks, events, and ideas in order.

Your goal during a weekly review is to not only to clarify your inbox items, but to also review what you have done to formulate future actions, think about where your time went, and plan your future more strategically. Finally, by asking yourself probing questions, you can help gain a sense of what areas of your life you’ll attempt to improve in the coming week and beyond.

It’s a powerful time-saving habit because you’ll spend less time in mental limbo throughout the week formulating plans and more time acting on those plans. You won’t need to continually check different resources to make sure you’re on your game and will be able to stay focused based on the tasks you have selected as the most important for the week.

In addition, having an idea of what you have done vs. what you did not get done and tracking the time you put to which activities during the week will give you greater mastery of your time and free up mental rent because you will be more sure you’re spending time where it matters.

Remember that you can successful weekly review, like most things in life, through planning and consistency.

You need to plan your weekly review for a specific block of time during the week, and consistently take notes and other inbox items to review for later. If you do not capture your notes and reminders throughout the week on a consistent basis, then your weekly review will be less effective because when you go to get all of your materials in Step 2 below, because you will have a difficult time knowing what resources you’ll need to marshal and you’re prone to lose track of things. Consistently and diligently capturing your thoughts and ideas will ultimately keep your weekly review comprehensive of all the tasks in your life.

Most important of all, though, is to adapt these steps to make them your own. Take in what I’ve laid out below and work it into your life the best way that fits your needs.

Without boring you too much before I’ve really gotten to the real meat of things, let’s jump into it:

1. Choose a time and place free from distraction

Place

Start by sectioning off time before your week begins and choose a space that is free from distractions where you will have access to all of your materials. I usually choose Sunday night because it’s before my week really begins and hoose to do my review in my at-home study. That’s where I’m likely to receive the least distraction from work and it’s near most of my resources. I stress that you pick a place near your resources. Work, at home, or a coffee shop are some examples of places you could be if you are able to bring your materials from (Step 2) mobile.

Reminder

Once you’ve decided on a place, set a weekly reminder in your productivity platform, calendar, or to-do list to help you remember to do your weekly review. I have a recurring reminder each Sunday for “Weekly Review” set for no particular time. It often happens at the end of Sunday in the last few hours before I go to bed.

Duration

An hour is usually enough, but you may need either more or less time. I suggest tracking how long your weekly reviews take to get a feel for how long you think it should take and then plan them accordingly. Start with an hour your first week, and if you take less time than that, great! Now use the leftover time for something productive. Your first weekly review could take up to several hours, though. That’s okay, it’s more important that you take time to do a comprehensive review.

Sometimes you can’t block out all the time you need. That’s alright too. You can do your weekly review in shorter blocks as needed. Sometimes I’ll do half of my weekly review (usually the meatier stuff, like formulating my weekly game plan) and then come back to the items after a short break or even the next day.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

~ Aristotle

2. Marshal your materials

Take time to make sure you have everything you need in front of you that could have any impact on your life or your schedule for the week. This step is super important because if you forget your paper inbox, productivity platform, email, or other less obvious items, for instance, you could be leaving out potentially important information from your review. If you leave items out of your review it means you won’t get all the benefits from the review…so make sure you really dig and get everything out.

Get together the following items as needed. This list is not meant to be all-inclusive but to spur your thinking about what items you might need as part of your review

Items:

  • Any to-do lists, calendars, notes etc. from the week (including electronic to-do lists and various project-management platforms I’m testing/Wunderlist);
  • Timer reports (Mine are on Toggl or whatever timer apps I’m testing that week);
  • Fresh print-outs for the week (to do lists, etc.) — I use a running paper to-do list in my study, but this is totally optional and only efficient because I manage to so often compare the paper to-do list to Wunderlist at least once per day;
  • Paper inbox;
  • Notebook or an actual physical inbox, or both;
  • I use a lot of post-it notes when I’m just sitting around at home and do not have my phone with me at the moment and a notebook when I’m out and in a similar situation (e.g., a class where phones are prohibited, or out hiking without cell phone signal);
  • Email inbox(es);
    • Personal and professional;
  • Social media accounts;
  • Events on Facebook;
  • Evite (is this still a thing? If texted my mom, and she hasn’t gotten back to me on this, but if it is, open up a browser tab for it.)
  • List(s) of Goals and Accomplishments;
    • Short and long-term goals to review;
  • Trigger list (Some people, but not me personally. See below for links. In effect, by bringing these materials and reviewing my lists, that’s usually a good trigger list in itself.) I have attached sample trigger lists at the bottom of this article;
  • Anything else in your life that would have doable items or things you would like to record for later from which you might later act or need to take some action. This is a catch-all for anything else I haven’t mentioned that you might need.
  • Some kind of beverage to sip while you work and maybe some light music in the background if that doesn’t distract you.

3. Compare What You Did vs. What You Need(ed) to Do

In this step, we look at what got done vs. what did not get done. This includes scheduling tasks we put off, as well as formulating “next steps” for tasks completed in the past week.

We also start to look at things we know we will need to schedule for the coming week. You don’t have to necessarily start adding tasks to your calendar/to-do list here. If you’re positive that you will block out time for a particular task, however, you could start adding items to your calendar/to-do list. I usually add “sure thing” upcoming deadlines or meetings from this step to both my Wunderlist and paper to-do list because they are likely definite.

More like this: How to form new lasting habits with an everyday list

First

Look at old to-do lists and calendars from the previous week and see what you have not done. Save the tasks you did not do for this week or beyond and schedule them on your to-do list or make a note for later as well as your productivity platform). For each of these items, do your best to formulate some kind of “due” date. I do this by adding a due date on Wunderlist for all of these incoming tasks, even though the date is optimistic.

Second

See what next actions you need to do based on what you have done. Add them to your to-do list/platform. That means you may have completed a task this week and not marked the next action for that task/project yet. This is an opportunity to formulate where that information goes. This is basically “clarify” (step 2 of GTD). Your goal with this process is to trigger your thoughts to consider all the different parts of your life, make notes, and set tasks/reminders based on that review. If you earlier set a task to have a conversation with your accountant, and during that conversation, you mentioned you’d send an important document, in this step you should make a task to send that document to your accountant as a “next task.”

Finally

I typically finish this step by brainstorming. At this point, I come up with some things that I know I’ll need to do for the week, but that I won’t find on any other list. If I know I’m going to need to go to the store this week, for example, I’ll start a task called “Groceries.” Maybe I’ll put a few items I know I need as subtasks on that list, and then move on. I may or may not assign a due date at this point. I’m likely to assign a due date at step 9 or later during the week, even. You can take or leave this part and leave it for later if you want.

4. Sort paper inbox

Take all the items and either put them in with your other notes. I use Evernote to store notes, but action this could equally be scanning the paper to an electronic format if you work in a paperless office. If it’s just a simple paper post-it note, for instance, then you can throw the paper away once you store the information. You can use Evernote, or on your to-do platform as a task or list for later, for instance. If it’s a document, see if you might scan it and save it on your computer for later, or in the right file bin if you have one. I usually take this time to sort my to-do list from last week with my other old lists as well in a paper file folder.

In addition, make sure you look through your physical notebook/notes/sticky notes, note-taking applications (like OneNote, Evernote, Google Keep, or a word document), and other appropriate locations, and add all of those to your files or make tasks out of them for the coming week.

5. Sort email inbox

I’m giving you permission to go to your email inboxes and make any tasks for the week at this point based on email. Make sure you review all relevant email accounts, folders, and filters so nothing is left out. Moreover, make sure that there’s nothing “read” in your inbox that you need to take the next action that might slip through.

Do not respond to emails during your weekly review, but make tasks to respond to emails another time, in a batch. Make sure to use FollowUpThen or other email services to push-off emails to future when you know they’ll be more relevant.

6. Review all lists on your productivity platform, online journals like Evernote or Pocket, paper lists/files, including tickler lists, etc.

Check each list for actionable items to move to a more prominent or relevant list. Also look for items you want to remove from that list. On a tickler list, you might say “that was a pipe dream, I’ll never do that!” or to remind yourself that you had that thought at one time and maybe you’ll reconsider it (consciously or unconsciously) in the coming week(s).

This is the time each week to remind yourself of these things. We don’t want to think about them all the time, which is why we keep them on our productivity platforms. Take the time each week to review your old thoughts–you wrote them out earlier for a reason.

See how many of your “everyday” tasks you accomplished each day this past week. Do you need to add items, remove items, etc.? If you’ve consistently not done a task, ask why you have failed to complete it? Are you inspired to try some new habits? Maybe a new 30-day challenge? I recently have committed to reading at least 10 pages per day for leisure. I typically read a lot of articles and things on the Internet, but have committed to reading more books. There is a greater depth at which books the author of a book can delve into a particular subject, and the change to read more books for me started with a quick addition to my everyday list.

7. Review trigger list if you have one

By marshaling your materials and reviewing up to this point, you essentially have a good idea of all the tasks and obligations in your life right there. You could further check a trigger list though. A trigger list delineates different portions of your life you read to think about each different part of your life and “trigger” thoughts/tasks related to those activities. When you review the list and think of something, you add the item your lists, etc. so as you would for other tasks.

Here’s an example of a personal trigger list.
Here’s an example of a school trigger list.

8. Block out time for the week on your paper to-do list or calendar

At this point, you should have a really good idea of what you have done last week and what you need to get done for the coming week and should have many new items on your productivity platform and lists. That might be enough for some people, but here I use a physical paper to-do list to take items from my productivity platform and plan my days around those tasks. This isn’t necessary because I could feasibly use Wunderlist, calendar, or any other productivity platform to get this done. I do like having a physical to-do list for the week, so I’ve retained this habit. You don’t necessarily need to do it if you can keep your productivity app from getting too jumbled/crowded.

Basically, you should try to batch your activities in terms of what items you absolutely need to get done on different days for the week. Try to cut the amount of time spent on and switching between activities, and prioritize action items. Try to fit in smaller tasks throughout the week as proper. I’ve written about this before: How to form new lasting habits with an everyday list.

9. Complete and Refine

You’re basically done at this point. As the week goes on, make sure your calendar and to-do lists show what you’re doing and need to do. Make sure to put your paper to-dos in your paper to do bin. Also, put items in your electronic inbox on your productivity platform. In addition, make sure to see how much time everything took you for the week, and where your time went to compare for next time by using a time tracker. Basically, stick with your program and make the appropriate adjustments based on the data you get from the week.

More like this: Tracking Excellence

I like to ask myself some questions at the end of the week to trigger more thoughts. Here are some suggestions, but the options are endless. You can record your answers to these questions in a physical or electronic journal. There is a lot of scientific and anecdotal evidence pointing to positive mental health outcomes with frequent journaling, especially about positive things such as what you have accomplished:

  • What did I set out to carry out this past week, and did I succeed?
  • What are three things I would like to do this coming week?
  • Did I improve my time on any tasks this past week, based on my timer records?
  • What absolutely must get done this coming week? Have I prioritized those tasks and batched around them in my plan for this coming week?
  • What were three times this past week that I achieved a state of flow in my work or leisure?
  • Have I reasonably made enough time to get everything done in my plans for this coming week? What tasks in my plan could potentially be pushed to later on if other tasks end up consuming more time or energy?

There are many online journaling options. You could use Evernote, Google Drive, or even a notepad document on your computer (I’d caution you that if anything happened you would want to have a backup of this document if you went the notepad route). A good ol’ fashioned paper notebook also will work well if that’s your style.

Set some long-term goals or review your long-term goals at this point and check your progress.

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Author: Ryan Ullman

Law student, productivity buff, blogger, flow-seeker. Loves the outdoors and coffee.

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