“Getting Things Done”: The Weekly Review

In our last post we looked at the Calendar, one of the most essential components of the system, and the “Waiting For” list.  We’ve covered all the different basic components of the system now.

Next we talk about the most important ongoing process to make GTD work: the Weekly Review.

Why review?

Face it: You’re not perfect.  You will never perfectly execute GTD.  You will put an item in the wrong Context list; you will misjudge a deferral date.  You’re also not prescient: A project may evolve in ways you didn’t expect, so the plans need to be revised.

If you don’t do a periodic review of your GTD lists, they will fail in their main purpose, which is to allow you to stop worrying about things and have confidence that you’re organized. Your lists will become imperfect, and then you’ll notice the imperfections, and then you start to doubt the accuracy of anything on the lists, and you’re back to anxiety.

So every now and then you need to review all your lists to make sure they accurately reflect the state of things.

When to review?

How often? As often as it takes for you to feel confident in the system.  Maybe, especially at first while you’re getting used to GTD being a set of good habits in your life, it needs to be more than weekly.  Maybe your life is very simple and you have few cares, and it can be every other week.  I wouldn’t take it longer than that if I were you, but I’m not you.

Exactly when? This is a lot more personal and depends on your schedule.  David Allen recommends “early Friday afternoon”, if you have a traditional 9-5 American work week office job.  His rationale is sound:

  • It’s at the end of the week, so you can look back at your accomplishments in a positive way
  • It’s pretty near to the weekend, so you leave for the weekend knowing that your system is up to date and things are where they should be
  • But by doing it early in the afternoon, if during the review you do discover “Oh crap I needed to ask Bob about the project”, there is probably still time to get in touch with Bob and ask.  So there’s still a couple hours in which to fix any misses.

So ever since I started implementing GTD, I put a “meeting” with myself on my work calendar from 1:30 to 2:30 on Friday afternoons to do my weekly GTD review.  It’s blocked out so that other people can’t schedule me for a meeting in that time, without coming to me and explaining what’s so urgent that it merits rescheduling my review for.

Now, I absolutely am lucky in many ways and I have a job which allows that.  If you work weird hours, or different days than Monday through Friday, you’ll have to adjust.  Maybe you do it on Sunday after church (or instead of church if you aren’t a church-goer).  Maybe your life happens to work out that Monday nights are the boring night when your friends are all busy but you’re not at work.

The exact time of week you pick is not nearly as important as making sure you do the review on a regular-enough basis.

Checklist for the review

The short form of how to do the review is simple: “Look at all the notes and bins and make sure they’re accurate.”  But here’s some specific practices that are helpful to call out.

  • In-Tray. If this is somehow not empty, fix that now.  Go through the workflow.  You know what to do.
  • Reference.  If your reference system has become cluttered or hard to use, the Review is a great time to admit that to yourself and either fix it, or put a project in your system to do so.
  • Someday/Maybe.  Look through your Someday/Maybe lists and see if you can now actually decide: you’re going to do the thing (so make it a Project or an Action) or you’re going to forget about it, so trash it.  If you still don’t know? That’s fine, but now you checked.
  • Project Plans.  Review these to make sure they’re on track for meeting deadlines.  Make sure the Next Actions which are doable for each project are on the appropriate context lists, or in the Calendar if deferred, ready to do when possible.
  • Next Actions. Make sure these are in the right Contexts.  Make sure the ones that are done have been cleaned up from the system.
    • A note about doing Next Actions during the review: this is the one time where I would bend the “if I can do it right now in about 2 minutes” rule.  Get the review done and complete so you can feel good about it.  But if during the review you spot a Next Action that is going to be quick and easy to get out of the way, put a gold star or a red dot or any other sort of marking on it so you don’t forget by the time you’re done with the review.  (Or make an “Immediate Post-Review” list of quick win items and put it on that list, and make the final step of your Review process to switch to that list.)
  • Calendar.  Review any things that are due in the next week or two and make sure they are on track.  If you see something due in two weeks and go “Oh crap, that’s going to take longer than I thought”, then move it to your Calendar to get started on Monday!  Now you know over the weekend that it will get the attention it needs promptly when you get back to the office, rather than worrying about it.
  • Waiting For.  I usually put Waiting For items on my Calendar to remind me to poke someone if it’s been too long since I made my request, but if there are any I neglected to put dates on, this is a good time to calendar it — or simply to actually poke them.
  • Breaking down Actions into Projects.  If there’s Actions you’ve been resisting doing, maybe it’s because it’s really too complex and should become a Project so you start to make progress on it.  The Review is a great time to reassess that.

Okay.  We’ve really been through a whole lot.  We now have a working system of organization, and a process for making sure it stays pretty current and accurate.  That’s it! We’re done!

Well, I have a few more things to add.  We’ve covered all the theory; now I want to share some practical thoughts on the specific details of implementing the system and what works for me.  That doesn’t mean it’ll work that way for you, but contrasting your thoughts with my methods may help you find what does work.  So in the next post, I will mention some miscellaneous details about how to use the system on an ongoing basis.