What To Review

May 13, 2016
Joe Buhlig
~4 mins

The longer I practice GTD principles, the more intentional I try to be with the time I spend updating my systems. I need my commitments to be thought through and my decisions to be made ahead of time. Knowing that I am prone to starting new projects before I have time for them leads me to a need for a recurring time of reevaluation.

David Allen declares the Weekly Review a vital component of the framework. And I would agree that this once-weekly update is a make it or break it step to success. Without it, I would have a growing list of stalled projects that should be dropped, or at least moved to a Someday/Maybe list. But I’ve also found other levels of review to be beneficial. And those are better done at different intervals than the Weekly Review. It’s not worth my time to evaluate each context and project every morning. I would spend the vast majority of my time in reflection and never accomplish the tasks I’m reviewing.

The glaring question here is “What do you actually do during these reviews?” The easy thing to do is share a picture of my checklists, but that fails to explain the reasoning for the review itself. You are free to copy these, but be sure to think through your intent and understand why you are doing it before you tweak these to fit your personality. There’s potentially more harm in aimlessly going through these than in skipping them altogether.

Daily Review (~20 mins)

The first step in GTD is Capture. It all starts with the habit of putting tasks and ideas into an inbox. My problem is that without daily time for making a decision about each item, inboxes perpetually grow. At the same time, I struggle to jump start my day. Despite the system, I’m drawn to the most urgent or interesting thing on my mind and want to focus on it first thing in the morning. To combat this I set up the Daily Review with the purpose of clearing inboxes and creating motivation on the right task.

  • Process Inbox: Paper
  • Process Inbox: Email
  • Process Inbox: Drafts
  • Process Inbox: Browser
  • Process Inbox: DropBox
  • Process Inbox: OmniFocus
  • Review @Waiting For
  • Review Forecast
  • Review Calendar
  • Review Weekly Plan
  • Review Completed

Weekly Review (~70 mins)

The core purpose of my Weekly Review is to be honest with myself and verify that I’m headed in the right direction. I’m terrible at getting a feel for this and can easily get off track in the course of an afternoon. My tendency is to put off projects that are no fun or that have a daunting next action. I need to limit the projects and tasks available to pick from. I also need to review projects that aren’t moving and ask myself why they are stalled.

I should note that the tasks on this checklist look deceptively simple, but they’re far from it. Clear Review Perspective is a 30 minute or longer task that forces me to decide if I’m going to keep the project in the active queue, put it on hold, or drop it entirely. Review Stalled Projects makes me look at projects I keep thinking I’ll work on but continue failing to follow through on. These two steps alone can sometimes take an hour. But if I skipped that hour of commitment reevaluation, I’ll spend weeks working on fluff that takes me nowhere.

  • Process Inbox: @Joe in Kitchen
  • Clear Review Perspective
  • Review Stalled Projects
  • Set Weekly Plan
  • Weekly Reflection
  • Clean Workstation
  • Empty Trash

Monthly Review (~30 mins)

It’s impossible to validate my direction in the Weekly Review if I don’t have goals and a mission by which these projects are guided. The simple purpose of my Monthly Review is to create guidance and help me design my days to realize these goals. I look over my Horizons of Focus and make sure I have a sense of direction for the upcoming months and years. Granted, I’m always revising this. But it’s this process of reading and altering the plan that allows me to course correct quickly.

  • Review 50,000
  • Review 40,000
  • Review 30,000
  • Check Old Projects
  • Evaluate Morning Ritual
  • Evaluate Evening Ritual
  • Evaluate Daily Schedule
  • Evaluate Contexts

Annual Review (~3 hrs)

I’ve found some value in rethinking the basic aspects of how we as a family operate once a year. Those can include insurance and savings, but they should also encompass your goals as a family or couple. And they do not need to be done all at once or alone. Involve your spouse and kids if you have them. But remember that your tolerance for this type of thinking than may be much higher (or lower) than your spouse’s. Break it up across a few weeks if you need.

  • Becky: Big accomplishments in the past year?
  • Becky: Big goals for the next year?
  • Becky: Evaluate financial state
  • Becky: Evaluate insurance state
  • Determine monthly goals for next year

Again, this amount of review may be overkill for you. As long as your system helps you drive down the right road, you’re golden. But there are always times when we need to reference the lines on the road to keep us from hitting the ditches, and some of us need more reference points than others to stay on the road.