In his book, Getting Things Done, David Allen frequently reminds you that your mind isn’t a good archive for your work. Weekly review comes in as a process to change the plans in your head to external ones. This lets you spend a little time knowing what you need to prioritize and what needs to be trashed. This way, you can use your time to actually work on one thing at a time instead of stressing out. In the workplace, weekly review lets your team know what you’re doing. This will improve overall communication and align team and company goals.
Taking the steps to properly review everything on your plate serves as the key step to weekly review. When you complete items or update externally, you gain insight into what your work means and what steps you can take to take it to the next level. Likewise, weekly review is a great feedback system for others and opens the door for collaboration.
The Weekly Review and GTD System
David Allen breaks up his GTD weekly review system into 11 steps. These steps can be reduced to 4 main ideas.
Idea 1: Process
In David Allen’s steps, processing includes gathering all the materials you have. This is the first step. These include physical documents as well as messages and emails.
Once everything is collected, start processing it by either responding to it, completing it, or trashing it. Determine whether or not certain materials are worth saving or not.
The third step is to process any thoughts you have. Only do this once your materials have been sorted. From there, you can determine what you need to get done for the week and record it.
Idea 2: Review
By far, this is the biggest category and the bulk of what you’ll be doing in weekly review. (It’s in the name after all!) The other steps are to enforce the usefulness of this one. You should have a system of what to review in what order so you can use your time efficiently.
FIRST, review your next actions. These are what you need to accomplish immediately and are tasks you are already familiar with. Make sure to mark them off as they are completed. Online app can help by letting you move your items from a plan category to a progress (done) category.
SECOND, review your calendar. Review your calendar from the previous week or, if it’s not overwhelming, from the quarter. This can inform you about things you may have missed and some references or ideas that may further inspire you. Then, review your future calendar and check for deadlines. This will let you know how much time you have to complete projects and what actionable steps you need to take to ensure you meet the deadline.
THIRD, review all your larger projects. Which ones have you completed? What steps do you need to take to complete others? Do you need to add any new projects to the list? Make sure that, in this process, that all your projects have a next action prepared so they actually get done.
Idea 3: Track
Look at what you’re waiting for. See what you can do in order to ease communications to get these things done. Make a list of what you need from others and what your next actionable steps are when you obtain what you need.
Tracking also helps you make more creative decisions. Looking over and tracking down what will be useful from your someday/maybe list is an important step in the process.
Idea 4: Cleanse
The final step is to empty your mind of everything that has been bothering you about your schedule. This way, you know what you should be working on and don’t have to waste more time worrying about the deadlines of other items.
In 2014, Cornerstone OnDemand collaborated with Kelton to produce a study on the effects of increased workload on productivity. The study found that 68% of people suffer from work overload in the US and feel that this impacts their productivity.
This survey also highlighted that 52% of that 68% felt that the amount of work they needed to get done couldn’t get finished in a day. These statistics have been increasing, drawing from a study done the previous year in particular.
Out of the 3 main causes of declining productivity shown in the survey, 61% found that work overload was their main hurdle. Having work piled up and stressing about it is the clear main problem in the American workforce.
This constant focus on work and fear of deadlines means that work is always on the mind. So, instead of playing with the kids, you’re stuck inside sending emails out to schedule next week’s meetings. All because during your work hours you spent an hour and a half panicking about everything that needs to be done.
The best way to engage with this is to make an effort to write down what you need to accomplish, even at the team level. This way, everyone knows what to do and when the deadlines are. Projects that are not immediately relevant get tossed or put on a someday list, and that’s all the attention you need to give them.
Though the study conducted by the American Psychological Association in 2001 is nearly 20 years old now, there’s a reason why everyone circulates the statistic that multitasking decreases productivity by 45%. The study specifically highlights new or complicated tasks as the main productivity drop.
This makes sense. If something is introduced to you, it’s better to focus on that task exclusively without feeling committed to doing 3 other things. It takes time to switch your brain to a new task. Therefore, switching activities actually makes you lose time.
Weekly review can help you with this by forcing you or your team to actually prioritize what matters the most. By recording everything in one session, you are informed about what the most important next step is. Taking care of small tasks first means that when you complete everything you need to, you have time to engage with creative or risky ideas without fear of other work not getting done.
Making a list and crossing off one item at a time is probably your best bet to not get overwhelmed.
Working in Groups
Generally, there seems to be favoritism towards having more private space in the workplace. Meeting somewhere in the middle of the private and the public is preferred by 71% of employees as of 2019.
Despite the dislike of open spaces by employees, according to the same survey, most people consider teambuilding the most important element of a functional workplace. 43% desire a work environment that promotes collaboration and team building.
However, the main distractions in the workplace are also fellow teammates, so this is a dangerous balance. It’s obvious that unstructured communication in the workplace (AKA, meeting hell) is dreadful and hurts everyone’s workflow.
Weekly review is one of the best compromises between planning for private and team productivity. Weekly review encourages team communication, while also providing useful information for collaboration instead of pointless, dead-end meetings.
Technology sits at the forefront of making productivity more difficult and easier at the same time. On the one hand, generally, employees don’t like the process of learning new tools or systems. This is especially true of older employees who didn’t grow up during the age of the internet.
Likewise, there’s the problem of when technology fails and the fact that technology can be a distraction.
This hardly proves the relevance of the productivity paradox in the 21st century. Technology helps optimize processes so you can get things done faster and makes it easier to keep reports public. You need to make decisions about what’s useful, what tools to use, and how to avoid the pitfalls.
Hubstaff ran a productivity survey in 2018. It confirmed that technology will continue to be a major factor in productivity efforts.
Weekly review is especially useful when dealing with an information overload problem. The basic idea here is there's too much new or difficult information to process, so shutting down is inevitable.
The structure of weekly review immediately addresses this problem.
How Weekly Review Improves Productivity
We're going to get straight to the point. Weekly review serves as a system for collaboration, task management, and larger projects. This ultimately prevents you from spending time on things you shouldn't. Likewise, having an agreed-on system that everyone in your team uses means that your system doesn't just benefit you.
When it comes to goal-setting, weekly review serves as a great way to connect your smaller, actionable items to larger goals. And, hey! If one of your goals is to get a hold of your task and project management systems, then weekly review can serve as your answer! Productivity should be a priority at every level, after all.
Getting Things Done (GTD) relies on weekly review to work outside the personal level. David Allen's Getting Things Done is a great first step into fixing productivity issues. But the issues regarding the system for the larger team or company goals isn't addressed much. Allen's system works very well for these levels, but requires a bit of adaptation to really implement throughout an entire company.
Like any productivity system, GTD is not perfect. The book desperately needs an update from its ancient origins of 2002. It doesn't address the transparency and productivity tools that cloud-based software provides now. Likewise, it focuses far too much on what's becoming obsolete in the business world. The biggest of these are physical paper documents in the "Get Clear" stage. Likewise, despite Allen saying that GTD can work for projects, you need a larger system to really bring projects in. That's why GTD works so well with systems like weekly review or OKRs.
Obviously, the system is still solid. It just needs to be adapted to the modern workforce.
After getting the methodology from Allen, it's a good idea to invest in a productivity tool that specializes in weekly review. Weekdone serves as a great option by connecting tasks to overarching projects so that everyone can see what everyone is working on. Omnifocus is also an option but functions more like a task manager.
Using traditional task managers actually makes it more difficult to do GTD right (from personal experience)! There aren't many GTD exclusive apps out there, and those that market themselves as so are generally plain ol' task managers like JIRA or ASANA. Missing features abound and these task managers miss the connection to the larger company goals.
Weekly review also is easier to adhere to other productivity habits.
Weekly Review Checklist
David Allen has written extensively on what should be included in a weekly review and what shouldn't be. It's good to follow a basic guide to make sure that you're on the right track. The weekly review is how you implement GTD and is your main key to success. If you are new to the process and haven't made a habit of it, then following a weekly review checklist. This ensures that everyone can get used to the system.
David Allen summarizes 11 steps for weekly review.
These fit under 3 categories.
- Collect what you need to get done, respond to emails, go through all the materials you have to.
- Empty your thoughts and write them down externally. No matter how minor the details, make sure to record them. These will serve as the basis for your weekly review.
- Review your next actions
- Check your calendar: both from the past week and the upcoming week
- Recall what you're waiting for from others
- Review your project list and come up with actionable items for all projects
- Review your maybes list and see what could be reasonably accomplished
- Record any out-there ideas that may linger and put them in your maybes for the next weekly review
Check out our free weekly review checklist with downloadable pdf!
An Example of the Weekly Review Process
One thing David Allen doesn't cover much in his book is the timeframe of the weekly review process. This can vary by person, but it's still good to have a template in mind. Since weekly review is about planning the next week, we recommend that you start the process the Friday before.
Doing weekly reviews on a weekly basis takes time and commitment. Dedicating yourself to a weekly routine is far easier when weekly review is implemented as a team. If review is part of the reporting process, then individuals are more accountable to actually do it. Improving focus for an entire team means greater productivity becomes a group effort and not just an individual one.
So, here's how my weekly review process looks:
My weekly review starts on Friday. I use Weekdone in order to compile my review since, you know, it's our product. My entire schedule for the coming week depends on what I decide for weekly review on Friday. Likewise, we very rarely have meetings on Friday. We keep meetings for Monday or Wednesday so Friday can be saved to self-reflect and plan.
Clear the Mind
Personally, I take care of busy work first. I clean out the dishes in the sink, tidy up my desk, and look at my calendar. Doing small, non-communicative tasks first ensures they don't become distractions later when I'm seriously doing my weekly review process.
Catching Up and Identifying Problems
Using Weekdone's set-up, I look at my weekly tasks. What got done? What didn't? Are the tasks that I had this week worth keeping for the next week? Likewise, I identify problems I ran into in the previous week. Maybe I'm waiting on someone for materials? Or, maybe I was just distracted by out-of-work things? These are useful to write down.
From there, I record what could have been done better as a team and rate my job satisfaction for the week. These include my confusion level and how I felt about the team.
From there, it's time to handle things step by step:
- Reply or delete all emails
- Reply to Skype conversations and chat groups
- Review previous and upcoming meetings and events
- Review projects and OKRs and update them
- Come up with next actions that reflect these projects and OKRs for next week
- Review what I'm waiting for
10-20 Minute Monday Power Session
On Monday, I take 10-20 minutes to write down everything new that entered my head that's not already on my task manager or Weekdone. I review them in this order
- Review pre-existing projects and look at them
- Communicate via Skype and Email whoever needs to be messaged
- Add any meetings to the schedule
- Talk in person with whoever needs to be talked to
- Write down anything else on my mind that needs to get done: errands, trips, family to contact, etc.
Reflect and Repeat
From here, you'll have the tools to create a more comprehensive review when Friday comes.
Using Weekly Review in a Team
The two main ways to use weekly review as a team are to have a cloud-based, transparent tool where everyone can see updates and to conduct weekly review meetings. From there, you can use the entire team's brainpower to determine if you're reaching our goals. If not, what needs to be changed?
There are an infinite number of tools that offer a cloud-based newsfeed and weekly reporting system. But, since I do work for Weekdone, Weekdone is obviously the tool I'm the most used to. Weekdone syncs with other applications including Asana and JIRA, so it's easy to bring materials to Weekdone using preexisting tools WHILE increasing overall company transparency. You can sign up here.