Ever get the feeling nagging at the back of your head that there’s something you’re supposed to do, but you can’t remember what it is? Or you know you’re supposed to ask something specific to the person you’re talking to? Or you’ve got so many open loops in that you aren’t sure what the logical next step is?
I used to. I don’t very much anymore.
I’ve always been a bit of the absent minded professor type, prone to getting lost in my head or on a walk. That means that I’ve always had a problem losing or forgetting things that need to get taken care of.
I take solace in what billionaire, hedge-fund manager Ray Dalio says:
“I believe that I can can get all I want out of life by suspending my ego and taking a no-excuses approach to achieving my goals with open-mindedness, determination and courage, by relying on the help of others who are strong where I am weak.”
In the case of relying on the help of others where I am weak, organization has been essential for me. I’ve built systems around myself to make up for a poor rote memory and tendency to forget.
Now, when I’m walking around or relaxing with friends I’m usually absorbed in my thoughts or talking with friends not thinking about what I have to do.
If some niggling thought does pop to the front of my head, I’ll file it away knowing it will get handled later.
In the years since I read David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD), I’ve created systems that cover the majority of my organizational weaknesses.
Allen’s GTD philosophy is based around the idea of inboxes, processing and review. That means setting up all your inboxes (email, thoughts of things to do in your notebook, physical mail, crap you downloaded), processing the inputs and then filing them away to give you the mental freedom, then reviewing them at the appropriate time.
The review has proved the critical component for me. Because I know that I’ll come back to everything or be reminded of it at the appropriate time, I can confidently file it away and recover the mental bandwidth it used to consume.
Problems with GTD
That being said, I’ve found for myself and a lot of entrepreneurs I talk with, it runs into a few of problems:
Not Updated for Digital – As far as I know, no one outside of dentists uses filing cabinets anymore so Allen’s systems are a bit dated in that regard. Why use a filing cabinet when you have Google?
Not Travel Friendly – Because Allen’s systems rely on physical inboxes and systems in a lot of cases, the system falls apart if you keep everything you own in a carry-on or tend to take a lot of business trips.
Made for the knowledge worker, not the entrepreneur – The biggest problem with Allen’s system overall and the weekly review process in particular me was that it was for knowledge workers, not entrepreneurs. It was designed more for people that had their priorities dictated to them or at least circumscribed to a certain domain and not for people setting their own priorities. So I took David Allen’s system and updated it to be what I wanted and needed as an entrepreneur.
Advantages to the Entrepreneur’s Weekly Review
No Nagging Feelings – I very rarely have that feeling of trying to remember whether I forgot something or not anymore. I trust the system enough to know that it’s all in it’s proper place and I’ll be reminded at the proper time.
Be reckless during the week. – I spend a lot of the week trying to break my business (sometimes metaphorically, sometimes literally) in interesting ways. A weekly review let’s me know I can put together the pieces at the end of the week in a way that’s hopefully more interesting. So when it’s Wednesday afternoon and I feel like sh*t is flying everywhere, I’m able just keep going on my big objectives for the week. I know I’ll sort it out from a big picture perspective at the end of the week.
Great way to prepare for a mastermind – If you aren’t in a mastermind, it’s worth it to get in one. The review focuses my thinking and lets me bring the biggest, discrete problem to a group of people I trust.
The Jet Course Correction Phenomenon – I rarely veer far off course from my most important goals. Just like a jet crossing the Atlantic, I can go slightly off course during the week and still course correct without wandering too far afield (at least in ways I’m not willing to wander). The weekly review is a constant course correction to keep you moving on the right path.
People Trust You (and vice versa) – When you build up a reputation for not letting things fall through the cracks, you seem to attract better people to work with. The kind that don’t “ping you just to check up.”
Clear to Neutral – You know that feeling of calm because everything is properly handled and you have clear steps forward? I think it’s worth it to do what it takes to get that weekly.
Actually Make Decisions – While there’s plenty of platitudes about how important it is to reflect, prioritize and plan, having “Think about my life and plan” on my to-do list leads to a whole lot internet surfing for me. Having a defined process for doing that and prompts to think about has been far more productive for me.
The Weekly Review Process
1. Process Inboxes
- If actionable: (organized hierarchically)
- Do it – if it takes less than 2 minutes
- Delegate it – unless it’s something only you can do
- Use Boomerang to make sure it doesn’t get left in the open.
- Defer it
- If not time specific, Create the Next Action that needs to be taken in Omnifocus and assign it a project, context, and due date when you want to be reminded of it
- If time specific: Add it to Calendar or Add it to Omnifocus with the time as the due date
- If not actionable:
- Trash it
- Add it to “Thoughts/Notes” Notebook in Evernote – I use my Thoughts/Notes Evernote Notebook as a catch-all repository for everything I think of, notes on conferences, or anything else I scratch off during the week. I almost never refer to it, but having it clears mental bandwidth and removes the what-if-I-might-need-this-at-some-indeterminate-poin-in-the-future feeling.
- Store it for reference – (Archive emails in your Inbox, Clip web pages or PDFs to Evernote, save anything else to an appropriate folder on your computer).
- My List of Inboxes – this is my personal list of inboxes that I use for the process above.
- Gmail Inbox
- Physical Notebook – I like Moleskin Notebooks because I’m secretly 7% hipster on the inside and they make me feel artsy. My evil twin prefers yellow legal pads.
- Use Cases – taking notes during podcast recordings, sketches, micro to-do lists for bigger tasks that I need to define better.
- Omnifocus Inbox – Omnifocus 2 is my GTD App of choice. I’ve heard Things is good as well, but Omnifocus just update their UI so it works perfectly as a planning tool as well as to-do list so I’m all in at this point. Get the app on all your devices (iPhone, iPad and Mac) so you always have access if something comes to mind. If I have a to-do that’s time bound (has a due date) come up, then this is where it goes.
- Unsorted Evernote Notebook – I have a notebook in my Evernote called “Unsorted Notes.” This is set as my default notebook (set it in preferences of Evernote) where anything that comes to mind during the week that isn’t time bound goes. As I do the review, I’ll go through and categorize them in the appropriate notebooks.
- Use Cases – Questions for my Mastermind Group, Blogs to Write For, Drafts of Blog Posts that came to me during the week, Notes on Site Redesign
- Desktop, Downloads and Trash Can of Computer – If I have something that I know I need to file at some point, but I’m not sure where it goes, I’ll drop it on my desktop during the week and come to it during the review. Once I’ve put it in the appropriate place, I will…
- Empty My Trash, Move My Downloads Folder to Trash, Move Desktop to Downloads Folder –
- Use Case – This is Mac specific as far as I know, but this system keeps my desktop and downloads folder mostly clear (only 1 week worth of stuff), but because I have a week lag time between shifting them in between folders, I can still go back and get something. So if I downloaded something last week, it will be in my trash the upcoming week just in case. That being said, I take something out of the trash maybe bi-annually, yet it makes me feel better to know it’s there
- Open Tabs in Browsers – clip anything to Evernote that you want to reference, create a to-do in Omnifocus if a tab represents a task
- Room/Bag – Loose papers, Trash, or any mess gets tidied up or thrown out
ESSENTIAL: Block Yourself off the Internet at this point- Assuming you have access to all the documents below offline (which you can using Google Docs or Evernote), the only thing you can go online for at this point is to distract yourself. I use Freedom to block myself.
The purpose of the review section is to go over all the open loops you have right now, cut all the ones that are inessential, and load up the ones that are important into your mental RAM for when you plan.
- Review Calendar – I sync all my different calendars (Google, TripIt, etc) to my iCal and use that as a master calendar. I use it only for meetings and trips so it’s not overloaded. Specific tasks and projects are all kept in Omnifcous
- Review previous week and add any triggered action stops in Omnifocus
- Review upcoming week and add any triggered action steps in Omnifocus
- Review Projects in Omnifocus – I use my Omnifocus a little different than most people. I keep a folder for every major aspect of my life and then sort projects under each of those. During the review, I’ll just scroll down the projects I have open and ask the following questions
- Can I delete any of these projects? – Delete as much as possible, one of the biggest advantages of the weekly review is getting rid of everything not moving you towards your goals
- Are all of these projects I want be completing? – If not, do you really have to do it? What’s the worst thing that can happen if you don’t? Can you delegate it if you do?
- Does each project have a clearly defined successful outcome? – I’ll spare you the Alice in Wonderland quote, but you get it.
- Am I procrastinating on anything? Am I moving away from the Resistance? – Reading the War of Art was a game-changer for me because it gave me a compass to orient myself. Can I feel the Resistance? That’s likely the direction I should be running.
The reflection is where you load up your destination, where are you going?
- Review Annual Outcomes – What are my goals for this year?
- Review Daily Visualizations – This is organized under the same bucket system as my Omnifocus projects. What are the major roles I have and what are What (Destination), Why (Purpose), and How (Habits) behind each?
- Review Perfect Day Movie Script – What would my ideal life look like in a movie? Where am I going?
- Read through Personal Operating Principles – Now around 30 list items long, these are the principles I’ve found through reading or trial and error that make me most effective.
- Review Bucket List – Is there something I’m putting off because it’s not perfect timing but that would be relatively easy to do? This line item has resulted in more than a couple plane ticket purchases.
At this point, I’ll open up a note in my Evernote called Weekly Reflection that is a massive brain dump journal I’ve been using for years and start writing. The journal is where you take your open loops and projects and your goals and get them in alignment. There’s likely to be some level of cognitive dissonance between the two that’s emerged over the course of the week and this is where I sort it out.
- Brain Dump – Is anything nagging me that I need to get out?
- Review Completed Tasks in Omnifocus and Weekly and Monthly Outcomes – Omnifocus lets you see everything you checked off during the week by going to Perspectives –> completed. I force myself to do this because it makes me realize how much I got done even when I feel like nothing happened.
- Did I Move towards the Resistance? Did I do something that scared me? – Set the course
- What was the biggest mistake I made? Why didn’t I achieve what I set out to achieve? – Course correct.
- What 1 thing did I do that was right and in what way could I have improved my performance? – Double down on your strengths.
- Via Negativa – What am I doing right now that doesn’t make me feel “Fuck Yes”? What’s the least valuable thing I did last week? What can I outsource? – Eliminate or outsource your weaknesses.
Now that you’ve got all your existing open loops loaded up and your destination in my mind, it’s time to think big.
- If I could do anything without chance of failure, and without constraints of time and money, what would I do? – You can’t have everything, but you can have more than you’ve ever imagined possible, so you might as well start planning by imagining BIG.
- What’s the One Thing I Could Do Such That By Doing It Everything Else Will Be Easier or Unnecessary? Where is the Resistance? – Stolen from Gary Keller’s The One Big Thing, what’s the one thing in each area of my life that will me jump past a lot of unnecessary bull?
- How can I 10x every area of my life 12 weeks from now? – I used to have this as “Where do I need to be in 12 weeks to be happy with my progress,” which is a version of the Dan Sullivan Question that I still use. I’ve found the 10x question though forces me to operate on a different scale. Adding 10% to your income in 12 weeks probably feels doable with slight tweaks, but 10x’ing it requires re-thinking your whole approach.
6. Define Outcomes
- Define Weekly Outcomes – Working back from my 12 week goals, define 1-3 Key Outcomes for the week – 1 Health, 1 Wealth, 1 Relationship. That’s a MAX of 3. 1 seems to be the optimal number
- Outcome Format – Outcomes Template Go to File –>Make a Copy
- Outcome: Name of the outcome. – Pro-tip – Naming it something cool makes it more motivating. Ie. “Become the Human Weapon” is way more fun than “Get in Shape.”
- Why: Why you’re pursuing the outcome.
- How: How you’ll pursue the outcome. Your plan.
- Result: What it will look like when it’s done.
- Add first action step of each outcome to Omnifocus
- If it’s the last week of the month, Define Monthly Outcomes FIRST – Exact same process as above, just done monthly
- Review and create a new Habit Spreadsheet – look over habit compliance for previous month (70-90% is usually what I aim for, more than that means you weren’t ambitious enough, less than that means it was unrealistic or you didn’t devote enough resources to it.)
How Long Does It Take?
This whole process usually takes me 2 hours or so. Multiply that by 2 or 3x if you don’t block yourself off the internet. A lot of the questions here are emotionally hard and force you to examine what you’re doing so it’s easy to go slide off and do easier work.
Where to do the Weekly Review
Wherever you won’t get interrupted. Part of what the weekly review does is it lets you load up all the mental RAM of everything you have going on in your life and where you want to go and get those two into alignment. If you get interrupted, you’ll lose all that RAM. If I’m in an office I’ll just go inside and put up a do not disturb sign. Most frequently though, I’ll go to a cafe where I know nobody else I know will be.
When to do the Weekly Review
I’ve done it at all different times from Friday afternoon-Sunday morning and don’t find any particular time to be better. If you travel extensively, I recommend doing it based on your travel schedule. So if you have a 10 day trip ending on a Wednesday, do it the next day as a way to process everything you did on the trip and then plan going forwards.
The Standard Operating Procedure
This is a template of the exact document I use every week that is explained above.
Go to “File–>Make a Copy” if you’d like to make a copy for yourself.
Big Initiatives/Outcomes Planning Template – Go to File –>Make a Copy – Planning Your Outcomes in Step 6
The Entrepreneur’s Daily Ritual – A companion piece that integrates the Weekly Review with a daily ritual.
David Allen’s Getting Things Done – The Godfather speaks! This was required reading for my first job and rightly so. Allen’s work is the foundation for most of my productivity habits and rituals.
Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art – Pressfield did more for creatives than any other author I’ve read in defining the Resistance – the thing inside our own heads that tries to keep us from doing our best. Once you know the enemy, you’re halfway there. One of my Pillar Books.
Asian Efficiency’s Agile Results Series – I retooled a lot of GTD using this resource about a year ago. Many of the steps in my review are taken directly from here. I never read the book because I found the guide so comprehensive. In general, this is my go-to site for all things productivity.
The One Big Thing – Why focusing on ONE key thing multiplies your results.
Dan Sullivan’s 10x Talk Podcast – A touch circle-jerky in the format, but I’ve used a lot of Sullivan’s frameworks in my own work including the 12 week goal setting in the weekly review and found them great resources.
- Boomerang – This lets you return emails you sent to your inbox. I use it extensively for both sales follow-ups and making sure delegated tasks get handled.
- Inbox Pause – I use this to keep my inbox paused and have it deliver mail at 3 points throughout the day, 11:30am, 1:30pm, and 5:30pm. This lets me get my one big task done first thing in the morning then answer email, again after lunch, and once at the end of the day. It keeps me from checking email both at night when it will keep me up and in the morning before I get the most important task of the day knocked out.
- The Email Game – When I do process my email at the times above, this forced me to do it one at a time and gamifies it with a counter and smiley face.
Evernote – This has pretty much replaced Microsoft Word for me and is my default personal composition tool of choice as well as collecting random thoughts throughout the week.
Freedom – For blocking yourself offline when you do the review.
Omnifocus – My Getting Things Done App of choice.
If you want to get a free copy, Click Here to Download Taylor’s Weekly Review Process.