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 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.
Want a free template to set up your own weekly review? Enter your email below and I’ll send you everything you need to get set up.
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 GTD 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.
- Use Cases – Follow-up on proposals, Ask Legal Nomads about how she uses IFTTT, Write script for new podcast Intro and Outro.
- 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.)
You can download the above templates for free by entering your email below:
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.
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, enter your email below to Download my Weekly Review Process.
Last Updated on June 28, 2021 by Taylor Pearson
Holy crap. Good stuff man.
I would pay money for a series of emails that walk me through this step-by-step (it’s Week 1, download Omnifocus on all your devices and set it up thusly; it’s Week 2, make a copy of this gDoc and fill it in; it’s Week 3…).
I feel like the leap from the ad hoc system I have now to something as well-defined as this would require too many new behaviors to be successfully adopted all at once.
Taylor Pearson says
Thanks for the idea! It was definitely a gradual process for me and one I sort of adopted out of necessity. I can’t think very effectively without writing so I just built a process around that.
Mike Eads says
Dude this post is gold …
Good to know your weekly review takes about 2 hours (and much much longer if distracted). The time sink for me seems to be each week accumulating way too much stuff in my “unsorted” notebook. Might be better if I processed that stuff daily instead…
Taylor Pearson says
Thanks Mike. I will go in and process my inboxes during the week sometimes but if I get busy then I know I’ve always got the Review to handle it.
Dan Andrews says
Oh heyo blog yourself into a startup! 🙂
“I would pay money for a series of emails that walk me through this step-by-step (it’s Week 1, download Omnifocus on all your devices and set it up thusly; it’s Week 2, make a copy of this gDoc and fill it in; it’s Week 3…).”
Also, this process can be so much fun if you do it with somebody else.
Yep. “GTD For Entrepreneurs” could be a thing that makes you (Taylor) some coin without much time suck. A Mailchimp automation, maybe a private FB group… not too much to it.
You probably didn’t adopt all these behaviors in the most logical, efficient order. Figuring out the proper sequence for someone else to do so is basically half of the workload.
A trick I use fairly often for teaching guitar & music concepts:
I start writing the “building blocks” on squares of paper. Then I arrange them in the most logical order.
Once I’ve done that it’s painfully obvious where the critical path fails, either due to omission or bad sequencing––”oh, I can’t explain z if I don’t talk about y, and y is path dependent on x…”
It’s the teaching equivalent of freeing up bandwidth by avoiding open loops. When you sit down to write each email in the series, you know you only have to cover a certain handful of things, and that’s liberating. Makes it easier to start writing each one, and easier to know when you’ve finished.
Serialized content is the future of education.
Taylor Pearson says
Interesting… do you have any serialized content courses you’ve taken and really like? I always “do it by the book” so to speak. Ie. Read the book and then build the course for myself.
Something about initially buy-in. Ie. If I don’t care enough to make the course I probably don’t care enough to do it, but yea I could see how paying for it would have the same psychological effect.
“do you have any serialized content courses you’ve taken and really like?”
I just finished a year-long program through Precision Nutrition where they took a bunch (maybe 250?) of skinny dudes and taught them how to build a muscular physique. ( http://www.scrawnytobrawny.com )
That was a lot more hands-on individual coaching than I imagine you’d have to do for this (vegetarians can still use Evernote, and no one’s going to injure themselves doing a weekly review with poor form).
It was slick how they rolled out a new set of habits every two weeks (drink protein shakes, do these mobility exercises, eat a breakfast that has xyz…) and tracked compliance. As Dan mentioned, the group atmosphere was inspiring. And it worked great.
And of course KhanAcademy.org is a freaking brilliant example.
On the other (much simpler) end, I’m using basic Mailchimp automations to teach people things that don’t work well in either a here’s-an-epic-post format or a here-we-are-in-our-weekly-lesson format.
Don’t know if you play guitar at all, but here’s a free one if you want to see how I’m doing it: http://fretboardanatomy.com/note-names-free-email-course/
Edit: I see you’re also using the AppSumo List Builder thing, and so it’s possible that you did/are doing the email1k.com course, which is stellar.
Taylor Pearson says
Thanks for all the leads on this one and fleshing it out for me.
I’ve seen people offering these before but never been through one myself.
Just signed up for the scrawny to brawny, email 1k course and your course as well.
Elisa Doucette says
+1 to creating. This is easily one of your top ideas/posts EVER on the site, and considering how voraciously I read this stuff you KNOW that’s saying a lot.
Taylor Pearson says
Had a blast chatting with you last night and appreciate the feedback. Definitely putting flesing this out more fully n a thankfully ever-growing to-do list
Also, a Boomerang-like feature is built into the new Inbox app that Google has in beta. Lets you snooze emails.
Casey Ames says
I love it. I personally have my GTD system set up only in Evernote. I got the set up from here: http://www.thesecretweapon.org/the-secret-weapon-manifesto/a-better-way
I like having it all in one place, I take pictures of my physical notebook or whiteboard work, which if have an IFTTT that automatically emails pictures I take on my to my Evernote.
The original system certainly needs some adoption for entrepreneurs and a traveling lifestyle, but I do think the key is in the weekly review, which yours is more extensive than mine, so I have something to aspire to 🙂
Taylor Pearson says
Thanks Casey. I’ve heard a bunch of people talk about the Secret Weapon, I’ll have to look at it more. I’m not an Evernote pro enough right now to understand how to keep it all in one place.
TJ Nelson says
This is amazing, Taylor. Epic post.
Taylor Pearson says
Thank you sir!
Reminds me a lot of Tony Robbins’ RPM system, though that is mostly pen and paper, not really integrating the tools you mentioned. Thanks for the breakdown
Taylor Pearson says
Not familiar specifically with RPM, but it wouldn’t surprise me. This is basically just mash-up of all the best stuff I’ve found and tested over the last couple of years which I imagine is similar to what Tony did.
Dawn Fredryk says
Thank you for the amazing post! GREAT info. I could not access the link to the SOP. Can you reload it? Thanks again!
Taylor Pearson says
Hey Dawn, glad you liked it. I just check all the links in a couple of different browsers and they all went through for me.
This should be one the one for the SOP: https://docs.google.com/a/taylorpearson.me/document/edit?id=1ZcIfAf25xgDbz-1FHxU8acT_wT1sUxDXShQPG17zBJ8&pli=1
If you can’ get it from there, email me at email@example.com with the format you’d like it in (doc, txt, pdf) and I’m happy to send you a copy.
Stan Leloup says
All SOPs are working fine for me too.
The “Dan Sullivan Question” link is broken though.
Taylor Pearson says
Yes it was. Fixed now. Thanks for letting me know!
George Millo says
Timely. I’ve been thinking more and more about systematisation and rituals lately because I KNOW I’m wasting a ton of mental bandwidth on things that really don’t deserve it.
BUT habit change is hard, and I don’t seem to be getting any better at it. I’m going to assume you built this system up piece-by-piece over a long period of time – how did you know when it was time to add a new level of complexity? What parts of it are highest leverage (biggest impact for lowest cost) that you’d recommend to a beginner? Any other advice for how I can implementing these kinda systems in a way I’ll actually stick to?
Taylor Pearson says
Yea, this was a 2-3 year process for sure. As for where to start…
If you haven’t read GTD by David Allen then that’s where I would start. Certainly has some holes in it for LI crowd, but the guy was teaching it for 20 years before he wrote that book so it’s really well explained.
Doing that basically means blocking out 1-2 days and committing to the system though. It is very much a “system” in that if you leave out half of it, it just won’t work. The big upside is the psychological freedom of not having anything nagging at you and that means trusting 100% in the system.
That being said, I absolutely think it’s worth it and I continue to block out half a day every week to keep improving it.
If I just wanted to set up the weekly review section, I would stick to the Journal and Plan steps. Sit down with a piece of paper and brain dump on it using the questions above as prompts. Then pick 1-3 major priorities for the next week. Should take you 15-20 mins and if you aren’t doing it already, that alone would be a massive up level.
Let me know how it goes though, happy to give other feedback if it would be helpful, you know my email 🙂 (and where I live…)
George Millo says
Funnily enough, I was just having a conversation with my girlfriend about GTD yesterday (she recently read it.) I’ve never made it a high priority to read that book because I’ve read so many other books which reference or quote from it that I feel like I already know most of what it’s going to say. Maybe I should test that hypothesis….
One thing that’s helped me recently is to create a folder in my home directory on my laptop called “Law” which contains a small number of text files where I outline the specifics of my evolving productivity systems and how I can follow them. It’s called “law” because I like the analogy of setting laws for my own life. (One file is called “constitution” and contains a short list of general principles I want to live my life by, the others have names like “daily routine” and “focus” and contain more specific and actionable rules.) The folder’s pretty small now because I want to start small and build it slowly but having it all written down makes it much easier for me to follow them.
George Millo says
PS – Inbox Pause = exactly what I need. Don’t know how I’ve never heard of it before, thanks for the share.
Taylor Pearson says
Yessir! Use it religiously to actually get 4-5 hours of real work done in the mornings.
Yamile Yemoonyah says
Thanks for this awesome post!
I have my own system which works pretty well for me and many of the things you have listed here are already incorporated in it. But I was missing some of the questions you ask yourself (resistance, biggest mistake, one thing, 10x, etc. ). Added that now 🙂
Something I also do on a weekly basis are theme days: Marketing Monday, Teaching Tuesday & Thursday (client calls), Writing Wednesday, Financial Friday, Systems/Strategy Saturday (weekly review) & Self Care Sunday (no work).
Taylor Pearson says
I like it! I have Teaching Mondays and Tuesday and Blogging Saturdays. Not as fleshed out as yours, so something to think on.