This week we continue our mini-series about the GTD productivity with a look at why and how we reflect and review.
The reflect and review process is key to a truly effective productivity systen
A few weeks ago, in episode 440, I started a short series on David Allen’s Getting Things Done productivity system with a brief overview of the system. Then in episode 441, in response to a listener request, I did a little more detailed review of the first step in the GTD system, which is capture. In episode 443 I looked more closely at the next two steps: clarify and organize. This week I’ll be reviewing the next step in the GTD system: reflect and review
The “reflect and review” aspect of the GTD method involves regularly examining your task lists, projects lists, calendar, and so on to ensure you’re on track with your goals, updating priorities, and maintaining focus. This practice is essential for keeping your system relevant and effective. On the official GTD website they say this is the step where you make optimal use of your system. Another writer says the weekly review is about getting clear (reflecting on the past week and clearing up all loose ends); getting current (deciding what needs to be done during the current/coming week), and getting creative (planning for the future and coming up with “new ideas to improve your life and work”)
Importance of review
Regular reviews help you identify any changes in priorities, discover overlooked tasks, and ensure that your system remains current and accurate. By reflecting on your tasks and progress, you can make informed decisions about what to work on next and maintain a clear sense of direction.
“You can only feel good about what you’re not doing when you know what you’re not doing.” (GTD website)
It doesn’t mean you do everything on your list. Regular review allows you to have a good sense of what’s there so you can make informed choices about what to do day to day and allows you to be spontaneous.
Regularly reviewing and reflecting on your system gives you perspective. In the midst of day-to-day life we can lose that, get caught up in reacting to what life throws at us. Taking the time to step back and look at the big picture–even if only for a few minutes–can restore perspective and focus our attention on what matters most to us, so we can be more proactive and less reactive.
When to review
Weekly review: The weekly review is a core component of the GTD system. This is when you can restore order and balance, and make sure you have the perspective needed to feel confident that at any given time you’re doing what you should be doing. Lots of thinkers recommend doing this Friday afternoon or Sunday evening, but you can do it whenever it makes sense for your weekly schedule. I do recommend picking a day/time and trying to use it consistently.
Daily review: In addition to the weekly review, it’s beneficial to conduct a brief daily review, specifically of your current active tasks and commitments. This can be done on the morning on the day of, or in the afternoon or evening of the day before. I tend to do both, but only a couple of minutes each time.
Review frequency: While weekly and daily reviews are the most common, you can adjust the frequency of your reviews to suit your needs. Some people may prefer more frequent reviews, while others might find monthly or quarterly reviews to be more appropriate. Find a review frequency that works best for you and your workload.
What to do when you review
This can involve checking your Calendar for the day’s appointments, scanning your Next Actions list, and updating priorities as needed. A daily review helps you stay focused and ensures that you’re working on the most important tasks each day.
- In the morning, take a quick look at the day’s calendar–what are you doing today? Any meetings or appointments you need to prepare for? Then look at your current day’s task list–is it realistic in light of what’s on your calendar? Does it reflect what’s most important for you today?
- In the afternoon or evening, do the same for the next day.
During your weekly review, you should:
- Process and clarify any outstanding items in your inbox, notes, or emails.
- Review your Next Actions list and ensure that each task is still relevant and actionable.
- Check your Calendar for upcoming events, appointments, or deadlines.
- Review your Project lists to assess progress and identify any new tasks that need to be added.
- Examine your Waiting For list to follow up on outstanding delegated tasks or items that require action from others.
- Browse your Someday/Maybe list for any tasks that should be moved to a more active list or removed entirely.
Going deeper during your weekly reviews (and especially your monthly/quarterly reviews)
Reflect on progress: The weekly review process is not just about looking at the lists and crossing things off, but reflecting on what you see, perhaps in light of your goals and priorities, and evaluating whether you like what you see. During your review sessions, take a moment to reflect on your progress and achievements. Recognizing your accomplishments can be motivating and provide a sense of satisfaction.
Adjust priorities: As you review your lists, you may need to adjust priorities based on changes in your goals, circumstances, or new information. Regularly updating your priorities ensures that your efforts remain aligned with your objectives.
Use your review sessions–especially your weekly or monthly/quarterly reviews–as an opportunity to assess the effectiveness of your GTD system and make any necessary adjustments. This can involve refining your organizational methods, experimenting with new tools, or adjusting your capture and clarification processes.
It doesn’t have to take hours
I like the idea of setting aside a half-day or longer occasionally for a personal retreat to really re-evaluate your goals, priorities, schedule, etc. One of my favorite things I’ve done in the past couple of years was a planning retreat I hosted here at my home with a few members of the TPW community–a time to get away from the day-to-day and focus on personal goals and priorities, make a plan for the coming months. I’d love to do that again. But this isn’t something we can do every week or even every month, and reviewing/reflecting on our system can’t be deferred to an annual (or less often) event.
Your weekly review doesn’t have to take long once you establish the habit. I love the tips offered in a post I found called How to conduct a GTD Weekly Review (in under 25 minutes). I recommend reading that whole post for the great ideas it offers, but briefly, here’s what the writer suggests:
The post talks about 4 steps or quadrants for review, with the first one being a time and task audit:
“Step 1: Scan your calendar from the previous week and ask yourself: Am I happy with how I spent my time? Were there any unanticipated time sinkholes? (And how could I avoid them going forward?)
Step 2: Open your task manager and sort tasks by oldest first. You’ll see tasks from many months ago, which unbeknownst to you act as a mental tax. Be honest with yourself and delete the ones you have no intention of doing. (My rule of thumb is that if it’s been on the list for more than a quarter, I delete it.)
The second quadrant is journaling. The post suggests using a rotating list of big-picture questions and setting a timer for 5 minutes to answer one or two of them. Check out the post for great questions to start with.
The third quadrant is vision-casting. This post notes that David Allen’s GTD Weekly Review Checklist (which they share in the post) includes a question that Allen recommends spending significant time on, but the writer of the post I’m talking about here suggests doing this quarterly rather than weekly and spending more time on it: “Be creative and courageous. Add any new, wonderful, hare-brained, creative, thought-provoking, or risk-taking ideas into your system.”
The fourth and final quadrant is planning and prioritization. This, the writer says, is where we should spend most of our weekly review time, reviewing our project lists, scheduling time during the coming week to do the important tasks that will move our projects forward, and identifying “next actions” to add to our daily to-do lists.
The “reflect and review” aspect of GTD is crucial for maintaining an up-to-date and effective productivity system. By regularly reviewing your task lists and priorities, you can ensure that you stay focused on your goals, make consistent progress, and continuously improve your approach to productivity.
The final step of the GTD process is called Engage, and that’s about actually doing the stuff we’ve put into our system–the actual getting stuff done. In coming episodes we’ll be talking about ways to do that.
What do you think?
Do you have a regular routine for reviewing your task management/calendar system to make sure you stay on track? Post your thoughts and suggestions in the comments section below or in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group, or email me.
Resources and Links
- TPW440 – A Quick Refresher on GTD
- TPW441 – A Deeper Dive Into GTD Capture
- TPW443 – A Deeper Dive Into GTD Clarify and Organize
- Getting Things Done, by David Allen
- What “Reflect” Means in GTD and Why It Is so Important
- The Reflect Stage of GTD, Explained
- Getting Things Done: Reflect
- The GTD Weekly Review: A simple approach to making it stick
- Reflect · GTD® by David Allen
- 5. Step 4 in GTD: Reflect – Vital Learning Norge
- Get Clear with a GTD Weekly Review | Crucial Learning
- Weekly Review Step-By-Step to get things smoothly done
- The Weekly Review: A Step by Step Guide | Any.do blog
- Step 4: Reflect – Getting Things Done®
This week I’ll be finalizing an upcoming episode about the tools we can use to accomplish these steps and how to use them effectively. There’s still time to give me your input on what tools you use for capturing, clarifying, and organizing the tasks and information you manage. If you want to be part of it, in the next couple of days please share your favorite tools for capturing tasks, commitments, and important information for an upcoming episode. Email me (either a typed message or a voice recording from your phone) at firstname.lastname@example.org or click on the “leave a message” button on the right-hand margin of the TPW website (remember if you send a voice message, either via email or using the website button, to let us know your first name and your city, state, or country)
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