Improving the Weekly Review

Ever since I read Getting Things Done, the weekly review has been an important part of my productivity system. At first, all I did was fight entropy and plan the immediate future. That was long ago, when I was but a young boy at (my current age – 2 years).

Since then, I’ve made important changes. One of those is helpful enough to share. First though, let’s look at the problem that prompted me to deviate from the Scripture.

Expanding the Scope

Above all else, I wanted my weekly review to be about improvement. A feedback loop that adjusted my current strategies for an ever-changing world. The weekly review in GTD is not that. It is concerned with the wellbeing of your productivity system, not with your approach to life in general. That is not a flaw, GTD is about productivity after all.

The concept of reviewing something weekly, however, is far too important for only productivity. There are other aspects of life that are just as important, and deserve the same attention.

With that in mind, the following is more addition than change. It’s the result of me dealing with the fact that productivity is not the whole story, extending the habit of reflecting on the past week to life in general.

Defining Success

Your subjective feeling of success should not be the main concern when reflecting. You might feel good about a week because you made important progress is some areas, but that doesn’t mean things can’t improve in others. To combat this, you need to define the areas you should review. Mine are health, reading, side projects, school, and social life.

More definition is still needed though. The question “Was I healthy this week?” is hard to answer. You first need to break down what a healthy week looks like, and then evaluate your success on each dimension.

A healthy week for me, is one where I didn’t consume excessive amounts of calories, worked out, and slept for an average of at least 7 hours a night. Your breakdown might look different, but the process for determining it is the same. Take an aspect of your life, break it down into individual components, and reduce those components to yes-no questions. Sleep is a component of health, and “Did I sleep on 7 or more hours a night on average?” is a yes-no question.

The Feedback loop

After all that defining, you can now express your week in a series of yes-no questions. That makes them easy to track, and as a result, you no longer need to rely on your feeling of success as a proxy for actual success.

All you need is a system for capturing the answer to those questions, and a commitment to review them. I won’t spend too much time on the system part, as that’s best left to you. If you want inspiration, I express my questions as habits I track every day (Strides is my habit tracker of choice).

Having the answers to those yes-no questions creates a really nice feedback loop. If the question has a positive answer, no action is needed. If not, find the reason, and implement a fix.

For example, one of my questions is “Did I read 100 pages or more?”. If the answer is no, why? Maybe I spent time reading articles instead. As a general rule, I tend to favor books over articles, so that’s a problem. The fix? Only curate articles on Sundays, cutting out the behavior of finding articles to avoid the challenge of reading a book. If I read 100 pages or more the next week, I can feel confident that I was correct in my diagnosis, and that my fix was effective. No further action needed.

This process has been a game changer for me. Most nos turn to yes at a remarkable pace, with little effort except for finding fixes.

Summed up

Your productivity system is not the only thing worthy of review. As a result, you should expand your weekly review to encompass all areas of life. To do this, break each area into a series of yes or no questions. Under your weekly review, go through all negative answers, find the cause, and implement a fix.

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