Why We Resist the Weekly Review and Plan (and What You Can Do About It)

Regardless of whether you are keeping your life organized using the Getting Things Done methodology or the FranklinCovey methodology, a central component of both systems is the “weekly review” or the “weekly plan”. For many practitioners this is the single most difficult discipline and yet also the most crucial discipline. Over the past few months I’ve spent some time thinking about why we resist the weekly review or plan, and what we can do about it. I trust that the following will help you in discovering why you are resisting the weekly review or plan and in discovering ways to overcome them. (Note that while I will focus mostly on the Getting Things Done weekly review here, the same principles apply to the weekly plan in the FranklinCovey system.)

  • It’s not on our calendar. Did you ever notice that you rarely procrastinate on the things that have a specific date and time on your calendar? Even if you dread going to the dentist, you will be there on time because it it has a definite date and time on your calendar. Your weekly review and plan deserves this same respect. Many times we will say, “I’ll do my review on Friday (or any other day of the week).” As the day goes on, we put it off and handle other tasks. The next thing we know, our day is over and we haven’t done our weekly review. Even if you plan to do your weekly review late Friday afternoon or Sunday evening, put that schedule on your calendar and protect it as carefully as you would the other important meetings on your calendar. If you don’t, somehting else less important will steal that time from you.
  • We don’t know how or we fear we may not do it right. As I have read posts on the GTD discussion boards, there seems to be a sense among newcomers that the weekly review is some great mystical, magical, and complex process. The truth is that there are just a few steps (which David Allen outlines in pages 185-187 in his book Getting Things Done). Just jump in with both feet and tackle these steps as best you can. As the weeks go by you’ll grow to understand them better and even begin to modify them to better adapt to your lifestyle and workstyle. Remember that any review is better than no review, even if we don’t think that we do each and every step perfectly; and that the review is for no one else but ourselves so there is no wrong way to do it. The only wrong weekly review is no weekly review at all.
  • We don’t have a step-by-step plan for it. Quite often a large or overwhelming task can be made much easier to tackle by creating a simple checklist of activities to be accomplished. I’ve been using a weekly review checklist for years and it has proven very useful. I do separate weekly reviews at work and at home so I have two separate lists and they periodically change as I find new things that need to be reviewed each week or things that are no longer necessary for me. The order will sometimes change as well. As I check off each step I get a small adrenaline rush to push me forward to the next step. I can also see my overall progress and how close I am to finishing which pulls me along as well.
  • We aren’t ready—and getting ready is too overwhelming. Too many of us let our inboxes full up, notes pile up, and other inputs go unprocessed. We think that we will catch them up during our weekly review. When the time comes for the weekly review we either spend all our time processing these open loops and then don’t have time for a proper weekly review, or we put off our weekly review because we don’t feel we have the energy to process all those open loops. We should never intentionally allow items to go unprocessed for that long. At least once a day, we should process all our inboxes down to zero. If we are doing this on a regular basis, we shouldn’t have but a small handful of items to process before beginning our weekly review. And remember that processing is never part of the weekly review—it’s part of getting ready for the weekly review.
  • We feel that the weekly review is a “have to” instead of a “want to”. Neil Fiore says that a procrastinator says “I have to” while the producer says, “I choose to.” When talking about your weekly review never say, “I have to do my weekly review,” say “I choose to do my weekly review.” Remember that it really is your choice and that you don’t have to do it, but that you want to experience the benefits and therefore choose to do it of your own free will. The disorganized and overwhelmed among us have to live within that disorganization while we get to patch up our systems and rise above it all.
  • We haven’t defined our outcome vision. The weekly review is essentially a project since it has several steps, even though we usually do them in one sitting. As with any project, we need to start with an outcome vision. Have you developed a vision for your weekly review? What will your life be like after a successful weekly review? You might see yourself walking out of the office on a Friday afternoon feeling totally relaxed. You might see yourself finishing your weekly review and then going out for a wonderful night on the town knowing that your system is totally current and you consciously know what you are not doing. Develop a vision of yourself after a successful weekly review and hang on to it throughout the process. Writing it down in prose can really help to cement this image in your mind.
  • We have’t defined our purpose and principles. If the weekly review is a project and needs an outcome vision, then you also need to define your purpose and principles. Your purpose can include things like: to make sure that you don’t have any open loops, that you have clearly defined goals for the upcoming week, that you have projects on your project list for each goal in your life, etc. It is helpful to not just think about these things, but to write them down. This way you’ll know when you are successful. Your principles will help you see which elements of the weekly review are most important to you. To develop principles, I find it useful to imagine myself hiring someone to do a task for me at $100 an hour. What directions do I give them to insure that I get my $100/hour worth of work without any other supervision? The answer to that question is my principles and from there I just document them and follow them.
  • We think it has to be perfect and complete. What if I miss a next action as I’m reviewing my previous week’s tasks, projects, calendar, or journal? So, what if I do? It’s not the end of the world. One of the purposes of the weekly review is to keep things from falling into a crack and forgotten about, but you are human with a humanly managed system. It’s going to happen, but it’s less likely to happen if you are consistently doing your weekly review than if you aren’t doing your weekly review. David Allen lists 11 steps in his suggested weekly review process. What if I only get to step 8 or 9? So, what if I do? Am I not much better off to have completed 7 or 8 steps than no steps at all. Be as complete as you can but don’t sweat it if you can’t be perfect because you can’t. Allow yourself to be human.
  • We don’t see the benefit of it. You may not immediately see a lot of benefit from your very first weekly review—or even from your first few. Trust me on this and even try to prove me wrong: the more consistently you do a weekly review, the more benefits you will gain from it and the more you will appreciate it as time well spent.
  • We don’t have time. My Dad used to complain that, “people don’t have the time to do something right the first time, but they always have time to go back and fix it.” It may not be easy to quantify, but think about how much time and energy you will save in the upcoming week if you do your weekly review now. If you don’t have time to spend an hour this week reviewing your system and getting ready for next week, how much time will you have next week to spend looking for unfiled papers, wondering what tasks to do next on various projects, keeping tasks in psychic RAM, and a variety of other time and energy consuming issues.
  • We feel we don’t have enough to review. Some weeks it just seems that we haven’t accomplished much at all and/or that our system hasn’t had much new input. We think that since our lists haven’t changed much that it won’t hurt to skip a week. Don’t fall for this lie! You may be surprised at what you will discover: there may have been more changes than you think; you may see several items that need to be moved to Someday/Maybe; or you may discover items that don’t have clearly defined next actions. Even if you are correct that there isn’t much to review and that your whole system is in order, by doing your weekly review anyway you will: reinforce the habit; have a sense of accomplishment; will confirm to yourself that your system is up to date; and have a really easy weekly review.
  • We feel we have too much to review. Face it, sometimes we just know that our system is out of control. After weeks like this, we fear that our weekly review will take hours and we just don’t have the time, or the energy , to do it. If you skip your weekly review after a week like this, your system will only get worse the next week and you will resist your weekly review again. This will snowball week after week until you finally have no trust in your system at all, have begun to store things in psychic RAM again, and have no choice but to spend hours or even the better part of a day to get your system back in order. It’s much easier to go ahead and take some time now for the weekly review or plan. Next week will go much better because of it.
  • We are too far behind or haven’t done a review in several weeks. It’s a weekly review, not a monthly review, or a quarterly review. No matter how far behind you are you only need to review the previous week to get totally caught up again. If you feel really empowered after reviewing your actions from the previous week and you want to go back further to find other open loops, you can, but you certainly don’t have to. Reviewing just the past week is usually enough to get you feeling in charge again.
  • We have no accountability. Some people are simply more motivated when they know that someone else has expectations of them. When my boss at my day job asked me to start sending him a weekly project status update I was excited—I now had someone expecting me to do my weekly review. Long before then I had added a tag line to my signature that I used in the GTD discussion forums—it said, “If you aren’t doing the weekly review, you aren’t doing GTD!” I became known as “the weekly review guy” in the forums and I was expected to be consistent in doing them. You can create accountability by promising someone else that you will do it. This can be an accountability partner online, a co-worker, a friend, your boss, or even your spuse. You can also become a mentor to others as I did—when you are in the role of teacher or coach you have higher expectations of yourself, and you rise to meet those expectations.
  • We don’t like the isolation. The weekly review is a very solitary activity. Although I prefer to do it at my desk with no one else around, I’ve found that with a good simple step-by-step checklist that I can do it almost anywhere including on a laptop sitting next to my wife on the couch watching TV. We’ll even talk in between steps. You can also try adding in some background music. It can be especially useful to use a particular CD every time you do it. After a few weeks, just hearing those particular songs can get you in the weekly review mood, especially if that’s the only time you listen to those particular songs.
  • We find the weekly review boring. In addition to adding background music, try making a game out of it. Develop a point system and see how many points you can ‘score’. You might give yourself 10 points for each missed next action you discover while reviewing you previous week’s task list or calendar; 25 points for each project you discover that isn’t on your projects list; 5 points for each item you move to or from your Someday/Maybe list. If you aren’t into games, you can always reward yourself for completing a weekly review: go get a Banana Split, a new CD, or go see a movie. Anything else that you enjoy will work as well.
  • We fear we might get interrupted. I certainly prefer to do my weekly review in one fell swoop without any interruptions, but I’ve learned that with a checklist I can easily pick up where I left off if I do get interrupted. If this is a big deal for you, consider coming in to work early, or staying late to do your weekly review. You can do the same thing at home by waking up before anyone else or staying up later than anyone else. If these aren’t options, disconnect your Internet connection so you don’t get emails and turn off the ringer on your phone—that’s why God made voice mail. You probably have several meetings each week where no one can reach you—your weekly review time should be just like one of those meetings.
  • We fear what we will discover. In our weekly review we may discover holes in our system, bigger tasks and projects that we need to tackle, and sometimes even our own faults. We may fear bringing these things to light, but we can’t deal with them and grow beyond them if we don’t recognize them. Holes in your system need to be fixed or else your system will be like a ship taking on water and continually sinking deeper and deeper. If we discover bigger tasks and projects at least we are getting them out of our head, and psychic RAM, and onto a list where we can make a consious decision about dealing with them. They were probably in the back of our mind consuming precious energy all along anyway. Our own faults are just like holes in our system and we must discover and plug them before they drag us down to the depths.
  • We’re scared of what others will think about us. We may be hesitant to let others know that we need an hour or so each week just to keep our task lists, project lists, roles, goals, and calendar in order. We think that they get along OK without a weekly review so why should we need to do it. But we don’t want to get along OK; we want to advance quickly with power and purpose. If you think others will pick on you about doing your little weekly review then either don’t tell them what you are doing or call it something that will make them feel belittled like, “I’m investing some organizational time in my life goals. I’ll be doubling my salary in less than two years. How are you doing on your goals?”
  • It’s hard. At first, it may seem hard, but just like exercise or any other task, the more you do it, the easier it will get. Hopefully many of the tips presented above will make it much easier for you also.

If you have discovered other reasons that you or others may be resisting the weekly review or weekly plan feel free to add those to this list as a comment. If you have ways to overcome it, list those as well. Together we can help each other to become more consistent in or weekly review time.

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    Terry Porter
    1/11/2006 at 7:47 am

    Awesome post! You made so many great points, Ricky. And you definitely hit a few of my weekly review avoidance factors. Everyone using GTD should read this.

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    1/11/2006 at 8:28 am

    Terry – Thanks for the kudos! And the correction too. I’ve corrected my spelling error.

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    1/11/2006 at 1:07 pm

    Insightful write-up. Thanks for sharing.

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