It’s easy to wake up, check the tasks marked for today and get stuck in with your most urgent and important duty. What’s harder is taking a big picture look at your task list. Who can be bothered with that? Surely that’s an hour you’ll never get back?
You’ve got a bunch of tasks marked for later, or pending someone else’s actions. So, when’s ‘someday’? What’s waiting the next action?
You can be so focused on putting out fires and setting priorities that you leave half of your tasks sitting somewhere out of sight, which is the sort of behavior that stops you from hitting your goals and finally getting round to the work that matters.
With a little help from GTD, and inspiration from a number of task management systems, I’ve put together a quick, actionable guide on carrying out a weekly review on your productivity. Do this every week, and you’re sure to stay on top of your game.
Reset your life to zero
Do a reset on your life by processing all your inboxes. This means you can start the next week fresh, and not have any tasks hanging over that could be processed and actioned.
Email inbox: You don’t want to be going through a thick wad of emails first thing Monday. Get your emails down to zero by processing any action items into your inbox, replying to anything that needs a response, and archiving everything that doesn’t need action (or has already been added to your to-do list or replied to). The best app for lightning-fast inbox processing is Inbox by Gmail, which you can read more about in my total guide to email productivity.
Evernote inbox: If you’ve set Evernote up properly, you should have an inbox set up as the default location for all new notes. If you’re anything like me, it’ll be a bunch of Untitled Quick Notes without tags. Tag them, title them, move them to the right notebook.
To-do list inbox: Every to-do list has two overarching sections: an inbox, and a section for processed items, with priority and tags. Get everything from your inbox into the 2nd section by moving it into the right project, prioritizing it and tagging it properly.
A quick note on inbox processing: depending on your line of work, you inbox could be in a few different places. Anywhere you fill with unstructured content over the course of the week is an inbox. For me, that’s Pocket, Evernote and Inbox by Gmail.
If you have one, bring up your weekly goal list. It’s too much to go over in this quick-start guide, but I’d highly suggest reading this blog post on the topic.
Next, bring up your done list. Depending on what kind of checklist app you use, there’ll be different ways to do this. I use TaskPaper, and that pushes all tasks marked @done to a new category at the bottom of the page called ‘Archive’. You can get the same effect on Wunderlist or Todoist by tapping ‘Show completed tasks’, for example.
Finally for this bit, you need to collect your loose papers, items from various apps and general miscellaneous material. Process them into your to-do list, or archive them if they’re not actionable. For me, the only applicable content left over here is from my paper notebook that I capture ideas and to-do list items in while I’m waiting.
Update your lists
After processing from your various sources into your inbox, make sure you’ve got everything you’ve already done checked off. Mark anything ‘waiting’ if you’re waiting on someone else’s action, and write next actions for bigger inbox tasks before processing them into the correct project.
Next, process your upcoming tasks. Check your calendar, and see if anything you’ve got upcoming for the next month needs next actions. Process these into your to-do list and make sure the calendar event times are still correct.
It’s time to follow up and find out the status on tasks you’re waiting for other people’s actions on. Pester them if you have to. It’s a terrible feeling to have a to-do list full of items tagged ‘waiting’ and going nowhere.
Looking at your weekly goal list, now add next actions for every goal to make sure you’re going to stay in the swing of making progress. Update these projects with any new material you’ve gathered in the previous week and get everything linked together.
Check back through and make sure you’ve actually completed the necessary steps in your weekly process checklists and done list. Let’s face it, the further away these get, the less likely you are to go back and address and pending issues, so get it over and done with now.
Look to the future
It’s so easy to mark a task as ‘someday’, but what happens when you have to go and prioritize it? In my case, ‘someday’ can be as good as ‘never’. Snap yourself out of it and give your ‘someday’ tasks a priority, however low it might be.
A week of hard work can mean you had too much to do for a good old capture session (also known charmingly as a brain dump). Take this chance to capture new ideas, projects, risks, and schemes to your inbox!
Now you’ve gone through a weekly review, and worked with your own systems for the past hour or so, you’ve got to ask yourself an important question: was this process optimized?
If the inbox processing stage took you forever, it could be because you’re storing material in too many different apps. A quick solution is to zap all incoming content to one place using any number of different Zapier integrations.
Are you taking too long getting items from your paper notebook to your digital one? How about using Evernote’s scanner app or OneNote’s amazing image-to-text feature to quickly rip handwriting into your computer.
The best way to get it done: a weekly review checklist
In true Process Street style, I’ve put together a checklist for you to run through to make sure you’ve hit every touchpoint and left nothing hanging over ’til next week.
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