How to Stay Focused on What Matters Most
In the fast pace of the modern business world, it’s easy to lose your way and become reactive rather than proactive. As a result, you may lose focus on your goals, forget to process notes from your meetings, fail to put assigned tasks on your task list, or, looking forward, anticipate upcoming meetings and events for which you need to prepare.
When this happens, important items fall through the cracks. You end up embarrassed. Worse, you may frustrate your customers, colleagues, or even your boss.
Part of the solution to this problem is the “Weekly Review.” This is an opportunity to get your head above the daily blizzard of activities and see where you’ve been and where you’re going. In my view, this is the key to staying on top of your projects and assignments. The result is that you stay in control of your workload and keep your business constituents happy.
No one has written more compellingly about the Weekly Review than David Allen. In his book, Getting Things Done he writes:
If you’re like me and most people, no matter how good your intentions may be, you’re going to have the world come at you faster than you can keep up. Many of us seem to have it in our natures consistently to entangle ourselves in more than we have the ability to handle.
We book ourselves in back to back meetings all day, go to after-hours events and generate ideas and commitments we need to deal with, and get embroiled in engagements and projects that have the potential to spin our creative intelligence into cosmic orbits. The whirlwind of of activity is precisely what makes the Weekly Review so valuable. It builds in some capturing, reevaluation, and reprocessing time to keep you in balance. There is simply no way to do this necessary regrouping while you’re trying to get everyday work done (pp. 184–185).
I usually do my weekly review at home on Sunday night. By this time, I am usually refreshed and have some perspective. I also like doing it at home because I eliminate most of the distractions that keep me from truly getting my head above the fray at work.
I schedule two hours for my Weekly Review. It rarely takes this long, but I like to have the time blocked off in my schedule. I find if I don’t schedule it, it’s easy to avoid this activity or schedule something else in this slot.
What do I do during this time? Here’s the “agenda” for my meeting with myself. This is modified from David Allen’s list:
- Gather all loose papers and process. I empty everything out of my briefcase, my inbox, and my wallet. I then go through each piece of paper and make a decision what to do with it. Following David’s model, I first decide if it is something that requires me to take action. If not, I have three options. I can:
- Trash it;
- Add it to my Someday/Maybe list; or
- File it for future reference.
If the item requires me to take action, I can:
Process my notes. I have written previously about the “The Lost Art of Note-Taking.” It’s a critical productivity skill. I have opted for a low-tech solution use a Moleskine notebook. (I tried doing this on the iPad for a while but eventually reverted back to paper.)
I quickly read back through my notes, looking for action items that I agreed to do (I mark these in the meeting with a star) or actions items I want to do based on my review.
Review previous calendar data. I look over the previous week’s meetings in Entourage (using the Weekly view) and see if there is anything I missed. For example, I don’t usually take notes in lunch meetings, but I may want to follow-up with a thank you note or a gift.
Review my annual goals. I always have 7-10 goals I am pursuing. They represent my priority projects. I review them weekly (in addition to daily) in order to ensure that I don’t lose visibility on what really matters. I specifically make sure I have identified the appropriate next action and then put it in my task management system or on my calendar.
Review upcoming calendar. This is one of the most important parts of the Weekly Review. I note any upcoming meetings with an eye to the preparation I need to do. This keeps me ahead of the curve and my assignments on track. (I am amazed at how many business people show up at a meeting without reviewing their previous assignments. This makes them look sloppy and incompetent. Reality is that they don’t have a process in place for systematic review of previous meetings and assignments.)
Review my project lists. I keep all of these in Nozbe, along with my goals. During the Weekly Review I ask myself the question, “What do I really need to accomplish this week?” Like goals, I either identity the next action and assign a due date for the day in the upcoming week I want to work on it or I schedule it on my calendar.
Review my @WaitingFor list. This is a list of items I have delegated to others and are important enough to track. If something is overdue, or if I need a progress report, I send an e-mail and nudge the person responsible. I note in the task itself that I sent a reminder.
Review Someday/Maybe lists. These are items that don’t require immediate action but would be nice to do someday in the future. If I’m ready to move on one of these, I change the category and enter it into the appropriate project or action list.
David Allen has a few other items on his agenda (see pp. 185–187) but these are the ones that I find most helpful.
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