How to conduct a GTD Weekly Review (using Notion)

Chefs have a ritual called the mise-en-place. It literally means to “put in place.” It’s the simple act of gathering and organizing ingredients and tools needed for cooking. And whether your a chef, investor or entrepreneur – there’s something reassuring about getting your house in order. It’s called the GTD Weekly Review. During this weekly ritual, you close those pesky “open loops” and find the work that moves the needle. You set yourself up for a win. Here’s what one of our students said about the habit:

My Weekly Review is the difference between this is going to be an awesome week and “oh crap, how many more things did I forget.”

Unfortunately, the Weekly Review is like broccoli. Something that’s good for you, yet you conveniently forget each week.

What is a GTD Weekly Review?

The Weekly Review was pioneered by David Allen, in his 2001 classic Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity. For the uninitiated, GTD is a 5-step productivity system (with its own pros and cons). Step 4 is Reflect, the catch-all process to review all of your tasks (and projects) to ensure that nothing falls through the cracks.

When executed correctly, the Weekly Review is a planning and prioritization exercise that sets the tone for a winning week. It’s a ritual to:

  • Close the open loops that are stressing you out
  • Organize your digital workspaces to clarify your thinking
  • Set clear intentions and priorities for the upcoming week
  • Check-in on the important, not urgent parts of your life

David Allen himself calls the GTD Weekly Review “the master key” to personal productivity.

The time to gather and process all your stuff. Review your system. Update your lists. Get clean, clear, current, and complete. You have to use your mind to get things off your mind. 

David Allen, Getting Things Done

When done correctly, the Weekly Review – just like that deep REM sleep – is restorative. It interconnects your life’s various and competing priorities.

Yet even the most dedicated productivity experts fail to do a Weekly Review.

Why is that?

1. The Weekly Review is not sexy

Reviews do not release dopamine. There’s no quick likes or favorites. No “swoosh” of a completed tasks. So it often loses out to low-value tasks like Inbox Zero.

2. The Weekly Review requires behavior change

It’s not enough to set a recurring task to do a conduct a Weekly Review. A weekly review is a new habit – it’s not just a box to check. So you need to give it the attention that goes into forming new habits. Here’s James Clear’s 4-part framework for creating a new habit:

  • How can I make it obvious?
  • How can I make it attractive?
  • How can I make it easy?
  • How can I make it satisfying?

3. The Weekly Review involves asking (hard) questions

Our left-brained society rewards action and solutions. When we’re constantly caught in the whirlwind of doing more (and unreasonable expectations), we ditch reflection and asking questions.

In my post The Life-Changing Magic of Asking Good Questions, I cited research from Harvard Business Review that shows the precipitous decline of question-asking in adults:

[The poll] found that those with children estimated that 70-80% of their kids’ dialogues with others were comprised of questions. But those same clients said that only 15-25% of their own interactions consisted of questions.

Which is unfortunate, because as Socrates prophetically warned:

The unexamined life is not worth living.

Why your GTD Weekly Review does not stick

The Weekly Review is a restorative practice that’s rich with embedded leverage. Yet very few people can commit to the process. Why is that? It’s turned into a hot mess of journaling, planning, accountability, and philosophizing. Here is the ritual distilled into a nifty 2×2 Matrix:

Now if you combine all of these activities into one sitting, you’ll easily get overwhelmed and give up.

So let’s look at each quadrant individually with specific instructions on how to execute on their related tasks.

Time and Task Audit (Quadrant 1)

This quadrant answers the question: “What the heck happened last week?” It’s backwards looking and focuses on executed tasks and actions. If you’ve never conducted a Time Audit, I’d highly recommend it (as a separate activity, outside the Weekly Review).

Source: @ramit

How to conduct a Time and Task Audit during your Weekly Review:

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.)

Journaling (Quadrant 2)

This quadrant is for reflection. It’s a gut-check to see if you’re in alignment and if your life is moving in the right direction. However, journaling is a time-consuming activity and it’s not the core purpose of Weekly Review. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it, but just like the Time Audit above, it’s probably best served as a separate task.

How to Reflect during your Weekly Review:

We recommend using a rotating group of $10K Questions, and setting a 5 minute time limit. There are two types of questions: North Star (“Am I headed in the right direction?”) and Alignment (“How am I feeling in this moment?”) questions.

Alignment Questions

  • Am I living the life I choose for myself?
  • Am I off center?
  • Does how I spend my time align with what I value?
  • Why am I actually doing this work?
  • Did I love well?
  • Am I utilizing my strengths?
  • How can I foster curiosity and compassion?
  • Where is there unnecessary struggle? 
  • What if it were easy?
  • What am I avoiding?
  • What makes me proud?

North Star Questions 

  • What does success mean to me?
  • If I had 1 year to live, what (if anything) would I change?
  • Am I playing the right game?
  • What is happiness? (And am I happy?)
  • When well I know that I have enough?
  • How would life be different if there weren’t criticism in the world?
  • Who am I?

Setting your Vision (Quadrant 3)

In David Allen’s GTD Weekly Review checklist, he squeezes one last prompt at the very bottom.

Be creative and courageous. Add any new, wonderful, hare-brained, creative, thought provoking, or risk-taking ideas into your system.

Source: Gettingthingsdone.com

This is where we’ll respectfully disagree. Why? If you look at the prior 15 questions, they’re all highly execution-oriented – focusing on actions, tasks, check-lists, and inboxes.

It’s unnecessary to reflect on your life’s vision each week. But that doesn’t mean you should avoid it.

How to Set your Vision during a Weekly Review:

Don’t do it! Instead, schedule it as a quarterly task that you execute outside of the Weekly Review ritual. Allocate at least an hour for this activity, which could consist of exercises like: future-casting or the Ideal Ordinary week. I described this latter exercise (inspired by Ali Abdaal) in the post Why I’m Giving Up on Solopreneurship:

Imagine a rich benefactor enters your life. This benefactor offers to pay for your entire family’s living expenses for the next two decades. Your mortgage. Their school. Your life insurance premiums. How would you spend your days?

In this hypothetical scenario, even if you allocated 14 hours a day to sleep, fitness, family, friends and self-care – guess what – you’d still have 10 hours of “activities” to allocate each day. (Plus, in this scenario the concept of “the weekend” would fade away, so you’d have 70 hours of activities to allocate each week.)

70 hours! That’s a lot of hours!!!! How would you spend them?

Planning and Prioritization (Quadrant 4)

This is the main event, focusing your Weekly Review on forward-looking execution. It answers the key question:

“How will I show up this week?”

This planning and prioritization is where you should be spending the bulk of your time. It’s imperative that you review every task on your project list, verify any upcoming due dates, close “open loops,” identify next actions and set your $10K priorities. It also enables you to stop using fake due dates.

How to plan and prioritize during your Weekly Review

We recommend that you follow this 5-Step process rigorously:

  • Review all of your project lists (catching the Important, not Urgent)
  • Assign 5 units of $10K work or “Thinking Time” using do dates
  • Repeat this process for $1,000 work
  • Review any tasks requiring a response (“Waiting On” in GTD parlance)
  • Identify your “next actions” (which move projects forward)

You can build and customize this entire framework into a no-code tool like Notion or Airtable. Here’s the template we give our students in our course, Supercharge Your Productivity:

One last ritual

Wipe down your screens. Yup, they’ve accumulated a lot of gunk and germs over the past week. After all, who doesn’t want to start the week with a clean workspace?

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