023: Essential Habits - The Regular Review

023: Essential Habits - The Regular Review
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Our second episode in the series on essential habits. This week we discuss the regular review – daily, weekly, monthly and annual.

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00:00 Hello and welcome to Process. My name is Justin DiRose, community leader at the Productivity Guild and today we’re talking about the essential habits for productivity – part two, the regular review. Last week we talked about the very first essential habit for productivity, which is the mind sweep. This week we’re discussing something that’s key to keeping your entire system together – The Regular Review. Wilson, one of our contributors over at the Productivity Guild wrote up a fantastic overview of reviews and I’ll put a link in the show notes. We’re going to cover some similar topics today, but we’ll go a little bit more in depth. The whole point of a regular review is that your system is only as effective as it is up to date. So to put it simply, the review is the mechanism to ensure your system is regularly up to date at every timescale, whether that’s daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually, longer than that, you want to make sure your system is up to date.

00:56 And if you’re funneling a lot of information into a task manager or a note system like Evernote or Bear, you want to make sure that you get in there, review it, and make sure your system is up to date so that when you go look for the information that you put in there later, then you can find it and it’s useful and it’s effective for you at that moment in time. So instead of belaboring the theories of reviews and such, we’re going to simply look at the types of reviews there are that you can do and the things to review in them. The first type of regular review is the daily review. Now, not everybody does a daily review, but the whole point is just to get you up to speed for the day. So things you might review in a daily review are your project lists, looking for things that you need to do today, your daily calendar events so you can make sure that you’re on top of your schedule, your plans for the week so you can make sure to advance them that day, goals or vision or mission that you want to keep on top of your mind so that you can have a frame of reference of why you’re doing what you’re doing in a day.

01:59 Especially if you do your daily review at the end of the day, which some people don’t, some people do them at the beginning of the day, but if you do them at the end, a good thing to do is to reflect on your accomplishments for the day. Anytime that you can celebrate the things that you’ve achieved in a given time period, it’s beneficial for you because it gives you a sense of accomplishment. It gives you a sense of progress and a sense of satisfaction. It’s all about perspective when it comes to looking at what you’ve gotten done in a given day. And the last major thing that people mostly do during their daily reviews is a mind sweep to get everything out of their head that’s been hanging around and accumulating during the day. Like I said, the daily review is not something that everybody needs to do, but it can be helpful, especially if you have a high volume of things that you’re handling on a given day.

02:46 Some people have a task management style where they will literally take a smaller project and they’ll break it down into as many little tiny chunks as they can. You know, a small project can be 50 small tasks. Some people don’t work that well. I’m one of those and so I tend to do bigger tasks so to say, but it’s because I have just an understanding of what needs to come next. And frankly, managing details at that small level for me is really overwhelming. Whereas managing bigger picture things is a little bit easier for me to handle. So daily review might be something that you get mixed mileage out of, but ultimately it’s something that if you’re interested in developing a daily habit of getting into your system and making sure it’s up to date, it’s something you can do.

03:29 The next type of review is really the bread and butter review. If you only implement one, implement this one and that’s the weekly review. The weekly review was made famous by Getting Things Done, but whether you’re Getting Things Done user or not, the weekly review is still very helpful. There’s a lot of principles contained within it that help you keep on top of your life and keep on top of your systems and make sure that they are up to date. I tend to split the weekly review into four chunks, clear review, reflect and plan. So during the clear phase of the weekly review, I go in and empty any inboxes that I have, so that’s email, any Discourse forums that I am a part of, social media drafts on my phone, task management inbox, my bullet journal, I go through all of that. Then I’ll do a mind sweep as well. I’ll go through and just collect everything in my mind and get it out on paper or getting it, get it into my system.

04:21 The whole point of the clear phase is to get to neutral. If you’ve got a physical inbox on your desk, empty that out, scan items that have accumulated, get back to a neutral place so that you can move forward from there so you’re not trying to play catch up. Then in the review phase, this is where you go in and review – fancy name, right? – different pieces of software or different places you store stuff. So this would be your project lists and especially when you’re looking at project lists, you might want to review stale or stalled projects that you don’t have a path forward on. So maybe you can resolve some blockers. They’re reviewing your goals so you can keep a bigger picture perspective of where you’re at and what you need to do next. Your calendar. When I review my calendar, I look at the past week or so, so it spurs to mind any tasks that I might need to do that I’ve forgotten about and the future which I look at three to six weeks.

05:12 Again, to spur any tasks that I need to do to prepare. You can also review your note taking software to make sure that you have all of your notes filed in the right place or that your project notes are up to date with where they need to be. The whole point here of the review piece is to get everything up to date and current and any open loops that you have hanging around in your head out. Once I complete the review, I go into the reflect phase and the whole point here is to create space for iteration. And I accomplish this basically by asking myself a few questions. What went well, what didn’t, and any changes that I can make. And if you followed along with my productivity journal topic over at the Productivity Guild, I try to make some of these things public. What I’ve done is I’ve adopted the wins and improvements tool from Getting Results the Agile Way.

05:59 Basically what you do is you just list down three wins for the week and three things that you need to improve, and from there you can look at what improvements you want to make or what things you want to continue doing on a weekly basis. From there, you can implement any changes that you need to make and start to iterate on your system going forward. Your system is in a set it and forget it thing, sorry, Ron Popeil, but ultimately it’s something that you iterate over time. The last phase of the weekly review is the plan section. Plans are worthless, but planning is everything, as Dwight Eisenhower said. The mere mental exercise of planning prepares you though everything may blow up and you accomplish nothing on that plan. I don’t know how many times that this has happened to me in my life. In fact, it’s made me feel like planning is absolutely futile to even try to do.

06:48 But the truth is that the thought process of planning and trying to figure out, okay, what do I need to get done in the next week? What I want, what do I want to get done in the next week? That that’s what helps me get a frame of reference on if I am on track or not. That’s ultimately what it comes down to. So when I plan, I tend to define three things for the next week. You’re planning may look a little different from mine, but this is the way I do it. I define my commitments, my intentions and my habits, so my commitments are the hard landscape items. These are my calendar items, appointments, things that I can’t miss, regular things that need to happen every single week. My due tasks, things like making sure that I publish this podcast every single Friday.

07:26 My intentions are the soft landscape. These are the things that I want to get done or that I should get done in the next week. These are the things that are moving the needle forward. These are the things that I want to focus on. These are the things that make my life better. These are the things that I want to make sure I’m prioritizing. And then habits are the things that I do for growth and maintenance. So this might be something like making sure I’m drinking water every single day or making sure that I’m doing my startup and shutdown routines every single day that I work. These are the things that helped me keep my life moving forward. Like I mentioned, the weekly review is the bread and butter. It’s the thing that keeps it all together. Now, granted, you don’t have to do this just on a weekly basis. You can do this daily as well. You can go as in depth as you want to on the daily review, but generally people keep the daily review smaller because it takes less time.

08:15 Another review that people tend to implement, but it’s not as necessary as a monthly or quarterly review. Monthly or quarterly reviews are perfect times to check in on your goals. So if you’re tracking more longterm goals instead of trying to keep track of it every single day or every single week, you can keep it top of mind during those time frames, but you can check in on your progress on your goals on a monthly or quarterly basis. The monthly or quarterly review is also a good time to make changes to your system, so instead of getting sucked into trying out the newest task manager or trying to make big flow process changes in your writing workflow or whatever it is, you can queue those changes up and evaluate and potentially make those on a monthly or quarterly basis. Additionally, this time is a great space to evaluate if where you’re going is where you want to go and make the necessary adjustments. Also, as important with just about every review is to reflect on the accomplishments of the last month or quarter and to celebrate them.

09:14 The last one is the annual review and the real thing that I’ve found important with the annual review is to set vision for the upcoming year. Take a look at the last year and see what went well, what didn’t go well and then for the upcoming year, where are you wanting to go? What types of changes do you want to make? How are you going to make them? And what types of things do you want to accomplish? This is the time where I find it’s important to dream a little bit, get everything out of your head which would be really great to focus on or accomplish or go for and then start trying to get those things to actionable items so that you can look at doing those throughout the year. I’ll be honest, I’m not the best at taking dreams and getting them down to ground level so that they’re easy to act on, but merely the whole process of dreaming these big picture things, getting them out of your head and then even just having them there to refer back to throughout the year is helpful for me.

10:12 It helps me stay inspired, helps me have a bigger picture view and it helps me get ideas out, cause half the time what happens during an annual review for me is that I connect dots together between different things or just the fact of getting all the ideas out enables me to connect dots on them later in the year so that I can see that something is maybe important to go after or not important to go after at a given time. I won’t spend too much time on digging into the specifics of how to conduct an annual review. I personally think Mike Schmitz’s personal retreat course gives a great foundation of doing this. I’ll put a link in the show notes to that, but I highly recommend Mike’s materials on the personal retreat. I think it gives exactly what you need to accomplish an effective annual or even quarterly review.

10:54 As we discussed, the regular review is the way to keep your systems up to date and if you’re using any kind of productivity system, again, whether it’s Getting Things Done, Getting Results, the Agile Way, Autofocus, Bullet Journal, having some kind of regular review is the way that you keep your systems up to date so that your system stays a tool in your toolbox that you can use effectively. That’s the whole point. If you have a system, it needs to be effective for you and maintenance is the only way to keep it effective. It’s like going out and chopping a tree down with an ax. As Abraham Lincoln said, give me six hours to chop down a tree and I’ll spend the first four sharpening the ax. The review process is a piece of how we can sharpen our axes, to sharpen the saw, so to say, to make sure that the things, the tools that we have in our tool belt are what we need to have with us at any given moment in time.

11:52 Well, that’s all for this time. If you want to join in on the discussion for this episode or you want to connect with others who are in the process of becoming better on their productivity journey, head on over to the Productivity, Guild at productivityguild.com. Or if you want to support this podcast and get access to video modules, productivity courses, and more, consider signing up for a Pro membership at the productivity guild for just $10 a month. Get a free month trial using code PROCESS19 when signing up productivityguild.com/courses. Lastly, if you like this show, rate us on iTunes or recommend us on Overcast. My name is Justin DiRose and join me next time on Process.

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I’m happy to be able to turn the review process into a daily and weekly habit. When a process becomes automatic (like brushing your teeth), it’s a great feeling when I don’t feel like I’m forcing myself to do something. I actually like doing it. The review habit took many months to get ingrained. I use my Due app to remind myself to do the daily review every day at 4:30 pm and notify me every 30 minutes until I mark it complete.

Taking the time to review keeps me aware of any active projects’ process and checklists that I may have forgotten about. If I read a Bible verse today, I’ll most likely have forgotten it by dinner time. But small reviews of 5-15 minutes will get some nugget ingrained into me over time. It’s the constant repetition and slow habit building that turns the daily review into an automatic system that I look forward to.

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