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“Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it.” – Winnie-the-Pooh, A.A. Milne, 1926
It’s no secret that busyness kills leadership.
- Busy leaders are reactive, working hard at solving yesterday’s problems.
- Busy leaders spend the majority of their time on necessary, but mundane tasks.
- Busy leaders lose sight of the big picture, forgetting why they’re doing the stuff they’re doing.
- Busy leaders spend a lot of their time rowing in circles, making little progress on the few items that really matter.
Effective leaders develop habits that prevent them from falling into the busyness trap. And when they find themselves becoming busy, these same habits help them get perspective and change their focus. The most powerful habit effective leaders develop to help them stay focused is the weekly review. Where they make time every week to zoom out from their day-to-day activities and look at their life from a bigger perspective.
Without a regular practice to help you regain clarity as to your most important goals, you become overwhelmed by the urgent. Unless you’re able to stay focused on your most important work, you’ll quickly get overwhelmed by the daily urgent matters.
The idea of a weekly review comes from David Allen’s bestselling book “Getting Things Done”. In the book David describes the importance of a weekly review as follows:
“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 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.”
Leaders must establish a regular habit of slowing down, to pause and look around. To reflect on their progress and make adjustments where necessary. Let’s explore how to develop a weekly review habit in more detail.
What is a Weekly Review?
In a nutshell, a weekly review refers to the practice of setting aside a specific time each week to pause, reflect and plan for the week ahead. The weekly review is a deliberate weekly practice of taking a step back so you can get some perspective on your tasks, projects, goals and vision.
The weekly review keeps you focused on what’s important and helps you gain control over your time. It helps you stay focus on taking action every week towards the achievement of your most important goals.
The weekly review is a time you set aside each week to restore your balance and ensure that your urgent work is not crowding out your important work.
In the sections that follow, we’ll explore the steps needed to successfully complete a weekly review.
Step 1: Review the Past Week
Begin the weekly review process by reflecting on your activities, tasks and accomplishments from the past week. Consider the following questions:
- What work did you get done over the past week?
- Did you complete your most important tasks as planned? If not, why?
Make a list of all the things you did over the past week.
Step 2: Reflect on Lessons Learnt
Learning is central to living a successful and significant life. The good news is you learn something new every day. However, unless you make time to reflect on your experience this learning gets lost in the rush of day-to-day pressures. To learn you need to slow down to consider the lessons life is teaching you.
“We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.” – John Dewey
Make a list of the lessons you learnt from the past week. To do this reflect on and answer the following questions:
- What are the biggest things that happened last week?
- What successes did you achieve? What mistakes did you make? What lessons can they teach you?
- If you could live the past week over again, what would you do differently?
- What ideas have you learnt from the books and articles you’ve been reading?
- What’s standing in your way from making better progress next week?
Review your lessons and ask yourself the question, “what are you going to do differently next week?”
Step 3: Reconnect with Your Life Purpose, Vision and Goals
It’s now time to take a step back and reflect to ensure you don’t lose sight of what matters most. Spend some time to review and reconnect with your life goals. To do this read through your life vision, purpose and goals, then reflect on the following questions:
- Which of your goals are you going to focus on in the week ahead?
- What body of work are you building? How will you contribute to building your body of work in the week ahead?
- What is the most important work you need to accomplish next week?
Unless you’re deliberate about taking bold and regular action towards your life goals they will forever remain only a dream. Achieving your goals means making time to review your goals each week to decide your next steps.
What goals are you going to work on next week? Make a list of 3 – 5 actions you’re going to take towards achieving your goals.
4. Schedule Your Most Important Work First
You cannot just add important work to a “to do” list and hope that you’ll somehow find the time to get the work done. Whilst urgent work will find you, important work must be scheduled. Practically this means adding important work to your calendar and commit to making time to get this work done.
This is an important step. Don’t skip it! Making a “to do” list without making time to get the work done results in busyness – where the urgent crowds out the important.
“Being selective – doing less – is the path of the productive. Focus on the important few and ignore the rest.” – Timothy Ferriss
Plan to complete your important work early in the week. Aim to front load your week with your important work. Then, schedule your important work to be done early in the day. In an interesting Reddit AMA, Dan Ariely a professor of psychology and behavioural economics at Duke University and author of “Predictably Irrational” made the following observation.
“One of the saddest mistakes in time management is the propensity of people to spend the two most productive hours of their day on things that don’t require high cognitive capacity (like social media). If we could salvage those precious hours, most of us would be much more successful in accomplishing what we truly want.”
He then goes on to say that:
”Generally people are most productive in the morning. The two hours after becoming fully awake are likely to be the best.”
As you’re at your best cognitively during the first 2 – 4 hours after waking, my advice is, don’t waste this valuable time on meetings and conference calls! Instead, use this time for your important work. Use time later in the day for meetings and email.
5. Review and Schedule Your Smaller Tasks
This last step is about getting those little tasks under control. These are those small tasks that need to get done, but don’t get you closer to your life goals. So whilst it’s necessary to get these tasks done, the should not be completed at the expense of your important work and life goals.
Now make a list of the smaller tasks that you need to get done in the week ahead. To do this review your calendar for meetings, review your “to do” lists, your someday maybe list and your projects list for things you need to get done.
Take a few minutes to schedule these tasks in your calendar.
Now it’s your turn. Commit to developing the habit of a weekly review.
Start by scheduling a specific day and time each week in your calendar for your weekly review. Use the 5 steps process outlined above as a template, adapting it where required to complement your existing productivity habits.
“Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.” – Alexander Graham Bell
You’ll be amazed at how a weekly review will help you stay focused and prevent busyness from taking over your life.