Updated: Apr 23
Part reflection, part planning, the weekly review is a core practice that can help you stay on track and clear your mind. The idea comes from David Allen's Getting Things Done, but the Messy version is a bit more flexible and forgiving.
What do you do in the weekly review? (Tidy Enough version)
Start with your notes from the week. If you have been bullet journaling or Messy Desk Journaling, then you have been scribbling down notes and tasks throughout the week. Read through those, check off the tasks you have completed (and give yourself a pat on the back), and cross off any tasks that you don't really need to do. If you keep project lists or tickler lists, move items to those, as appropriate. Then add the rest of the incomplete tasks to a nice clean list.
Do a space scan. Look around your space. Gather any random sticky notes, whiteboard notes, scraps of paper, or other places you have jotted down notes, tasks and ideas. Add any tasks to your nice clean list. Put away anything that you feel the need to put away.
Add information from your Messy Inbox. The Messy Inbox was originally conceived as a way to organize at home, but I have adopted it at work, too. Basically, you have a large open bin that you toss physical objects in to sort through at a later date. If you put everything in there, you won't lose an important bill or a vital "note to self" because everything is in the bin in reverse chronological order. It's essentially a physical version of the journal, for bigger items. During the weekly review, you can just skim through the items in the box to gather tasks for the coming week. I try to put away or throw away at least a bit of the detritus in the box each week, but to keep the weekly review time commitment to a minimum, I don't try to get to zero inbox.
Check email, calendar, and any other holding places. If you need to prepare for a meeting that will take place during the coming week, put that work on your task list. If you organize your work into projects, make sure that you have your next steps on your task list for projects you might work on during the coming week. Skim your email and add tasks accordingly. If you have a lot of places you want to check, you might need a weekly review checklist.
Do a brain dump. This is the fun part. As you have read through your notes and thought about your week, your creative brain has been working. In your journal or on a blank sheet of paper, write down every task, idea, worry, thought, etc. as quickly as you can. Doodle if you like. There are no rules, and it doesn't have to look pretty. Sometimes, it helps to set a timer and make yourself write for a few minutes. When your brain dump is done, add anything you need to your clean task list, or migrate it to where it belongs in your journal.
Identify your focus for the coming week. With your task list made, you have a sense of what's on your plate for the future. Decide now what you want to focus on for the coming week. Write it down at the bottom of your clean task list. A focus reduces the feeling of overwhelm you feel when your list is very long. It tells you what your next step is for the coming week, and helps jump-start your next work session.
Depending on your available time, workload, or personality, you might want to do your review slightly differently. Here are options, based on Messy Desk Levels:
The Relaxed version: Think through what you have been working on this week and what else is on your plate. Consider the next steps for major projects, and decide on a focus for each day of the coming week. Ryder Carroll, the creator of the Bullet Journal system, uses monthly reviews rather than weekly reviews, and that's another way you can relax the process.
Perfectly planned: For perfection, you put your weekly review on your calendar and block out time to do it. Because you're perfect, you do all the parts weekly, and it takes you only 15-20 minutes. You completely empty your Messy Inbox every single week, and you don't have to do a physical scan because you put everything in your Messy Planner or Bin as you create it. You make your nice clean list with a focus for each day of the coming week.
What's this about a nice clean list?
The kind of list you make is flexible and may change from week to week. But I feel like I have my crap together when I have a tidy list of tasks prepared for the next week. It gives me closure for the past week, so I have fewer moments of "oh, I need to remember to..." over the weekend. When I do have those moments, I write them down in my journal, or toss them in the Messy Bin to be processed later.
When you don't have much time, a hand-written task list (like the photo above) is going to feel like a waste. Just know that it is really easy to let Handwriting makes you consciously choose to do each task and keeps your list a manageable length. However, you can just as easily choose to use an electronic organizer or send yourself an email.
When to do the review?
This task is really helpful to do every week. Just don't beat yourself up if you miss a week or a month. If you haven't done the weekly review in a while, or haven't been keeping up with journaling, it helps to start with the brain dump, rather than finishing with it.
I separate planning for my 9 to 5 librarian work and my home/writing/consulting work. Although I keep only one electronic calendar that covers all my time, I have a Messy Journal and a Messy Bin at home, and another set at the library. I use an electronic notebook on my phone to jot down items that I need to remember when I'm in the opposite location. At the library, I do my review on Friday afternoons or Monday mornings; at home, I do the review on Saturday or Sundays.
Things to consider during the review
What are my priorities right now? Do I need to shift my attention?
Does each task move me toward my goals, or will it give me lasting enjoyment? Is it a good use of my time? If not, cross it off the list.
During this past week, was I the person I want to be? Did I do the things that I want to do? If not, what small thing can I do next week to make my life more like my ideal?