The 15-minute weekly review


Do you ever find yourself rushing through your weekly review or skipping it entirely, simply because it takes too long?

Many do.

What if didn’t take so long? What if you could review everything that needs to be reviewed and tick all the boxes that need to be ticked in just 15 or 20 minutes?

How is that possible?

I’ll tell you. But first, a point of clarification.

We call it a weekly review, but we should really call it a weekly “plan” because that’s what it is (or should be). A little reviewing, but mostly planning the upcoming week.

Therein lies a clue.

Istead of spending an hour or more reviewing all of your projects and tasks, past, present, and future, just review the tasks and projects that pertain to the following week.

If you aren’t going to work on a project this week, schedule time to review and plan that project next week, next month, or some other later date.

And don’t think about it until then.

The result is a shorter and more focused plan for the upcoming week. You’re welcome.

But yes, there is a catch.

If you want to create the future, you can’t ignore it, so besides a weekly planning session, you need to allocate time to plan those future weeks and months.

Yes, a monthly review (plan).

Once a month, schedule time to consider your goals—the outcomes you want to achieve that month and beyond—and identify the projects and tasks you need to work on to achieve those outcomes.

So far, so good. But yes, there’s another catch.

The daily plan.

It’s the key to making this all work.

Every evening, take 5 or ten minutes to plan your work for the following day.

Look at your calendar and your weekly plan, identify your most important tasks for tomorrow, and put them on a short list.

When tomorrow arrives, you know exactly what to do.

Let’s recap.

Schedule 15 or 20 minutes once a week to plan the week ahead. Once a month, schedule time to plan the upcoming month. And each afternoon or evening, take 5 or 10 minutes to plan the following day.

So, are you nodding your head in agreement? Does this sound doable? Easier than forcing yourself to spend an hour or two each week going over your entire life?

If it does, and you do this consistently, you will become a productive powerhouse and goal-achieving Ninja.

Unfortunately, there’s one more catch.

You have to do the work.

Sorry. You can’t spend all day reading emails and blog posts from yours truly. Much as you would like to, I’m sure.


How’s that ‘weekly review’ thing going?


No matter what kind of productivity system we use, we can all agree that some kind of weekly review is a good idea.

Examining what we’ve done recently and planning out what to do next just makes sense. A well-planned life is a well-lived life, or something like that.

But. . . it’s so easy to fall off the wagon. (Ask me how I know.)

If you’re thinking about re-starting your weekly review, or cleaning up a list that has become unwieldy, I have a few ideas that might help.

  • If it’s been awhile since you did a weekly review, if you routinely ignore the appointment in your calendar, scheduling a different day and time for your review might help you jump start a new habit.
  • If this is your first day back, don’t try to do everything at once. Limit yourself to reviewing a segment of your list, e.g., current projects, “this week” or “this month,” or limit yourself to a 10-minute perusal to get your feet wet. Easy to start, easy to continue.
  • Consider setting up two new tags or labels: “Defer to do” and “Defer to review”. This will allow you to move tasks and ideas out of sight (for now), giving you more visual space and mental clarity to deal with more important or immediate tasks.
  • If your someday/maybe list is massive, give yourself permission to aggressively delete items. If that makes you nervous, move them to a “probably never” list, and tell yourself you will “probably never” look at that list.
  • If things are totally out of control and you dread getting started, consider the nuclear option: set up a new inbox, move your entire list into it, and start from scratch.
  • Another idea: choose a new app or system and re-enter everything manually. It makes you re-consider what’s important and helps you create a more manageable list.
  • Once you’re back on the wagon and your lists are in decent shape, consider adding a brief “daily review” to your schedule. A few minutes at the end of the day can help you keep your lists tidy and reduce the amount of time needed for your weekly review.

If you use Evernote for your lists, my book can help you get organized


Weekly review ‘trigger list’


During your weekly review, you follow a checklist of tasks, things like:

– process/empty inboxes
– review/update calendar
– check off/remove done items
– process tasks
– follow-up on ‘waiting’ tasks
– review project list
– review someday/maybe
– review goals
– and so on.

These are specific actions you do to review the previous week and plan for the following one.

After you’ve worked your way through your checklist, you might want to also review another list, a ‘trigger list’ of keywords that can jog your memory about things you might need to do that aren’t on any of your lists.

You could have a trigger list for work, with trigger words like these:

– projects started, not completed
– projects that need to be started
– clients to call/email
– former clients to email
– referral sources to contact
– research-legal
– research-management issues
– employees (by name)
– thank-you notes
– bank/financial
– articles/blog posts
– etc.

A personal trigger list might include items such as:

– vacation
– hobbies
– birthdays
– graduations/weddings
– birthdays/anniversaries
– gifts to buy
– restaurants to check out
– amazon purchases/shopping cart
– car maintenance
– study/homework
– etc.

A quick perusal of your trigger lists might stimulate you to recall overlooked tasks to add to your inbox.

Merlin Mann posted a comprehensive trigger list some time ago. It might help you create yours.

Where do you store your checklists? Evernote is a good choice


How to take the pain out of your weekly review


A weekly review is an important part of any productivity system. Without regularly reviewing your plans and progress it’s easy to get off track.

But it’s a pain in the behind.

Going through all of our tasks and projects, current and proposed, takes a long time and makes us continually re-visit decisions we thought we had already made.

Too often, we put off our review and before long, we’re lost in the weeds.

Here are a few ideas you can use to avoid this:

  • Do SOME of the weekly review tasks daily instead of weekly. It will be quicker to empty your inboxes during your weekly review, for example, if you’ve developed the habit of doing this (or most of it) every day.
  • Schedule the time in advance. I do my weekly review on Sunday mornings at 10 am. It’s on the calendar and has become a habit. I don’t have to think about it, I just do it.
  • Use a checklist. Prepare a list of #weeklyreview tasks so that you can dive right in and git ‘er done.
  • Reward yourself. When the review is done, do something fun to reinforce the habit.

One more and it’s a biggie: Use a time limit.

I now limit my weekly review to just ten minutes. Easy peasy. I can do that standing on my head.

A ten-minute limit means I can’t go through my #someday/maybe and #idea lists each week. I do that once a month, or periodically (when I’m in the mood).

A ten-minute limit also requires me to keep on top of my lists throughout the week, which I do. My lists are always just one click away so I can look at them frequently during the day.

“What if you’re not done in ten minutes?” you ask. “Aren’t you taking the risk that you’ll miss something important?”

I’ve come to trust that if something is important, it’s already got my attention.

Try a ten-minute review and see how it works for you. Before you do that, however, do one last major review to clean up your lists. Or, do what I do periodically: hide everything (in another folder, another app) and start fresh with a clean slate.

New lists, new you.

Evernote for Lawyers


The simplest time management system in the world


Everyone has their favorite time management system. Except those who don’t. Many people don’t have any system. They look at the choices and conclude that they’re too complicated or, ironically, too time-consuming to use.

Others, try lots of systems and are never satisfied, so they keep looking.

If you don’t have a system that’s right for you, or if you don’t have any system at all, I want to present to you the simplest time management system in the world.

There are three parts to this system:

(1) Write down everything.

Get it out of your head and on paper or in some kind of electronic list. I use Evernote, but there are many alternatives.

What’s important is that you have a place to go to see all of the tasks and projects you have to do, want to do, or might one day consider doing, and that place is not in your head.

(2) Use a calendar.

Anything that is time-oriented–due dates, start dates, appointments, reminders–should be recorded on your calendar. If there is a specific time when it must be done, like an appointment or a conference call, record the time. If not, and you’re using an electronic calendar, record it as an “all day” event.

The key is to only record things you actually intend to do. As David Allen says, the calendar is “sacred territory”. If it’s on the calendar, you do it.

Of course throughout your day you need to look at your calendar to see what’s on it. You can also set up electronic reminders if you want.

(3) Ask yourself THIS question every day.

So the first two elements of this system are nothing new. I’m pretty sure every time management system uses them. Where things get complicated is with what happens next.

Time management systems use many different ways to categorize and prioritize the items on your master list. They uses tags and codes and allow you to put things in different boxes or on different sub-lists. If these work for you, use them. If they don’t, once a day, ask yourself one simple question:

“What are the most important things I need to do today?”

Write these on a separate list. These tasks are your “most important tasks” for the day. If you get these done, your day will be successful, even if they are the only things you do that day.

You don’t need to complete a lot of tasks to make it a successful day, as long as those tasks are important. I usually write down three “most important tasks” (MIT’s) for the day. Sometimes it’s just one or two, sometimes four or five. So the question I ask myself every day is, “What are the three most important things I need to do today?”

And that’s it. That’s the system. You look at your big list, decide what to do that day based on what’s important, and do them. You don’t do anything else on your list, or that comes up during the day, until you have done your “most important tasks” for the day.

What about the rest of your list? Forget about it. You’ll never get everything done and that’s okay. Let it go. Focus on getting the most important things done each day and when you’ve done that, you can go back to your list and choose additional tasks to do if you want to or you can call it a day.

Now, you may be wondering if this system requires you to read through your master list every day so you can choose your most important tasks. No. That’s too much. Reviewing your master list once a week is enough.

But here’s the thing. You probably already know what to put on your list of most important tasks for the day. At least your subconscious mind does. I’ll prove it.

Without looking at any lists or your calendar, ask yourself this question: “What is the most important thing I can do right now?”

I’ll bet you had an answer.

That’s what you should do next. When it’s done, go ahead and ask yourself that question again.

Do you use Evernote? Have you read my ebook, Evernote for Lawyers?