It’s easy to feel like we’re accomplishing things when we’re crossing items off a to-do list. But that short-term buzz you get from feeling productive can distract you from something way more important: achieving your bigger goals.
All too often, we get so tied up in keeping on top of smaller tasks that we forget to look at the bigger picture. Then, before you know it, weeks have passed and you realize you’ve spent more time responding to tasks than you have done choosing them.
Weekly reviews are a great opportunity just to stop, pause, and take stock of where you are and where you’re headed. Whether you follow a formal, step-by-step guide, as per David Allen’s famous Getting Things Done method, or you just set a reminder on your phone to spend a few minutes reflecting on what’s happening in your life each week, conducting a weekly review can help you get more control over your to-do list — and your life. Here’s how to get started.
What is a weekly review?
A study from Harvard Business School reveals we learn better when we reflect. The same goes for achieving your goals: Reflection is key to moving forward with purpose.
There are several variations on the weekly review, but essentially, it’s all about reflection — on the week that’s been, the week ahead, and the weeks beyond. Some reviews include detailed steps, whereas others consist of a few pertinent questions. At their essence, they cover the following ground:
- What goals do I need to accomplish next week?
- How can I improve on what I’m doing?
- What big picture things would I like to work toward?
When it comes to reviews, they can be any unit of time apart, but a week seems to work best. It’s regular, but not so frequent that it takes up too much time. Most of us work in weeks, too; Monday to Friday is a big part of traditional workplace culture. Incorporating a review into an already established pattern makes it easier to turn it into a routine.
Who should do a weekly review?
Short answer: everyone. It’s such a useful trick, and it only takes an hour. And, when you think about how many hours there are in a week, sacrificing one to get more out of the rest sounds like a pretty good deal.
If any of the below questions sound like you, then a weekly review is definitely something you should consider.
- I get to the end of the week/month/year and have no idea what I’ve actually done.
- I start each day without a plan and just do tasks as they come in.
- I feel incredibly busy, but I’m not reaching my goals.
- I want to be more productive in general.
- I want more time set aside to focus on self-improvement and personal development.
- I feel like I’m only just keeping my head above water each day.
- I don’t feel fulfilled.
Weekly reviews: two major benefits
There are lots of benefits to a weekly review, but here are two of the biggest.
Learn more about yourself
All too easily, we get tied up in deadlines and emails and forget what really matters to us. The best thing about a weekly review is the opportunity to reflect. And, after doing it a few weeks in a row, you’ll start to spot patterns you may not have noticed otherwise.
For example, if you missed deadlines because you kept getting distracted by messages on chat, you could make it a priority to only check-in at certain times during the day, allowing more time for deep focus. Or perhaps you noticed you consistently get more done in the mornings than you do in the afternoons. Armed with that information, you can structure your day around your own productivity peaks and dips. As a result, you’ll make more informed decisions and ultimately get more done in less time.
If you run a 5k every day and never time it, you’ll never know if you’re doing any better or worse than the last time. The same goes for work: The best way to get better is to measure and track your progress.
Begin by choosing some metrics to measure. These could be anything, from words written per hour to the number of Pomodoros completed. Eventually, you’ll reach a point where your progress plateaus. But, if you keep measuring, it’s easier to stay on your A-game and not let things slip.
How to do a weekly review
1. Choose a time to do your weekly review
The day you pick is up to you, but we recommend Friday afternoons: It’s when the week’s drawing to a close and our concentration dips. Completing a weekly review is a great way to fill time. It also means that when you start work on Monday, you know right away what you need to do. Sunday is another good option because you can channel your nervous ‘work tomorrow’ energy into something productive.
Really, it doesn’t matter when it is, but it should be the same time every week. Eventually, you’ll do it enough times that it’ll become second nature.
2. Tidy up and clear out
A clear space really does help you focus — so tidy everything around you, sort through any stray pieces of paper, declutter your inbox (but don’t worry too much about inbox zero), organize your chats into specific topics, and generally have a physical, mental, and digital clearout. This helps you feel calm, organized, and ready to think about your goals.
3. Create a set of weekly review questions
These should be the same each week. You can tailor these to suit your needs, but below are some core questions. Write down your answers, and use them to plan your week ahead.
- What deadlines, projects, and tasks do I have coming up?
- Am I keeping up with my obligations?
- What went well this past week? How can I make sure more good stuff happens again?
- Did anything go badly last week? How can I stop that from happening again?
- What are my goals for next week?
- What are my goals for the next month? Quarter? Year?
- Is everything I’m doing helping me reach my goals? What can I do about the things that aren’t?
Top tip: Be pragmatic. As much as we all want to be one of those people who gets up at sunrise, runs a 10k, and has completed half their to-do list by 8 a.m., it’s just not that realistic. When creating your weekly review, start with small steps, and build on those gradually.
4. Review your answers
Check your weekly review does what it needs to do. Here are some good questions to ask yourself:
- Does it guide me through the week ahead?
- Does it help me assess the past week?
- Have I included time to organize and declutter?
- Is there room to pause and evaluate my major goals?
- Is there space to reflect on where I am and where I’m heading?
- Have I given myself time to step back and work on personal projects?
5. Post review: Be kind to yourself
When you look back at your day, week, or month and realize you’ve not met as many goals as you’d have liked, it’s easy to beat yourself up. But remember: this is the reason you’re doing the weekly review — to see how you’re doing and improve. Measuring your progress is part of improving, so even acknowledging slip-ups and inefficiency is a step in the right direction.
It’s all too easy to get caught up in chasing deadlines or to think that giving yourself a little ‘me time’ is self-indulgent. But the reality is, without pausing and reflecting, you’re neglecting your needs both professionally and personally. A weekly review isn’t to just help you meet your deadlines in the week ahead: It’s a chance to spend a few minutes with yourself.
Taking a close look at the way you work could unearth some difficult truths, but with each one comes an opportunity for change. Even doing something as simple as switching your chat app status to busy for the afternoon, delegating certain tasks, or using time blocking techniques can work wonders for your productivity and sense of accomplishment. Especially when you add it up, day by day, week by week — and beyond.