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When it’s better to do something badly than not at all

This week a friend of mine came to me to discuss a problem he had, namely the struggle of getting to do a weekly review on a consistent basis.

He had setup and followed a basic Getting Things Done system, but while he often felt a huge surge of energy after doing the weekly review he didn’t manage to do one very often. Certainly not weekly.

His weekly review checklist was very comprehensive, taken from Taylor Pearson which is a massive process. More than just clearing out your inboxes and checking your calendar, it includes things like cleaning up and closing all your browser tabs, a brain dump journaling session and complete run through of all your goals in all areas of your life โ€“ from annual level breaking down to weekly. All in all, something that takes Taylor around 2 hours to get through.

No wonder that my friend procrastinated on his weekly review!

What often happens is that we try the weekly review thing, manage to get through it once and feel a sense of clarity and calm about our direction and how to go there.

We then pledge to Always Do the Weekly Review exactly like this Forever and Ever.

“Weekly reviews are awesome! I’m going to do this every week from now on! Clarity and focus FTW!”

And then life happens.

And we beat ourselves up for being lazy, inconsistent or simply lacking discipline.

It’s so easy to get carried away when we are on a roll, surfing the waves of inspired momentum. Harder to follow through when we are pressed for time, or simply just don’t feel like sitting down facing all those tasks and open loops. The longer the checklist, the bigger the obstacle is to sit down and do it.

Taylor Pearson’s checklist works for him, but it’s important to remember the situation it appears in. His setup works well if you also are in a situation where you have complete freedom over planning your time, like an entrepreneur or freelancer, but less so if you have a traditional job plus family and try to cram in a weekly review in a gap somewhere.

Can you afford to spend 2 hours+ per week on a weekly review? Does the very thought of it make you tired or inspired?

Create a Minimum Viable Review

The weekly review is a habit just like any other, and for many people a weekly habit is harder to form and maintain than a daily one. I therefore think it’s more valuable to focus on forming the habit itself than come up with or follow the perfect review checklist.

Instead of trying to do it all at once, create a Minimum Viable Review – the fewest things you absolutely need to do to get a good overview of what you want to do next week.

I’ve done this in the past at a time in life when I had zero energy, and the weekly review habit turned into something that I could rely on for support. It became a scaffolding and a supporting structure for me, that caught me and held me through.

I completely cleared and rewrote my weekly review checklist. My minimum viable review became:

  • Go through inboxes and my todo app
  • Ask: Do I absolutely have to do it this week?
    • If yes: flag it and if necessary set a due time and reminder (since I couldn’t keep anything in my head)
    • Defer anything else
  • Look at the calendar if there are any more obligations I absolutely need to do and can’t remove

No brain dump. No life overview. No planning far ahead, checking Someday’s or long term goals. Only check for burning fires.

Today my review is pretty flexible. While I do have a kind of comprehensive checklist, I also have the period of my minimal review in the back of my head so I flex and adapt what I do that weekend depending on my resources available.

Short on time and energy? Do the minimal version. Plenty of time and resources? Go through the whole list.

This flexibility is key for me to be able to keep the habit and not skip a week.

I have zero guilt of cutting steps in my review checklist, and I still count the weekly review as a proper one.

The habit is more important than the content

The most important thing if you don’t do a consistent weekly review is to get some kind of habit going. You can always add to your list later.

I suggest you even start with something as simple as only opening your todo app and look at your tasks. Make sure each project has a well defined next action that moves it forward. No more.

Do only that for at least a month. Choose a recurring time and/or event that you do this on. Time your review and see how long it takes you (it’s harder to skip if you know it’ll only take 10 minutes).

Once you get into the habit of sitting down weekly for a review, then you can start experimenting with adding things. See if you can find a sweet spot, where the review is not so long that you feel it’s too cumbersome yet still includes enough things that you get clarity for the upcoming week.

And don’t change the review checklist every week, because you never get a chance to get a feel for how it works for you. I had a long period experimenting like this and it became too confusing. Since my process changed every time I sat down to follow it, I never got into a feeling of routine and predictability.

Same with experimenting with different times of the week. I have over the years done my review sometimes on Fridays and sometimes on Sundays. But I didn’t switch every week, but rather tried one thing for a longer period and then another for the next period.

If you change too often, you won’t have time to get enough results to evaluate.

Start with building the tiny habit. This is what I told my friend and what I’m also suggesting you do if you struggle with the same problem.

Don’t treat your weekly review checklist as holy and make it a condition that you have to go through all of it each and every time. Treat it as a menu, or a suggestion, where you can pick the most important things and skip the rest. This is a perfect example where a “badly performed” task is better than none.

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