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Chapter 16 - Review work regularly

Every week, check on your progress, and every quarter, focus on the big picture

If you don’t review your work, life will do it for you

Everyone’s just too busy these days. We’ve got so much on our plate that we get confused about what to do next, where to go now, which direction to turn to.

So we just listen to whatever shouts the loudest.

If someone screams “urgent”, “asap” or “now”, we turn to it, do it and get a dopamine rush of having accomplished something. Great, but what if this wasn’t the most important thing to do? Or wasn’t important at all? Or we just neglected something truly urgent that wasn’t simply screaming at us?

That’s why in the previous chapters of this book I emphasized so much the focused work, regular but optional meetings, writing things down and communicating via tasks in a team.

But even if you’ve paid attention and and you’ve got a great system set up, it still needs reviewing regularly to make sure you keep the main thing, the main thing.1

Have a meeting with yourself every week

In Getting Things Done David Allen2 coined the concept of a Weekly Review as a meeting one should have with oneself to review the previous week and plan the next one. On one of his seminars David went even to extreme saying that “I think once a week when doing my weekly review. And then I just act, knowing that in a week I’ll have a chance to think again.”

The habit of a weekly review is hard to master but it’s extremely useful. It basically consists of 5 steps:3

  1. Clean up inboxes (incoming documents, emails…)
  2. Reconnect with your goals
  3. Read your past week’s calendar and journal
  4. Check your upcoming week’s calendar
  5. Review all your projects and tasks

Sounds easy, but it’s still lots of work. Emails and other incoming documents tend to pile up. We get confused about our goals. The calendar is full of commitments that we took on which we don’t want to do anymore. We’ve got way too many projects and tasks on our plate!

That’s why the first weekly review will take you about a day. Yes, that’s right, an entire day. But do it anyway, you’ll thank me later. And if you stick to it, the next reviews will take you up to two hours.

Two hours?! That’s still too much, right? No, it’s not.

A weekly review should be the most important meeting you have in the week because it’s all about you, your goals and your time. And remember, time is priceless.

Take a good look at how many minutes or hours you’ve wasted last week on coffees, catch-up meetings with colleagues and browsing social media. I’m sure you’ll find your two hours in there. Just put them on your calendar and get to it! Make yourself a priority. For the sake of everyone around you.

Every time you board a plane they tell you that in an event of a loss of cabin pressure, put your oxygen mask first and only then attend to everyone around you. Even your kids.

A weekly review is that oxygen mask. No other meeting should be more important to you than this one. Otherwise you cannot serve your team and your family as well as you’d love to.

Have a whole-day meeting with yourself every quarter

Greg McKeown in a podcast interview4 introduced this concept of a Quarterly Off-site, which is basically taking a day off to review your past quarter and plan the goals for the next one.

Over the years as I’ve been doing this, I discovered that reviewing everything that you do every quarter is much more powerful than these New Years Resolutions that I set at the beginning of the year and forget in a few weeks that follow.

Regularly reviewing my work, my goals, my metrics and my entire life over the past three months and planning next three months have been one of the most powerful productivity tricks up my sleeve.

As with almost everything in my life, it takes only five steps to get it done:5

Step 1. Reconnect with your big picture

Write down at least three most important goals/areas of your life.

  • Where do you see yourself in five years? (Write down a vision of yourself and what you’ve achieved by then)
  • How do you want to end this year? (Write down your yearly resolutions here)

This part is about reconnecting with your goals and main areas of your life. It’s about making sure that you’re heading in the right direction. The famous saying goes:

“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there”.

Make sure you know where you want to go.

Step 2. Review your last quarter

Check out what happened:

  • Review your journal entries of the last three months
  • Review your calendar entries for the last three months
  • Take a hard and deep look at your last quarter
  • Write down the last three months and leave space below them to put there your successes and failures

Take your time. Read through everything you’ve got on the last quarter and jot down your successes and failures of the last months. And always remember: “there’s no failure, there’s only feedback”.

Step 3. Plan your next quarter

Now, it’s time to do some planning.

  • Review your goals for life, next five years and this year - again!
  • Write down the names of next months and leave the space below each of them to write down your goals/plans
  • Review your calendar for the next three months and make sure things you committed to are still relevant (if not, try to re-negotiate them)

Focus on your big goals for each month. Don’t go too technical and too deep with tasks for each month - just the big goals - the big areas - the most essential things for each month.

Step 4. Answer some hard questions

These questions are very powerful and it’s good to go through them very often. This way you’ll live more consciously and not just go with the flow.

Areas of improvement:

  • What do I have to improve?
  • What do I need to learn?
  • Which new/different skills I should acquire?

Priorities:

  • What should I do more of?
  • What should I do less of?
  • What should I drop altogether?

Make sure you’ll really gain more experience as you build up on your successes and learn from your mistakes for the next months to come.

Step 5. Review everything again.

Now after you’ve done all the planning, it’s time to take a break. Get a lunch, take a walk… And after that review everything again - your past quarter and your upcoming quarter - and make sure it all is connected to your high-level goals.

  • Take a close look once again at your last quarter - your successes and failures - make sure the list is complete.
  • Review your plans/goals for the upcoming quarter - really make sure only essential things are there. Don’t be too ambitious.

Get your team to do both reviews

In my company we’ve introduced both reviews as the thing we do every week and every quarter. I’ll explain how we introduced weekly review in the next chapter of this book.

With quarterly reviews we did two things:

  • Everyone on my team gets to have a day off to do their Quarterly Review for themselves every 3 months and we share the blueprint of how it’s done on our internal web site.
  • We schedule one-on-one interviews with team members right after that. Every department leader gets to talk to the folks on their team individually to review their quarter together.

As the CEO I then schedule one-on-one chats with my directors. After all these reviews and one-on-one chats, I do my own quarterly off-site and not only get to look at my own goals but I can then synchronize them with the path that my company is on. And course-correct if necessary.

Individual chats are totally casual

I think it’s great we get to talk to each other individually once every three months. Especially in an all-remote team where we don’t get as much face time with each other as we would in a traditional office.

Team member usually shares parts of their quarterly review with their supervisor, or at least the conclusions from it.

Such meeting is not a formal performance review although there might be questions about the quality of work and the load of tasks.

As we work from our homes, we ask about the home office set up and how the family is supporting the remote work. We want to know if there’s anything we as the company can help with to improve everyone’s work-life balance.

We learn from each quarter

After the round of reviews and chats, as a team we create proposals for things we want to improve based on people’s feedback. Even though we try to practice Kaizen and continuous improvement as mentioned in chapter 12, a bigger review always prompts additional conclusions and suggestions.

Many of these things are being addressed then later on my next month’s vlog (see chapter 9).

The one thing: take time to review your work and life!

The key takeaway from this chapter is that you should look at the time you spend reviewing your work and life every week and every quarter as an investment.

Investment of time in a better future, a smarter you and a healthier team. Make sure you take the time to do it.

The best book to get you inspired after this chapter is Essentialism by Greg McKeown.6

  1. It’s a paraphrase of the quote from Stephen Covey where he wrote: “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” 

  2. Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen. 

  3. I wrote about weekly review extensively on my blog with lots of links to helpful resources. 

  4. Greg McKeown on Michael Hyatt’s podcast This Is Your Life at around minute 24. Also feel free to check my interview with Greg McKeown

  5. Again, you can find lots of helpful links and resources on my personal blog. I discussed this concept on the 73rd episode of The Podcast

  6. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown is my most recommended book of all time

Next: Chapter 17 - Don't do work on Fridays

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