GTD and the weekly review

I claimed previously that Getting Things Done (GTD) was a bit more organizational system than I needed or was willing to commit to, but I’ve since found myself gradually revising that statement. There are still a lot of elements of the system that I don’t use, particularly the “tickler” file, and some of the tips that make more sense for management types than academics, but I’ve been adding more and more GTD principles to my workflow lately.

(For a quick GTD primer, see the Wikipedia entry, and Merlin Mann’s extremely helpful blog post on getting started with GTD.)

Most recently, I’ve embraced the idea of the weekly review. Lifehacker has quite a few posts on the weekly review, but this recent one is a good starting place. A weekly review used to seem a bit excessive for my academic workflow—so many of my projects and deadlines are long-term that I thought there wouldn’t be enough to review each week, particularly this semester when I wasn’t teaching. And it’s true that I don’t rely on the weekly review to keep me from being overwhelmed with tasks and appointments that I’ll forget—I’ve got that stuff pretty well under control.

What the weekly review does for me is give me a chance to assess my progress on whatever I’m working on—which right now is a chapter revision and a conference paper—and adjust, correct, and tweak my priorities and motivation. It encourages me to reflect and be more deliberate about the way I use my time, and it gives me an opportunity every week to re-direct my focus and start with a clean slate.

Because that clean-slate feeling is so important, I schedule my weekly review on Wednesday, rather than Friday. This effectively gives me two fresh starts each week—one on Monday, and then another on Wednesday. It’s still too early to make any definitive claims, but it seems to be helping with that end-of-the-week slump.

For me, the most important thing in getting the weekly review rolling was developing a list of steps to go through. There are quite a few sample lists floating around, but I found that they weren’t all that adaptable to my particular academic workflow. And the process of identifying my priorities and the order in which I wanted to go through them helped me solidify what it was I wanted to accomplish with my review.

I’m back to using Things as my primary task management system, but for my weekly review, I made a separate list in my iPad’s Reminder app. One reason for this is that I didn’t want the list of steps to clutter up my daily task manager, but the bigger reason was that Reminders lets you schedule repeating tasks that pop up not only on a particular day, but also at a particular time. So at 4:00 every Wednesday, the notification center on my iPad fills up with the things I need to review. This is the list I came up with (click to embiggen):

One of the most helpful steps for me—and one I haven’t seen in example weekly review steps—is to list the tasks/accomplishments I’ve completed in the past week. I worried a bit about the review just augmenting my sense that there was so much to do and my progress was way too slow. I like reminding myself to reflect on what I’ve gotten done in the past week, even if it’s just meeting with my dissertation directors or getting a bunch of reading done. It’s easier to confront all the things that still need doing after I’ve acknowledged that I do get things accomplished each week.

I’ve also added a “Waiting for” list to my task manager that I review each week. It gives me a place to list everything that I eventually need but that’s out of my hands right now—articles under review, books recalled from the library, emails I’m waiting for replies to. I’m bad about not following up on things, and I’m hopeful that looking through the “Waiting for” list each week will prompt me to be more proactive about (gently) prodding people when they’re behind on something I need.

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