This 5 part series covers the 5 stages of Getting Things Done or GTD, a personal organization system developed by David Allen and released as a book in 2001. In our first part we discussed the philosophy of GTD and stage 1: Collecting. The second part covered stage 2: Processing. The third part covered stage 3: Organization. Now we cover stage 4: the Review.
The Review, in GTD, takes two forms. There are the constant small reviews that you do throughout the day. There is also The Weekly Review, scheduled on your calendar for once a week, where you Process every inbox until it is empty and then review all your lists.
The constant reviewing of you inboxes and lists is probably something you already do today. This can be scanning your Next Action lists, Processing a few items from an inbox, or extracting commitments from meeting notes. This ongoing review allows you to trust that things put into your inboxes will be looked at and Processed in a timely fashion. These reviews should be handled much like the Weekly Review described below, but without the rigor of getting everything processed. Just processing a few items at a time can keep the system working smoothly throughout the week.
Even if you have been processing your inboxes and lists regularly, you still need time to go over everything in your system. This is the purpose of the Weekly Review. You need to schedule and hour or two each week, when you can minimize distractions, to preform the Review. This time will not only allow you to empty your inboxes and review your system but to keep scope and control over your commitments. It’s hard to overstate the importance of the Weekly Review in the success of your GTD system. It is the focal point that keeps the rest of the system working smoothly and builds your trust in it.
The first step is gathering all your inputs together. This can include putting all your ‘physical inboxes’ into one place. Try dumping all the receipts from your wallet, notes from your meetings, and random pieces of paper on your desk or in your bag into your main inbox. Then make sure you have access to all your virtual inboxes including email, voicemail, note taking apps, and even relevant pictures (like a white board after a meeting). This also includes your Calendar which often reminds us of commitments or actions needed to prepare for upcoming events. Everything that may have an undecided commitment or potential action should be included. Once you start your review, you shouldn’t have to stop to look for something to process. I have a checklist of all my inboxes that I use each week to make sure I don’t miss anything during my review.
The next step is to Process each item. Each inbox is to be treated as a ‘Last in, First out’ stack. For each email or piece of paper, you must rigorously apply the questions discussed in stage two. “What does this mean to me?” or “What commitment does this represent?”. If it’s reference material, file it. If it’s trash, delete it. If it’s actionable, then you have to capture the Outcomes and Next Actions into your system. Once you have made these decisions, then get it out of your inbox. Don’t just let it sit there to be looked at again later. Often this means having a good place to archive or file things you want to reference but have been processed. An “Action” folder can be a great place to put things related to your active tasks that keeps them out of your inbox. The goal for this first part of the review is to EMPTY your inboxes.
Once you have everything in your system, it’s time to review your system itself. Start with your Active Projects list by making sure each item is actually something you plan on working on in the next week. If not then move it to the Someday/Maybe list. Then make sure each Active Project has the appropriate Next Actions on the right Context lists. Mark off any projects you have finished and update your project files as needed. Also review your project plans for any new Actions or Waiting items that need to be captured. Finally you should review your Someday/Maybe list for anything you want to move onto your Active Projects list or into a Context list. This is the time to decide to start, or restart, a Project or complete some longstanding task. Every Active Project should have at least one Next Action or Waiting item or it isn’t really Active.
Next you can review each Context list and Agenda to ensure that they are up to date. Make sure any completed items are crossed off and any new Next Actions are in the proper place. If you have any actions that have been on your list since your last review, you should ask why they haven’t been done yet. If there is another step that really needs to be done first, capture that as the Next Action and move the one on your list to ‘Waiting’ or to a project plan as appropriate. If it’s not something you are going to do then delete it from your system. Don’t leave extra items hanging around that you have no intention of completing.
The last list to review is your Waiting list. This list should contain all the deliverables that you need from other people that are blocking your projects from moving forward. During your review is a great time to reach out to each of these people and remind them of what you are waiting on from them. By sending a quick email or leaving a voice mail, you can often get unstuck an important piece of a project. If you can’t follow up right then with someone, add a Next Action to the appropriate context list for you to do so later.
Now that you have Reviewed your System, spend a few minutes doing a Mind Sweep. Now that everything is fresh in your mind you should let yourself be open to any new ideas or thoughts and capture those as well. Just sit with a blank piece of paper or empty document in front of you and write down anything that comes to mind. You will be surprised at how much more you will think of given all that you just reviewed. Once you feel that you have emptied your mind of any new things then take that list and Process it just as you did your inboxes before. This will help you get a sense of completeness about your review and enhance your trust in the system as a whole.
Reviewing your inboxes and system on an ongoing bases and during a Weekly review is the foundation that keeps GTD running smoothly. This will take a long time the first few times but it will get faster and you will get much more comfortable as you do them. Many people feel less effective or even lost if they miss a Weekly review. I know I notice a significant decrease in my effectiveness and try to reschedule it for as soon as possible if I miss one. Now we can get to Doing our tasks, which we will cover in part 5 of this series. If you would like to dive in you can pick up a copy of Getting Things Done on Amazon.