How much time do you spend reflecting on the past? What about planning the future? If you’re like most people you favor one or the other. It takes both to lay out a plan that turns your goals into reality. Despite this, almost no one does it! This action has a lot of names: meditation, journaling, therapy, goal setting – just to name a few. They all have the same thing in common: personal growth through understanding.
In this article, I’ll share my weekly review process – why I do it, what I do, and how I do it. There’s nothing special or secret about this process. What’s most important is taking a few minutes to connect with yourself and decide what minor tweaks you need to make in your life to course correct to your ideal path. This isn’t about setting grand new goals every week that you pursue. It’s about making sure you’re still pointed in the right direction.
What is a Weekly Review?
In the corporate world, one of the things I both dreaded and looked forward to was “quarterly planning”. Every product manager (which was my role) would get together and plan out what their next 3 months looked like. This involved a combination of tasks their team decided to focus on, what they could convince other teams to collaborate on, and any other company priorities.
Personal weekly reviews are completely different. Instead of being a time to make major changes in your life’s direction, they’re a chance to look back at the week, see what went well, and decide on what you want to do for the next week.
I’ve been using a review system sketched out by Journal Smarter which has been my favorite so far. At a high level, these review consist of a few different categories:
- Reflect – Look back at what you really want out of life. Either from a list your own personal goals, a list of your yearly goals, or even a shorter-term list.
- Review – How did the last week go? What went well? What didn’t? What would you like to change?
- Plan – Knowing what you now know, what would you like to do next week? What’s most important? What’s holding you back?
The beauty of this system is that you go into your “planning” phase with a solid understanding of what’s worked and what you want. We too often make grand plans in a vacuum – not taking into account the facts on the ground. This approach helps frame those next steps.
Why Should You Do A Weekly Review?
Everyone’s reasons for conducting a weekly review will different.
One reason is because you feel progress on your goals is slow and you want to focus your effort.
You can conduct a review because you don’t feel your time is in alignment with your vision of yourself.
Or maybe you’re feeling down and want to spend some time expressing gratitude and appreciation.
Whatever the reason, the takeaways are similar: a better understanding of where you want to go, where you are today, and what your plan is to get there.
How To Think About Goals
The traditional way to think about goals is broken. We create new years resolutions to “exercise every day”, only to fail before the end of January.
I recommend a different approach: set smaller goals along the way. Each smaller goal gives you momentum while bringing you closer to your end goal.
These smaller goals (often called targets) are there to help you get to your real goal. They can even be exciting themselves! This is getting a little abstract, so let me put this in perspective:
Let’s say your long-term goal is to run a marathon. These smaller goals along the way might be “run a mile without stopping” or “complete a 5k in under 30 minutes”. Once you check off one goal you pick a new target that helps move you closer to your goal.
Often when working on a project I’ll get to a point where the work is no longer fun. I stop looking forward to the work, but it still needs to be done. I know that this is a critical phase for projects. Either I’ll give up, or I’ll push through and create something I’m proud of. In this case, your next target can be something fun!
One of the best tools to push through is a weekly review! It helps refocus efforts while serving as a reminder of why you’re working so hard in the first place.
My Weekly Review Process
I’ve tried a bunch of different review processes and systems. The best ones are the ones you stick with. If you try to ask too many questions or spend too much time on it, it won’t become a habit.
I try to do my weekly review in about 30 minutes. I schedule an hour on my calendar as a repeating event and do it at the same time each week. For me, that’s Saturday at 2 pm. Sometimes I’ll push it to Sunday, but it’s always done during the weekend.
Once the time comes I open up Notion. In there I have a folder for each year with a file for each weekly review. Notion also has a handy “template” option where I can click a link and it’ll create a new document with all the questions I ask myself each week.
These questions aren’t set in stone. I’ve tried having more questions, but the sweet spot for me is about 3 questions for each of 3 categories for a total of 9 questions. Any more than that and I end up not motivated to do it.
Here’s a look at the categories and questions I use; with some of the best ones in bold.
Focus on what you want out of life. This isn’t about how last week went, but more about the big picture. Some of the hardest times in my life have been when I haven’t had any goals or dreams. Connect with those dreams and let them inspire you.
- What are my lifetime goals and dreams?
- What are my goals for this year?
- What are my short-term goals I’m working towards?
- What could I achieve by the end of this week/month that would have the biggest positive impact on my life right now?
- What could I achieve by the end of this week/month that would be the most effective first step towards finding my life goals?
I try to color code these too – that way I can quickly see all references to a specific category. These also help make it a lot easier to scan.
Next, it’s time to look back at review from the previous week. During that review you laid some things you wanted to do. This section is focused on taking a real look at how it went.
It’s not always going to be fun. There will be times you make a grand plan for the week and then don’t accomplish a single thing. When that happens try not to be too hard on yourself. It happens to everyone!
- What went well?
- What was planned and went well?
- What was planned and didn’t go well?
- What didn’t go well?
- What wasn’t planned and went well?
- What wasn’t planned and didn’t go well?
- What would I like to change for this week?
- How did this week contribute to my future wellbeing and/or the wellbeing of others?
- What was the biggest highlight of my week?
- What was one thing I could have done differently that would make me much happier about how my last week went?
Part of this involves copying over my goals from the previous week and giving them a quick assessment. There’s something that happens when you think about a task you didn’t accomplish. It pushes you to ask why, and come up with a reason.
The important part here to be honest with yourself and take responsibility. Frame your takeaways based on your actions – not those of anyone else.
Lastly it’s time to plan out what you want to spend time on during the week. This phase takes the longest for me.
Planning is a muscle. How specific you are depends on how long you’ve been planning. The more experience you have planning and hitting your targets, the more you’ll feel comfortable lining up more things.
- What do I still need to research?
- What are 3 (or 5) tasks I want to accomplish this week?
- What tasks should I schedule this week?
- What would I like to complete so get off my plate this week?
Using Notion for this, I create each as a Toggle List. Each one has a color that relates back to my goals for the year. I’ll do two other things during this time:
Block off time on my calendar. If there’s anything I know I need to spend time on during the week that takes longer than 30 minutes, I’ll add it to my calendar. This includes workouts, errands and anything else that isn’t flexible.
Add tasks to my to do list. I’ll schedule somewhere between 1 and 3 tasks each day throughout the week. What I love about this is that it guarantees that no single day is overloaded with too many things.
By the end of this process I have a solid understanding of what I want to spend my time doing in the next week, I’ve timeboxed specific events and I’ve scheduled which tasks I want to accomplish.
Try a Weekly Review!
This might sound a bit dry at first. It all depends on what you’re planning. You can use the same setup to be more productive or to be more caring. You can optimize for money or optimize for happiness. You can schedule gratitude or schedule work.
What I love about this process is that you can change it from week to week. You change over time and your processes should too. I encourage you to give weekly journaling a try!