Combining a standard set of weekly review questions with daily to-do lists (written the night before) makes for a simple, powerful productivity system
This simple habit is actually two interconnected, complementary habits; one daily, one weekly. They are both about effective prioritization. Let’s start with the weekly one.
Conduct a weekly review
At the end of each week, take 20–30 mins to do a weekly review. Friday after lunch is a good time for work reviews. Sunday with a beverage of your choice is excellent for personal reviews.
You can conduct your review using whatever format you like, digital or analog. The best method for you will depend on what insights you want to tease out from it. I like to do my weekly review in a notebook, away from the computer. I find getting away from the screen helps me to reflect more deeply.
To illustrate how this works in practice, here are the questions I use in my personal weekly review. They are intended to help me recognize my achievements, identify the areas I need to focus on and work out where I can improve:
- Key accomplishment?
- What went well?
- What didn’t go well?
- How could I have made the week better?
- What was most challenging?
- What did I learn?
- What can I improve?
- What was I grateful for?
- What will I start doing?
- What will I stop doing?
- What will I continue doing?
- One word to describe me this week?
So, that’s last week done and dusted. Now I make a brief plan to prepare for the week ahead by highlighting the most important stuff to provide me with some focus and structure.
To do this, start a fresh page and write down your focus areas and key tasks for the forthcoming week. The idea isn’t to go into a lot of detail. Our goal is to identify our main priorities for the week so we can let them gestate in the back of our minds and hit the ground running on Monday morning. Keep it simple.
Again, you can use any format you like for this. Here is the question set I use for my weekly plan:
- Focus for the week?
- Priority tasks?
- What would make this week great?
- Affirmations: I am…
I find the last question powerful because it helps me identify as the type of person who succeeds at the things I need to do to make the week a success. Whenever I refer back to my weekly plan, I see my affirmations, which helps me overcome any self-doubt or resistance I may be facing.
Now we come to the daily habit.
Plan your day the night before
After you have completed your weekly review, make a to-do list for Monday and block out time in your calendar for each task. Don’t try to capture everything in your to-do list, just the most important tasks. Two to four things is ideal. There shouldn’t be more than six items on your daily lists.
Taking a leaf out of the Ivy Lee method, spend ten minutes at the end of each day writing your to-do list for the following day.
Planning each day in advance in this way gives you a head start on the day because when you sit down each morning, you have already planned what you are going to do and when. This will help you avoid morning procrastination and hit the ground running.
As Atomic Habits author, James Clear, notes in this blog post;
“…as a writer, I can waste three or four hours debating what I should write about on a given day. If I decide the night before, however, I can wake up and start writing immediately. It’s simple, but it works.”
Why this works
Following this practice gives you focus and momentum, making it easy to have a productive day every day. This is especially important if you are working from home, as many of us currently are. Having structure and avoiding procrastination can help you retain your work/life balance and avoid half-working in the evenings. Just complete your daily to-do items, then stop working for the day.
I like to do a mid-week check-in and revisit my weekly outline on a Wednesday so I can course-correct before the end of the week if I am missing my mark. Longer-term, I am looking out for trends and recurring issues that indicate I need to dig deeper to fix.
If you’re regularly struggling to maintain structure, momentum, or balance in your day, reflect on it using your weekly review questions and figure out what needs to change.