There are two main approaches to self-management:
- by specifying long-term goals and then decomposing them down to actionable tasks, as formalized in Stephen R. Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and the Franklin-Covey (FC) method;
- or by focusing on achieving tasks efficiently every day and then extracting priorities and long-term goals, as formalized in David Allen‘s Getting Things Done (GTD) method.
Both approaches are complementary and can be combined. I find that GTD is much more efficient than FC for day-to-day organization, but FC is much more developed than GTD for long-term thinking. Both methods coincide at weekly reviews. In this article, I describe in details how I combine both methods in my GTD weekly reviews, using Covey’s weekly compass.
The GTD weekly review
The purpose of the GTD weekly review is to keep your self-management system current and useful, so you can keep trusting it. It consists in a few general tasks:
- Get clear. Capture all loose items and materials. Empty your inboxes and your head, by writing down any uncaptured actions, projects, etc.
- Get current. Review your action lists, project lists, calendar, and checklists.
- Get creative. Review your “someday / maybe” action lists. Be creative and courageous by adding new crazy / risky / wonderful projects and actions into your system.
More practically, I implemented my weekly review as a specific project in my system. I am using the OmniFocus GTD software on Mac, so my weekly review project is just like any other project in my OmniFocus document. I have setup my weekly review project to repeat every week, in OmniFocus, so that it shows up in my next action list again every Monday morning. I block a couple of hours every Monday morning to do all the actions that I have put into that project. My weekly review project contains more than 30 actions. The most important ones are:
- Review David Allen’s Making It All Work‘s checklists: the “Natural Planning Model” (about how to plan actions for each project), the “Incompletion Trigger List” and the “Project Planning Trigger List” (to make sure that I don’t forget to cover any areas), etc.
- Scan my “Books to read” and “Books to buy” lists. I am an avid reader, thanks to a 1-hour train commute, so I make sure that I always stock one or two good books in advance.
- Review my calendars. I have two calendars: one for work and one private. During the weekly review, I make sure that both are (manually) synchronized, and I decline any invitations to useless events, reschedule events when there are conflicts, etc. I also enter actions into OmniFocus to prepare for coming events.
- Empty my email inboxes. I have several inboxes: one for work, and several private ones. I make sure that every email is properly processed (deleted, delegated, translated into an action in OmniFocus’ action inbox, archived, etc.). I normally do that every day during the week, but I sometimes fall behind. However, my inboxes are always empty after every weekly review.
- Empty the action inbox in OmniFocus. This is about deciding which project each new action goes into, or to transform it into a full project, or simply to delete it. I usually get creative during the weekend, so I often end up with 20 new actions in my OmniFocus inbox on Monday morning. The weekly review is a good time to process those actions.
- Review my “Improve self-management” OmniFocus project. This project is a bag of actions to improve my system. For instance, it currently contains an action titled “Create a Never Again context for dead projects,” as I have several inactive projects that I have kept in OmniFocus for more than a year, for the sole purpose of keeping them out of my head. Moving those dead projects into a “Never Again” context would truly put them out my way.
- Review my “done” logbook. At work, I keep a list of actions performed during the week. The weekly review is a good occasion to check that I didn’t forget to log any significant action or event.
- Review all projects and actions in OmniFocus. This is about using OmniFocus’ review mode, which makes me go through every action and every project, every week, and mark them explicitly as reviewed until next week. I mark or unmark projects as “on hold”, add new actions to projects, determine the next actions for stalled projects, delete actions and projects that are dead, etc.
- Flag or unflag actions and projects. OmniFocus lets users flag actions and projects, but doesn’t give any semantics to flags. I use flags as “ASAP”, i.e. as “soft real-time constraints.” My flagged actions have no strict deadlines, but must be completed as soon as possible. I try not to have more than 20 flagged actions, or flagging become meaningless overwise.
- Update action deadlines. OmniFocus also allows to set deadlines for actions and projects. Those are hard deadlines. I make sure to have less than 5 or 6 actions with deadlines in 1-3 days. During the weekly review, I check that all actions with deadlines have real deadlines, and not “false deadlines” that I may have added to create a false sense of urgency (for which I should rather use flags).
This particular process works well for me, and it keeps my system current and useful. However, what I am not yet doing well is the long-term planning, i.e. what David Allen calls the 20,000 ft to 50,000 ft Horizons of Focus, corresponding to Covey’s roles, goals and objectives, and missions and values.
The Franklin-Covey weekly compass
I have started using Covey’s weekly compass, to think more “at 20,000 ft,” about my areas of responsibility and my roles. Using Covey’s weekly compass is conceptually very simple:
- Make a list of all your roles / areas of responsibility. For instance my roles include: Friend, Engineer, Artist, Scientist, etc. Always include Covey’s “Sharpen the saw” role, to remember to act to remain healthy and alert (e.g. by going to gym).
- For each role, imagine and visualize the best possible outcome in this role for this week. Stretch yourself. Be bold, ambitious, courageous. Write broad actions for these outcomes, for each role. Those are your Big Rocks, i.e. the most important actions for you to do this week.
Integrating the weekly compass
I think that Covey’s weekly compass is the best tool to achieve the creative part of the GTD weekly review. To integrate it into my GTD weekly review, the issue was to make the Big Rocks completely actionable in OmniFocus. Technically, I maintain my weekly compass separately, using the OmniOutliner software on Mac. And during my weekly review I perform additional actions, after emptying OmniFocus’s action inbox and before reviewing all actions and projects in OmniFocus:
- Create a new weekly compass, with only roles and no Big Rocks yet. Update the list of roles / areas if necessary. I described how to automate this action in my previous article on how to maintain a weekly compass in OmniOutliner.
- Review last week’s compass, and copy any uncompleted Big Rocks that are still current.
- Determine new Big Rocks, as described above.
- Create one or more new actions and projects in OmniFocus to realize each Big Rock, or update existing projects to integrate them.
- Backup older weekly compasses.
During the week, I check my weekly compass at least once a day before starting my work, to remind myself what are the most important things I should be doing. Many of my Big Rocks are still not well actionable, and I still realize only a few of my Big Rocks every week. But this technique has already helped me achieve some of my “very important but not urgent” goals. It works!