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Reinstating Maintainance Mode – doing (weekly) task reviews

Last updated on maart 25, 2020

Time to read 4 minutes

Being a Getting Things Done enthusiast, I transformed my outlook into a task management system. It worked fine for a while. Once I got more important 🙂 at my new job and my tasks were piling up, I got more and more upset. My task list never went under the 100 task mark. Something had to be done.

Of course I’d read about David Allen’s review: overlooking everything that came in your inbox and then make decisions about them. However. I did never really implement it – I’ve been in a few jobs where I didn’t have too much to do. But now, it’s different. Reading The Productivity Ninja by Graham Allcott recently got me back on track. So, with new energy I reinstated the task review or maintainance mode.

What is this ‘task review’?

Both Allen and Allcott talk about this ‘review’ of your work. While Allen is seeing things in perspective (The 6 Horizons of Focus), Allcott is more matter-of-fact in his approach – for the short term. So, given the fact you have created a paper and/or digital inbox for all your tasks and ideas, the review should follow suit. It’s decision time, so Alcott states in his book. Basically, one looks over all of his inbox and decides what to do with the task or idea. Do it or shred it. Or, save for the next review. Doing this, you keep a grip on everything you do.

I decided to do the review weekly – because I receive over 50 items a day, each with possible actions for me – but bi-weekly or even monthly is also common. I do it monday morning, before I do anything else (and have finished chatting with a few colleagues over what we did on the weekend). To keep myself sane and not forget anything, I took Allcott’s suggestion of creating a checklist for this review to heart and came up with the following.

0. Emptying my inbox before starting

Before I actually begin reviewing, I empty my inbox first. It most likely only contains messages of last friday (I’ll get to that bit in other posts). Anything I can do in 2 minutes, I do it right away. The other tasks go on my task list.

1. Review all my tasks

Next, I set out to review all the tasks on my lists:

  • Is there anything on it I’ve done already?
  • Can I delegate something?
  • Anthing I don’t want or need to do?
  • Anything I want to postpone to the next review?

2. Review all email folders & support desk items

I have a few email inboxes I receive or put in emails of a different nature. Most notably a folder for CCs and a ‘Waiting’ folder, which I use to keep messages I expect an answer to. As an application manager, I also use support sites set up by my suppliers to keep track of bugs and other issues.

  • Is there anything I can delete or mark as closed?
  • Is there anything I need to respond to?
  • Anyone I need to remind of something?

And yes, I do read CCs just once a week. And I educate my peers in the process. 🙂

3. Looking ahead of time: my schedule for the next 3 weeks

This one I hadn’t honestly thought of before I read Allcott’s Ninja-book. This is about looking at your calendar for up to 3 weeks ahead of time to see if anything needs attention.

  • Do I need to prepare stuff and if so, do I have the means (i.e. documents, meeting rooms/spaces) to do it? If not, ask or book a room.
  • Do I need to travel before an appointment? If so, set block travel time in your calendar.
  • Are the goals of the meeting(s) clear? If not ask and then decide if it’s worth your time.

4. Review my projects

To me, a project is something with a clear starting point (and usually, also a date), a clear ending (goal and date) and with more than just one or two tasks for me to do. So, these can be projects both big and small. I now have over 30. These range from configurating a previously unused option in the software and creating documents to installing a completely new tool with extensive testing and collaboration with others.

  • Is there anything that requires my immediate attention (this week)?
  • What’s my next action on this project and when should I be done with it?
  • Anything needs clarification from other people?

The Pitfalls

Sounds good eh? You may find it useful! Let me then also share a few pitfalls I happily ran into shortly after implementing the weekly review.

  • Don’t do your review in a room with other colleagues. Just vanish for a while, also digitally. Your colleagues will likely call you or get up to your desk and ask something. So phones off, and doors closed. Or work from home for that time you’re reviewing. Deciding on what to do is an important activity.
  • Don’t start with items you’re reviewing. If you happen to find tasks you think you can do in a jiffy, schedule them for later that week.
  • Tag, Tag, Tag. I sometimes forget to tag/categorize my tasks. I try to do task batching (do as many similar tasks in one go); properly tagging tasks is key.
  • Postponing decisions on tasks. I noticed I either didn’t want to bother (yet) with deciding and postponed decisions. Just do it.

An improvement I’d like to make, besides heavy tagging on type of task, is to batch tasks according to my attention span. At the end of a workday, I function differently than at the beginning of it. Less attentive, usually. It’s also to keep me from starting on ‘ easy’ tasks during my review time.

What about you?

Do you have a weekly review? If so, what have you learned so far? Let me know through a comment.

Published inOrganizing Home & Work

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