David Allen recommends a weekly review as part of his Getting Things Done (GTD) system. I recommend folding that weekly review into a more extensive set of regularly repeating routines.
Having regularly repeating routines allows you to stay on top of preventative maintenance and other kinds of tasks that are important but in danger of being neglected because they are never urgent. It also gives you “slots” in which to insert new tasks that you want to start performing on a regular basis but wouldn’t otherwise know how to manage. Having a separate repeating event in a digital calendar for each task is another option, but it is difficult on that approach to keep the whole system up to date.
Combine regularly scheduled routines with a calendar for tasks that have specific deadlines and the GTD approach for tasks that you want to get to as soon as you’re able for a powerful approach to staying on top of everything you need to do. Routines can largely take the place of habit-forming systems such as Lift and are easier to maintain and more reliable. (But Lift is still useful for more situational habits that can’t be scheduled.) Instead of trying to change yourself so that you are internally motivated to exercise every day, for instance, just put “exercise” on a list of things to do at a specific time each day.
There are many possible ways to implement a set of regularly repeating routines. My own approach is to keep a to-do list for each of these routines in Workflowy. For each daily routine, I have a folder of favorites in my bookmarks bar in Google Chrome. At the beginning of the day, for instance, I middle-click on my Morning folder to open my Morning routine list and supporting materials such as my Google calendar in separate tabs. For the routines that repeat less often, it wouldn’t be worth the effort to keep favorites folders up to date. I just put links into those lists for supporting materials that I open in separate tabs as I go along. I do my weekly routines on Fridays and Saturdays and have repeating events in my Google calendar that prompt me to do the routines that repeat less often.
It’s important to review your routines regularly to keep them relevant, organized, and short. I review my daily routines as part of my weekly routine, my weekly routine as part of my monthly routine, and so on. Each time I look for things that I can eliminate, automate, delegate, do less often, or batch together with similar tasks.
What to Include in Your Routines
Here are examples of items I include in my routines.
- Get a large glass of water
- Review my plan for the day (another Workflowy item) and set up my workspace for my first task
- Eat breakfast
- Brush teeth
- Start work
Mid-day (in the afternoon when my energy starts to dip)
- Make a plan for the next day
- Process high-volume inboxes (including email, feed reader, pocket notebook, and physical inbox). (This is a great way to get to Inbox Zero and stay there without constantly monitoring your messages. Note that “process” doesn’t necessarily mean “respond!” It’s OK to defer appropriate actions until later as long as you put an appropriate reminder somewhere in your task-management system.)
- Make calls, send texts and emails. (I add items to these lists as they occur to me throughout the day, then get them all done at once.)
- Review Anki flashcards
- Set up my workspace for my next work task
- Take a walk, grab a snack, and get back to work
End of workday
- Record that day’s word count and other accomplishments
- Update plan for the next day
- Set alarms for the next day
- Unpack bags from today and pack for tomorrow
- Set up workspace for tomorrow
- Refine daily routines
- Deposit checks (with mobile app)
- Review last week’s transactions, update that month’s budget
- Do miscellaneous jobs around house (take out trash, etc.)
- Do GTD weekly review
- Process medium-volume inboxes (e.g. new research sources)
- Check job ads, update spreadsheet
- Check library records for upcoming due dates and available requests, plan library visit for that week if needed
- Look at ahead to next week on my calendar.
- Refine weekly routine
- Do computer maintenance (update anti-malware software, run scans, physical cleaning, etc.)
- Process lower-volume inboxes (e.g. items I have clipped to Evernote)
- Check tire tread and pressure, mileage for next oil change
- Check department calendar for upcoming events
- Clean up internet bookmarks, podcasts, etc.
- Check recent eTOC email alerts (I use a Gmail filter to archive and label these messages automatically)
- Look ahead to next month on annual planning calendar
- “80/20” analysis: which activities are driving most of my results? which could I eliminate at little cost?
- Refine monthly routine
- Do more computer maintenance (uninstall programs I haven’t been using, run Disk Utility, etc.)
- Replace toothbrushes
- Wash car
- Update Tools page
- Update social media profiles
- Refine quarterly routine
- Do an annual review
- Make an annual planning calendar for the next year
- Purge computer and physical files
- Schedule a physical
- Review insurance policies
- Change passwords
- Refine yearly routine for next year
Questions: What do you think about this approach? Do you have any suggestions for improving it?
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