Looking backwards, looking forwards

photo-143For years, I’ve been planning my life by weeks. Before my work week starts on Monday, I write down my list of personal and professional priorities for the next 7 days. Then I can think about when, over the next 7 days, I will tackle those tasks.

Over the past year or so, though, I’ve started shifting when I do this weekly review/planning session. This is partly as a result of interviewing productivity guru David Allen, author of Getting Things Done. We’d discussed weekly reviews, and he told me that a lot of people do this on Fridays. Friday tends to be a slower workday with fewer meetings. A reasonable number of people work from home on Fridays, which means they aren’t getting interrupted as much. They can focus on thinking and planning. In Allen’s system, the reviews are often backwards looking, too. It’s as much about closing open loops as planning the next week, and so doing the review on Friday allows you to get zeroed out on that week’s tasks.

I tend not to have a whole lot of open loops. If I’ve set something as a priority for the week, I generally will do it before Friday morning. However, I have come to agree that Friday afternoon is a better time for a review and planning session than Sunday night.  

For starters, the opportunity cost of that time is lower. Many people, myself included, are dragging by Friday afternoon. You’re not going to start something big, and yet you’re still in work mode. Sunday evenings, on the other hand, can be personal or family time. I’m not saying I don’t work Sunday nights (I do) but setting yourself fewer tasks for that time keeps more weekend time open.

Second, much of mental churn is about not having a plan. Once you have a plan in place, your brain can relax. Planning on Friday means that even if the next week is going to be a doozy, you know where the pieces go. You don’t have to think about it until you consciously decide to work again. If you leave the planning until Sunday night, the volume of work waiting for you may weigh on your brain all weekend.

Third, planning on Friday allows you to knock off some quick items, or prep items for the next week, during business hours. When I’d plan on Sunday night, I might decide to do interviews for a certain story during the week. I’d figure out my sources and send them emails. But since other people aren’t necessarily responding to email and scheduling things on Sunday night, I wouldn’t hear back until Monday, which means interviews wound up happening later in the week. If I send those emails Friday, I often hear back Friday, which means the whole week is available. I can also plan other things around those interviews, knowing when they’ll occur.  

Knocking off the quick, brainless items on Friday afternoon means a lighter load the next week, and it means using time that’s often wasted in a more productive fashion.

And finally, if I haven’t gotten around to thinking through the weekend earlier in the week (or in the previous check-in), a Friday review/planning session gives me another shot. This past Friday I realized that this past weekend would be a much better one for an attempt at date night then the next few. So I sent a text message to a babysitter, and got that set up, and we got to enjoy Indian food and then a trip to a Belgian bar on Saturday night.

Do you do a weekly review/check-in? If so, when do you do it?

14 thoughts on “Looking backwards, looking forwards

  1. Fridays. And if I miss Friday because of a meeting or something, then Sunday. And if I miss Sunday then I completely waste a potentially productive Monday morning trying to figure out where to start.

    1. @NicoleandMaggie – yep. Planning the week on Monday means you miss out on much of Monday. And since Friday tends to be a non-productive day anyway, that’s a lot of lost time per week! Yet a lot of organizations have planning meetings on Monday.

  2. I usually do it Monday morning; however, I agree that this really sucks the momentum out of Monday mornings. (I have started to limit myself to shorter and shorter planning sessions to avoid this.) Friday afternoons are tricky because I find myself still trying to wrap things up for the week. Laura, how long are your planning sessions?

    1. @Mary- definitely not more than an hour, and usually a lot less than that. In 15 minutes I can jot down top of mind priorities for the week. I’d probably revisit it then a few times over the course of the afternoon as things occur to me. I think what you’re describing is probably a vicious cycle problem though. If you start being able to really use Monday mornings, you will likely be done with the week’s work by mid-Friday afternoon, which means you’ll be able to plan on Fridays. (Barring some unusual work circumstances like your boss has a bad habit of dropping huge new things in your lap on Friday at 2pm)

      1. Thanks for the feedback, and I agree that I’m probably in a vicious cycle to some agree. The other problem is that the to do list is so overwhelming, it takes me a while to figure out which tasks should be the big rocks for the week. I never ever finish my to do list for the week… but do feel empowered that I have at least tried to make a plan!

  3. How do you hold yourself accountable for on-going tasks like paying bills, reviewing your finances/making strategic financial decisions, and other household decisions like hire pest control? Your list seems to account for professional and the semi-rewarding personal to dos like motherly activities and running. I have the hardest time motivating to do pest control-type tasks, and they require much more mental load than they should.

    1. @Griffin – ongoing stuff probably doesn’t wind up in there, but things like planning for trips or doing taxes does. Making doctor appointments, etc.

    2. Yes! The mental load of all that stuff is something I haven’t quite figured out. I’ll ignore it for weeks and then suddenly freak out and spend hours researching purchases or reading reviews on service people. I’d love to have a system for that kind of thing but the somewhat random nature doesn’t really lend itself to schedules. I wanted to try this: when it comes to mind, put it on a list. Then set aside an hour or so a week to deal solely with things on said list.

      1. Part of it for me is not overthinking it. I add it to the list only when we REALLY need to do it and then compare maybe 3 options if needed. Or just look on Yelp or Amazon and pick one that looks good.

  4. Friday afternoon is what I aim for—it definitely makes Monday morning so much more productive when you can glance at the list and hit the ground running instead of trying to get my head back into the game and figure out what I need to do. Last Friday I left early and didn’t have time to do my planning, and I forgot about it all weekend and Monday morning was a bit slow…

  5. I’ve been doing my reviews on Sunday, too, but I’m intrigued by the idea of changing over to Friday. I work at home, for myself, and Friday usually ends up being a catch-all day for things that didn’t get done earlier in the week, or a play day, since I know I’ll be working some on the weekends. It wouldn’t be difficult to fit in an hour for planning, and though I don’t find the planning stressful on Sunday, it would take that off the calendar for that day–and leave it even more relaxing.

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