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The Weekly Review ... to Harness Your Productivity

Generally speaking I try to post an entry to this blog on most "business days" ... sometimes I miss, but not very often. I guess that more than 650 posts over the last three years means that I have been pretty consistent. I also have developed a habit over the years of working Sunday mornings to get myself organized ... I use the time to clean up administrative "stuff", to catch up on some reading, to clean my desk and on my most productive Sundays I leave the office feeling like I am really ready to tackle the next week!

As it happens, this weekly "review" is one of the tools suggested by David Allen (although he probably wouldn't recommend Sundays ... that's just a dumb business owner thing!), who is a productivity expert and leading light behind the GTD "methodology" of time management.

So ... tying all of these disparate thoughts together ... I am here on Sunday morning catching up on my reading and David's newsletter has a good article about why the GTD discipline is needed, especially when you think you don't have time to do it! So this is a bonus posting ... (I better be careful, I don't want to be setting an expectation that I will be posting 6 times a week!).

Critical Behaviors in the Crunch

I often hear from people who have allowed themselves to fall off the GTD (Getting Things Done) wagon that the primary reason was that, "Things really got crazy," and they just couldn't "keep it going." They usually admit it with a kind of sheepish guilt, like: "I know I really should have, and I know it really would have kept things from being so crazy, but..."

It's in the tough times that GTD shines. But, understandably, it is just as likely in those conditions to fall away as a discipline and an approach. It's like the time you most need to plan is when you least think you can afford to, and when you could really use a good Weekly Review is often when you least feel like doing one.

An economic downturn may bring you tough times. All the more reason to hone and sharpen your abilities to regain control and perspective when you happen to lose them. If you feel your financial footing slipping, because your retirement fund's value has plunged or you're facing a layoff, the sense of loss of control can be dramatic. If your company's strategies have been based upon assumptions of a steadily growing market, and that market suddenly goes south, the organizational focus can easily be diffused and confused.

In these cases, the GTD processes for gaining control and clarifying focus can supply critical tools for keeping your ship afloat and pointed in the right direction. It's a perfect time to capture, clarify, organize, and reflect; and to decide what's really important, what you now want to have true, and what you need to maintain. What you really need to do, in other words - now, and next.

Here are a few GTDisms that might be particularly useful in a crunch:

Capture. Get the data. Acknowledge what's true. (We have ____ in the bank. Our expenses are ______ . I feel insecure and apprehensive. There are no debtors' prisons.) And clean up. This is when it's super-important to identify and get a handle on all the open loops pulling on your attention.

Clarify. Identify the outcomes and projects you now need to focus toward, and of course, what actions you need to take. (Re-do personal budget; talk to partner re: asset inventory.) Get all your attention-grabbers processed. And leverage the heck out of the two-minute rule. Being an instant executive is the best cure for transcending a funk.

Organize. Get your lists and systems current and complete. Your psyche needs the freedom that affords to concentrate and direct your thinking.

Reflect. You may need to do Weekly Reviews daily. You must keep situational awareness vital and present to be able to trust your intuitive responses, which you will be calling on frequently. Regularly engage in forest management (instead of tree-hugging), so you can see smoke from a distance.

Engage. Keep moving. Pick an action and do it. Don't get hung up on priorities. It's much easier to control a boat that's got way (momentum through the water) than one simply at the effect of the currents. It's easier to know your priorities by taking an action that's not so important than by stressing about them.

This is where getting control morphs into gaining perspective, and the Horizons of Focus come into play. Obviously goals and plans and job descriptions may need a recalibration. But, in addition, give yourself permission to acknowledge and take advantage of the deeper conversations with yourself and other key people in your life that will undoubtedly come closer to the surface in rough seas. For at least a year after 9/11, everyone I know and every organization I dealt with operated with an increased infusion of 40-50,000-level content in their consciousness. (Why are we really here? What's really important to me/us? What are we really trying to do, and is it worth it?)

I'm not implying that in tough times GTD makes things fun, or comfortable, or easy. The point is to make what you're doing conscious and directed, instead of reactive and contracted. I'm not an advocate of a Pollyanna positive-thinking philosophy. Pretending that life is rosy when that's not your experience is self-delusional and counter-productive. Rather, GTD is a positive-directional approach. Certainly being able to maintain a positive vision amidst the challenging and often messy day-to-day stuff is a wonderful life skill to hone. But you may need to be judicious and pick your battles. Though the storm you're in is probably going to make you stronger and wiser, right now you might not like it. Your choice is how you get through it - as victim, or as captain/commander. In other words: life's a bitch, and what's the next action?