My Weekly Review

Plenty of productivity articles talk about having the daily or weekly review sessions to keep track of what you have done and do projection for the time period ahead. I have been doing my daily reviews diligently to determine what I need to do for the day; however I have never started doing any weekly reviews even though I had learnt about this technique for over a year or two.

Just last week I initiated my first weekly review and I must say that it was a good break from the hectic work life to do re-focusing. Not only that, doing a review forces you to think about what is the next phase in a project. No longer is an action item just marked done and left as it is. Now, I have to think what I need to do subsequently. This meant that the possibility of neglecting the project and leaving it to rot has reduced significantly.

I would like to take this opportunity to share my current method of doing a weekly review. There might be better ways of doing a review, so do share with me if anyone has any ideas. I will also be tweaking this to make this better in future.

The weekly session happens on a Saturday because (1) I am able to have more sleep and feel more refreshed and (2) my partner is working on Saturday mornings so it would be the best time to do such reviews without sacrificing our quality time together.

The session is broken into two phases, (1) the review phase and (2) the forecasting phase.

The Review Phase

During this segment, I will write down what I have done in the past weeks. For example, I might have finalised a paper on maintenance training, or collated safety information from various departments. A good tip is to look at your calendar and go through the meetings that you have attended. Next, to think about each day (Monday to Friday), and remember what we have done out of the meetings.

After this is done, we will have a whole list of tasks performed. I will ask myself what the next step is. It could be to submit the paper for approval, or to write an email to the Safety Officer on my collated data. These “action items” are transferred to my “to do database” for subsequent planning in my daily cycle.

What I do for the above is to draw a table with two columns: (1) what I have done and (2) what I need to do subsequently.

The Forecasting Phase

The forecasting phase involves looking at my calendar to refresh my memory on what meetings I have been scheduled for in my next week. This allows me to think of the next question: “What do I need to prepare for these meetings”. I would come up with a list that might include delegating some information gathering to my team, and I would have to mentally factor in additional time slots for periodic check backs. This is because not everything can be done to standard within the first try, and most of the time additional information needs to be requested.

Next, I look at my “to do database” to determine what are the big ticket items that are (1) urgent and important or (2) important but not urgent. Such items are placed on the weekly priority and should be completed. Point (2) is key as if we do not tackle these items, these items would be elevated to the “urgent and important” category as the deadline approaches.

I’m in my second week of the review session and it has worked well for me so far. Try it!

 

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The Importance of a Carry-Everywhere Notebook

Have you found yourself in a situation where you had completely forgotten what you reminded yourself mentally on your tasks? So much so that occasionally you only remember when the deadline approaches and there is nothing more you can do about it. Or that it has lapsed forever from your mind until your boss asked you about it, and by answering that nothing has been done would make you look incompetent?

Today, I would like to discuss about the concept of a “Carry-Everywhere” notebook. This notebook might not be a physical notebook with binders on the side. It could be in the form of a post it note, or for the technology-savvy, Evernote on your phone.

The logic behind this is simple. Our minds are capable of doing many things at once, and thinking is one of them. In fact, we are capable of thinking of many things at once and we get easily distracted by our thoughts. Sometimes, when we look at external objects, such as Facebook, or your colleague talking to you, we might find that our minds switch to a separate track of thought. This means that we have distracted ourselves and might have forgotten what we were previously thinking.

I find myself in this situation on my morning drive to work. Due to the plain boring nature of driving, I might be thinking about different aspects of work. I might be thinking about my maintenance work, my safety office’s deliverables, or that paper that I need to write. All of which mutually distracts my attention. What I do is to carry a post it note in my car (take note that I only write when the car comes to a stop), and scribble my thoughts, such as “Follow up with XXX on the requirements of the event YYY”. When I get back to work, I put them into my “to do database”.

You might not drive, but if you think hard enough, there are times when you have forgotten something. It could be in the middle of a meeting when your mind reminds you of an event, but if you do not write it down, someone in the meeting might suddenly talk to you and distract you. It could be when you are out for lunch and you remember something right before your colleague talks to you about your weekends. No matter what the situation, it is always good to write it down so that you can remember and transfer.

What are the benefits other than being up to date on the things that bother you? For one, you don’t have to forcefully try and remember. Your mind can return to the chatter with your colleagues about your weekend as you have safely stored the information you need somewhere – on a notebook or your phone. Having to repeatedly remind yourself about a task is tiring work and it drains all of us out.

So try this. Make an attempt to develop this habit by making it easy for it to be done. I carry my pen and notebook to all meetings I go to. I put a pen and post it note in my car. I store my thoughts in evernote during lunchtime when I do not bring my notebook. When you make things easier to write down your thoughts, you find it easier to maintain that habit.

 

Parkinson’s Law: Work expands to fill the time available

The book that I have read for the month of Jun is “How to be a Productivity Ninja” by Graham Allcott. I borrowed this book from the National Library (had to reserve it because it was that popular) after reading some bits of it in Popular Bookshop. I borrowed it last night and read throughout the night. Today, whenever I have breaks during the course, I read it too. I just completed it after reading the last bit at home. I also drew two mind maps!

But the main point of this post isn’t about the book. Rather, it is about this interesting concept which I have learnt from the book. It’s called the Parkinson’s Law and it goes like this: “Work expands to fill the time available”. When I read about this concept, I recognised it instantly because it is true for me. There are certain tasks which could be completed in X number of hours. Yet because I had Y hours to do it, I took my time, got distracted in the middle, and I only completed those tasks in Y hours.

It was a serious waste of time and productivity.

When we know our deadline is not today, but next week, we will tend to procrastinate and take our time to do it. Soon, we have spent too much time on this single task and only manage to hand it up on the deadline and not before.

It is interesting to note that the human mind is a lazy one and will seek to be distracted when you give it opportunities to. Linking it to the concepts I read in “Thinking Fast and Slow”, I realised that this is because the brain does not need to work much when we engage in activities that distract us easily (like Facebook, Twitter, replying messages etc) as opposed to activities that require much thinking and effort to pay attention to.

Looking back on myself, I realised that there were many times which I took my time to do certain things because I didn’t like doing it, whereas for activities that I enjoy doing or see the purpose and hence develop passion for, I find it easier to complete those tasks in a single sitting. The effort for both tasks are the same, yet for the ones I dread, I take many times longer. I could have done it faster and used the remaining time on other task, yet I didn’t because the rest of the tasks weren’t urgent. Yet by the time I completed the original task, these tasks then become urgent and require immediate attention.

As a result, I constantly feel tired and overwhelmed to the point I feel as though I have burnt out.

But need it be like this? No!

The lessons from the book could help me escape this, but I need time to try those out and see how effective it is. Will write another post on it if it is effective. There are a couple of concepts which I had already known but did not diligently do though; these concepts are from David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology. The Productivity Ninja book also gave me an awareness of the Pomodoro concept, which is to have 25 minutes of focused do-time, followed by 5 minutes of rest. I shall explore it and give my verdict in the future. Stay tuned!

Evernote

Today, I’m going to do a little pitch for this app that I have been using for quite some time – Evernote. I have been using Evernote for about 2 years now – but on a rare basis – as a repository for storing some notes that I have. Kind of like those post it notes style where I just have something I have to remember e.g. postal codes of places I am going, stuff mentioned at work etc. However, recently I have added something new which actually enhanced my usage of Evernote.

But first, the basic Evernote.

What’s good about the Evernote is that you can pull the data on your computer or through your smartphone app. On the computer, you can use the Evernote program (download) to add notes. I have also discovered that there is an APP for Google Chrome so that you don’t have to download the program; you can just run it off your browser. You can also access the notes via your smartphone app (Android, iPhone, Windows, Blackberry) on the go. Perfect for adding some random thoughts.

You can set virtual notebooks; which is really just a folder for notes. This allows you to categorise them properly. The categories I have are Food (places to eat, recipes to try), Work (no need to go into specifics here), Finance (some stock information) etc.

You can set a title for your notes; tags too, so you get more control on categorisation. You can also search for your notes using keywords, however I have yet to amass such a large amount of notes to require the search function.

It’s like a nice Google Drive that you can use to store all kinds of information on the cloud. But what makes me tick is the Web Clipper add-on that I can install on my Chrome browser.

Whenever I have seen something I like on the internet, I might want to save them for reference. If I want to save the entire content, I can Pocket it (another app for another time). If I want to capture a portion of the website and place it in a notebook, I can use the Web Clipper.

What is amazing is that it is able to recognise what the main content is in the different times I have used it, such that clipping the data is just a click away. I have copied recipes that I wanted to try out (seared scallops, yum), a book review on a book I wanted to read in the future etc.

My only pet peeve is that I don’t have a camera phone to use the other features. I could take a photo of something I like and place it in a notebook. For example, a type of wine that has been recommended; I could take the photo so that I can buy it myself in the future.

Plus, the app design is pleasant to the eye and it looks important enough. Some apps have pretty old-school designs which don’t give the feel good factor. This is shallow, but hey, Evernote has both beauty and the brain.

I have yet to try the sharing and collaboration part, but that also promises to be another important aspect for work. I am already thinking of using it to manage my various projects so that I could allocate work to team mates and have them put in the current statuses. For example, I could be in charge of organising a department dinner and there would be several areas that I could look into. For one, my department will give a self-made farewell gift to those who are leaving us in the job rotation cycle. The entire gift making process includes purchasing of materials, obtaining farewell messages from the team, printing relevant materials and finally putting everything together. If I could share a note and have my team members commit to updating it, life could be so much easier.

Evernote is the one app where I would recommend to everyone seeking to increase productivity in personal or even working life. Try it today.