I’m guessing that you didn’t decide to get involved in Yorkshire Accord and with coaching because you were short of things to do. You may have systems to help you manage all those commitments that you make to yourself and others, but however you try to stay on top of things, I want to commend a practice that will help you keep focused and sane as you try to juggle everything that life throws at you.
In his book, Getting Things Done, The Art of Stress Free Productivity, David Allen talks about the importance of what he calls the weekly review. I prefer to talk about the weekly stocktake but labels aside, it is one habit that will return the time invested many times over. I will go so far as to say that if you do not set aside time for this, as part of a weekly routine, you will never have total control of all the stuff you are trying to manage.
What is it, and what is it for?
The first thing to stress is that this is not where the work gets done. It is not where you catch up on emails and make phone calls; this is where you review your commitments, stuff you’ve taken on, stuff you have completed, what’s coming up. This is where you plan when the work is going to get done. It is how life, work, and everything else doesn’t catch you by surprise. The aim of the weekly stocktake for me is simple:
I want to clear the decks
I want to be clear about what I have on my plate
I want to move on, not worrying about what I am not doing so I can concentrate on what I should be doing
What does it look like?
I can explain what it looks like for me; you’ll have to think about how to adapt the process to your own way of working. For me:
it’s a weekly habit; when I was full time in the corporate world it was 7:30 every Friday morning, an appointment in the diary with myself, a time when there was less chance of being disturbed;
it’s a systematic process; - it’s a time when I get some clarity about progress I am making on everything I am committed to, and where I need to direct my focus, time and attention;
it’s an opportunity to empty my head; looking back through the diary at what I’ve been doing during the last week, are there things I’ve committed to doing, actions I have picked up, that haven’t yet made it into my system, for example?
It’s also when I ask myself:
Can I clear actions and projects that I’ve completed?
Is there stuff I’m waiting for from others?
Is my in-tray empty and everything where it needs to be for when I want it?
What is in the diary for the next 3 - 4 weeks?
If there are meetings coming up, when am I going to schedule time so that I am fully prepared, papers written and/or read, for example?
Am I ready for my next coaching session? You owe that to yourself and the person you are meeting with;
Are there things I need to think about at some point, not necessarily things that need doing soon but stuff I shouldn’t lose sight of?
Making it work
The key to success is to schedule time in the diary, ideally the same time each week, a time that is not likely to be bumped by other things. We’re probably all used to blocking time out in our diary to work on specific projects, but somehow it doesn’t always feel as though it’s an important appointment and when something else crops up it gets easily pushed aside. It’s time to show yourself the same respect you would show to your boss if they were in your diary. You wouldn’t push that appointment aside just because something else came up. I know finding an extra hour or so in the week is a big ask, but the cost of not having this sort of discipline is huge. The weekly stocktake however is only part of the answer to being effective and staying in control; it needs to be part of a structured workflow such as that which David Allen explains in his book.
If the idea of having a weekly stocktake is something you might want to consider, I would be happy to share with you a checklist I came across and made my own. Email me at email@example.com.