I can’t focus on the important things, I have too much to do!

We've all been there: you wake up in the middle of night, head spinning with details about deadlines and to do lists. You can't go back to sleep. Praying and reminding yourself to not be anxious (Philippians 4:6-7) helps, so you get ready for work and head into the office… at 2 AM. That has described my night’s sleep more times than I would like to admit. 

Despite the last century’s promise that technology would mean less work, our technology obsessed culture has mostly meant more data, more devices and a lot more anxiety. Last year, over 300,000,000,000 emails were sent every day. That’s three hundred billion. The average American worker receives over 120 emails and sends about 40 emails each day. If you assume, on average, just two minutes to read each email and just 3.5 minutes to write each one, that's over six hours a day spent on email alone! If we are spending six hours a day in our inbox, how in the world are we supposed to get any work done? More importantly, how are we supposed to get important work done?

Make Time to Review Your Week

I was introduced to the weekly review in the early 2000’s through David Allen's fantastic book, Getting Things Done. It's a technician's handbook, focused on specific tactics to stay on top of everything and get more done (and, I might add, enjoy more of the brain's dopamine response to achieving inbox zero). While I no longer subscribe to the idea that inbox zero is worth the effort, I remain a strong adherent to Allen's idea that conducting a postmortem on your week is an essential part of making sure your next week is a good one. 

Over the years, through lots of trial and error and a lot of help from other thought leaders, I’ve assembled a weekly review process that helps me ensure I pause to learn from my experience (as opposed to just getting more done), check up on projects and priorities, and make sure I'm focused on the right things the following week. Hopefully my experience and experimentation will be helpful as you seek to focus on what matters most.

Review Your Week

Sadly, high achievers are too often terrible at celebrating. To my shame, the thrill of achieving a big goal is far too fleeting, and I quickly move on to the next big thing on the list. Building time into the week to reflect on what went well and then asking questions about what didn't go so well and what needs to change, helps ensure that I learn and grow as I am striving and toiling. I also like to pause and make note of anything left open from the week, to make sure it isn't forgotten over the weekend.

Review Your Progress

Although I often have more open tasks than I would like to review in one sitting, I try to review each open task every week and follow up as needed. Knowing that I have time on my calendar to do this weekly helps me be okay with not replying to every single message every single day, as I remind myself, “I’ll reply to this Friday morning."  

Once I've gone through all the open tasks on my list, I review my goals for the quarter and progress towards those goals. I ask myself, “What is my next right step? What needs to happen next week in order to achieve this goal?”  I like to think of this as an insurance policy for my goals: If I check on them weekly, then I’m programming time into my schedule to “begin with the end in mind” all over again.

Review Your Calendar

It always amazes me how many of us go from day to day and meeting to meeting, unsure of what's on our calendar next or the reason for the meeting we’re attending. My weekly review on Fridays helps to ensure that I am only participating in meetings where my presence is essential. Additionally, because I have time blocked on the calendar for office work throughout the week, I am able to avoid certain meetings due to these prior commitments (e.g. “Sorry, I can’t meet at that time, I have a prior commitment.”). This ensures that I have time built into the calendar to actually, you know, get things done.

If we don’t schedule the things that are important to God and to us, then we are left with a schedule full of other people’s priorities. To guard against this, I double check my calendar each Friday for four non-negotiables:

  • Weekend: What are the priorities this weekend and what do I need to get done on Saturday so that I can enjoy a Lord's day rest on Sunday
  • Next Week’s Weekly Review: Schedule/verify the time slot for my review next week.
  • My Priorities: Schedule (or reschedule, as necessary) other non-urgent priorities for next week, e.g. working out, time to pray and meditate, unscheduled family time, etc.
  • Travel: Review any decisions related to upcoming travel and block transition time on the calendar before and after, accordingly

Review Your Priorities

After reviewing your prior week, your progress, and your calendar, it's essential to review and set your priorities for the next week and set yourself up for success. Michael Hyatt’s concept of setting a "big three" to do each week (and even each day) was a game changer for me. My workday is too often a frenzy of meetings and deadlines, which has a consistently painful tendency to obscure any prior clarity about what's most important. That's why, at the end of each weekly review, I am sure to decide on my top three priorities for the next week and schedule time on my calendar to complete each of them.

I hope that you find the weekly review to be as helpful a resource as I have. Obviously, it's not a silver bullet to increase productivity, but with effort and God's grace, I hope that it will help you more effectively prioritize your work, reduce stress, and enable you to better focus on that which matters most (Luke 10:42).

I’ve assembled a weekly review process that helps me ensure I pause to learn from my experiences.
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