So far in this series, we’ve looked at my Getting Stuff Done system. We’ve taken a look at the Collect, the Think, the Plan, and the Action phases. Today we’re going to move on to the next phase which is about reviewing what you’ve been doing. You do this to improve the way that you’re working.

The Review phase is not about going over what you’ve done. It’s not about re-reading your work. It’s about taking a little bit of time to analyse what happened. To look at what went well. To look at what went wrong. To look at what you can improve. It’s about learning and then applying those lessons to your future activities.

We also spend a little bit of time looking at your Action Management System. This is about making sure that things are moving forward.

The output from this phase feeds back into the Collect phase and we start the loop all over again.

I’ve split this phase into two stages.
– improve – looking at what’s happened and how can we improve what we’re doing
– monitor – checking in with our Action Management System to make sure that everything’s still valid

I tend to do my Review near the end of the day. This lets me spend a few minutes reflecting on what’s happened. It’s a good time to journal, then you’re jotting down your learnings rather than trying to keep them in your head.

The key thing is you need to do the Review at least once a day. Sometimes you may even do it more frequently. If a piece of work takes a couple of work blocks, you might spend a few minutes at the end of the second block jotting down your learnings. If you encountered some major issues going through a work block, capture those thoughts there and then.

Capture them onto some sticky notes, make a note in your Collect system. These notes don’t have to be too detailed. They need to be enough information to prompt your thinking in the Collect and Think phases.

Improve

This stage is one but a lot of people never do. They do the work and they get results. But they never capture what they’ve learned. They never capture what went wrong. They never capture what went well.

Spend a few minutes to reflect and capture these. It’s all about improving what you’re doing going forward. You may be able to save time. You may be able to save effort in the future.

Spending that little bit of time to write down your learnings. If we don’t write them down, if we don’t capture them, we forget them.

If we forget them, we do not improve what we’re doing. Every time you miss out on one of these opportunities you’re missing out on ways to simplify your life.

An example. You’re busy. You updated a sales spreadsheet and found a new formula. This new way of doing things made it a lot easier and quicker to do the action. You need to make sure you capture this. Record what it was so that next time you come to do a sheet very similar, you know what to do. You look at your notes and they tell you the steps to take. You don’t need to spend time repeating the research. You start getting that benefit straight away.

Another example. When you were in the Thinking stage, you estimated that a piece of work would take you 30 minutes. When you do the action, you find it was more involved and instead it took you an hour. That’s put you behind for the whole day. Capture this. When you estimate a similar piece of work you use that new estimate of one hour. This will let you improve your scheduling and results.

We are often so busy doing stuff that we don’t record these lessons. I know, I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to force yourself to spend that five to ten minutes to reflect, to think, to note it down.

The Review phase aims to improve at least one thing every day. It doesn’t have to be something big. If you make a lot of small improvements they soon add up.

If you improve one thing a day after a year, you’ve made 365 improvements. Imagine that, you’ve changed the way you work, you’ve changed the way you live. All by making a small change every day. Here I’ve said after a year but you don’t need to wait that long. Chances are after the first month, even the first week, you’ll start to see some improvements.

Here are some strategies that you can use in this stage.

Update processes

This is about thinking about the way you’re doing things. How can you improve them?

You could create a checklist. If you’ve already got a checklist, can you update it with some simpler steps or even some simpler language? The result, when you have a similar action you’ve got predefined instructions.

This saves you time. You don’t need to go out and research. You don’t need to try and remember what to do. You’ve got your instructions, you’ve got the process to follow.

You may identify something that you can turn into automation.

An example. I collect some standard data every day. This takes me about three minutes. I spent about half an hour automating it. Now I click a button and it goes away and does all that in under 10 seconds. I’m saving time every day. Yes, I know it’s only three minutes but a lot of three minutes soon add up.

As part of updating the processes, you may find some steps that you can delegate. Remember, if you delegate something then it’s off your list. Somebody else does the work for you.

You may also be able to identify changes that will help to make things easier. Maybe you need to get a piece of equipment. Get something fixed. Possibly you might need to be in a different location.

Looking at your processes, looking at what you do, where you do it, how you do it, lets you identify and make improvements.

Document the issues that you encountered

I don’t know about you, but every day I find something that doesn’t work how I expected. Something goes wrong, I work out how to fix it. I then spend a bit of time recording that for the future.

Something goes wrong. Work out a fix. Document it, write it down, get it into your Collect phase.

If you don’t document it, you’ll forget it.

I do this at least once a day. More frequently if I hit problems. I need to make sure I’m recording what I did.

Get your thoughts down onto paper, or into your electric notes. We’re recording it. We’re getting it into the Collect phase. It goes back into the cycle. You think about it, you plan what you want to do, then you action it.

Capture thoughts that are generated

Quite often when you’re working you’ll get something jumps into your head. You think, “I need to remember that” and then you carry on. You don’t do anything about it.

If you think about something, write it down. You will not forget something that’s written down.

It doesn’t matter what it is, doesn’t matter how trivial it seems, capture it. Put it into Collect.

In your next iteration around the cycle, you look at that thought. You may think “I’m not interested in that”, “ that’s not going to add value”. If you do then throw it out. If you haven’t collected it, if you haven’t thought about it, you can never make that decision.

I find with all my thoughts, I throw away 80% when I process them in the Think phase. That 20% lead you to improve what you’re doing. You do not get the opportunity to change things if you haven’t collected them, and thought about it.

Learn from the past, don’t relive it

We need to make sure we’re learning all the time. We need to make sure we’re not repeating mistakes.

I don’t want you to think that this is something negative, I know I’ve used that word mistake. We’re not correcting mistakes. We’re thinking about it as learning what works well, and then how to move towards that end solution.

Monitor

This stage is about checking what’s going on in your Action Management System.

One of the things I find, during the day, is I do a lot of things. Some of these are planned, some of them weren’t. A lot of them are in my Action Management System, but I don’t go in after doing them and tick them off.

It’s a waste of time to be constantly jumping in and updating the Action Management System. You want to be doing work not managing it.

The Action Management System is there for us to manage our work.

An example. we’ve got an action to write a report in our Action Management System. We’ve also got actions to send the report to the boss, print it off, file a draft, loads of different actions which are dependent on writing that report. You’ve had a good morning, you’ve written the report, you’ve also sent it off, you printed it, you filed it. But you didn’t go into your Action Management System at the time of doing it. At end of the day, when we’re doing our Review, you go through and tick off write the report. You also look at the outstanding actions and can also tick off all the other actions that you did.

The key message here the Action Management System is there to enable you to work. It’s not there as an excuse not to work.

Some questions to help with this.

What are the next actions?

When looking at the projects in your Action Management System, ask yourself what is the next action that I need to take. It could be something like “book a meeting room” or “chase at my boss for feedback”, “make a phone call to a client”. There are lots of next actions.

The key here is to spend a few seconds and determine what is the next action that needs to be taken. Make sure it’s documented.

An example. You’ve got an action that says “on Wednesday I need to chase my boss up.” Today it’s Tuesday, you don’t need to do anything. The evening and the night pass. You \look at your Action Management System on Wednesday morning. You now know you can do the action, so you go and speak to your boss.

You’ve identified the next action. You’ve identified when you need to do it. You’ve identified it’s available. You’ve done it.

Identifying and working on the next actions is the biggest key to improving your productivity.

Are there any new projects or actions?

Is there something that you’ve done during the day that’s generated a new project? You would have captured it, that’s part of your Review. You should have it in your Collect phase.

Think about what you’ve done today. Have they opened up new actions? Do any of them open up new projects? Make sure you record it.

If you get an idea during the day, write it down. Spend a little bit of time in the Review phase to clarify your thoughts. Can you add notes so that when you come into the Collect phase? If you don’t think about things promptly they will disappear from your brain. Get the thought into the Collect phase. Then you’ll be able to think about it, come up with a plan to achieve it, and have actions that you can take.

Have you started some new projects? If you start something new then put the details into your Action Management System.

You may want to create a Collect item to expand on the project, to do some project planning, to plan out the actions.

Have you got a set of processes that you use when you’re starting a new project? Get it into the Collect phase to kick that process going.

Use this opportunity to think about what you have started. Have you already defined it? Once you get this into the Collect phase you’re then moving into the Think phase. You may end up discarding the idea. You may discard the project. If you don’t capture your initial thoughts about the project, you’re never going to action them.

What projects have you finished?

I don’t know about you, but every day I finish several projects. We’ve done the work. We want to be able to document it, to capture what we’ve learned and to forget about it.

If we’ve got entries in our Action Management System we need to finish them off. We need to get them out of there.

We’ve finished the project, does this trigger some tasks to do to close down the project. This is where the value of the Action Management System comes in. Check it to make sure everything’s correct.

Don’t clutter your system up with things that you no longer need. Once it’s complete get it out of the way.

The only things that you want to see in your Action Management System are things that you can do something about.

Summary

The Review phase it’s often overlooked. We use this phase to help us to identify things that we can improve, and update our Action Management System.

We use it to identify what can be done and allow that to help us to move forward.

We also use it to capture new projects, new ideas, but also to identify when a project’s finished and to get it out of our system.

The Review phase is not about making the changes. It’s about thinking and reflecting on what’s happened and capturing those thoughts and ideas.

Once it’s in the system it’s easy to make the system work for you rather than you working for the system

In the next post, we’re going to touch on the final phase of the system and that’s all about Accountability