Okay, so if you’ve been following along with this series so far, you’ve collected everything that’s on your mind that you have any commitment at all to change, you’ve decided what it actually is and what you need to do about it, and you’ve organized that into reference material in OneNote and tasks in Outlook. And it probably feels great. The first time you do a comprehensive inventory and get everything sorted out, you feel a huge amount of control and relief. Finally, you don’t have to keep all that stuff in your head anymore. The brain, as it turns out, is a factory, not a warehouse.
But there’s a catch. That feeling of calm control only lasts as long as you’re sure, on a subconscious level, that everything is accounted for. It’s not enough to have your lists. You also have to review them as often as necessary to convince your brain that nothing is slipping through the cracks.
There are two kinds of review. The first, what I call a tactical review, is as simple as skimming the list for whatever context you’re in right now. At the office? Take a look at your “Work” list and pick whatever feels, according to your intuition, like the thing you’ll get the best return on doing right now. Not all of your tasks are equal in value. But prioritizing them ahead of time rarely makes sense later. Priorities and requirement change at the speed of business, and you need to let your intuition speak to you when you consult your context lists. You’ll know which task is most important at the time. You’ll feel it. And if you’ve broken your projects down sufficiently in the Organize phase, none of them should seem insurmountable. They’re all bite-size pieces.
The second kind of review, the strategic review, is what you’ll commonly hear called the weekly review. I recommend you do this at least weekly, but you should do a strategic review whenever you start to feel out of control or like you’re losing trust in the system (a good symptom of this is resistance to looking at your lists, because you know they’re a mess; if you don’t want to open your task system, it’s time to do a strategic review).
A strategic review starts with redoing everything you did to set the system up in the first place. First, write down anything that’s still on your mind. Some of the things you write down might already be in your system, and that’s okay. You can weed out duplicates later. Anything that you know is already in the system you don’t have to write down again, but if there’s any doubt, jot it down. Then go through all of those items, decide what they are and if they’re actionable, and file them accordingly as reference in OneNote, projects in OneNote or task in Outlook.
Then, go through your projects one at a time and make sure they’re still current. Check off things you’ve already done but forgot to check, and add any new tasks that have come up. Frequently, you’ll find that a project literally doesn’t need to exist anymore because something outside your control has changed. Feel free to delete those and their associated tasks. For each project, make sure you feel like everything you need to do will surface in your context lists when you have the opportunity to do it.
When you’re done, you should have that relief and calm control back. Next time, we’ll talk about the engagement that’s possible once your brain is sure that what you’re doing here and now is more important than all the stuff you’ve chosen not to do.
Jeff Kirvin, PEI
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