Without a doubt the easiest thing with ‘Getting Things Done’ or productivity in general is to fall off the band wagon. We all did this many times and it is as simple as being totally overwhelmed by something that came unexpected. You focus automatically on what needs to be done, and that’s a good thing, however, if you don’t get back to your trusted system at some stage, you will start ignoring it because it is no longer up-to-date and therefore no longer current reality and consequently can no longer be trusted. This is how most (temporary) divorces between you and your task management tool of choice happen.
Importance of Review
Many posts have been written on the importance of review and they are all right: Regular reviews are important. However, you need to review certain things at different levels of granularity and frequency, otherwise you may find a 360° review on every aspect of life a bit too much and will procrastinate as a consequence.
I recommend to practice different types of review at different times and frequency. We’ll start looking into the most frequent review you should do, the Daily Review, and how OmniFocus can help doing it. First of all the Daily Review is something you should do as early as possible in your day as it will help you plan your day and keep all ongoing commitments under control. Grab yourself a cup of good coffee, surf the web for news, read some tweets and blog posts, but before you get down to real work, spend 10 minutes on your Daily Review.
You should review a few things in the morning, but no your email. This is the one thing you won’t find in my Daily Review. I check emails twice a day at 10am and 4pm (if I stick with my principles) and my Daily Review typically happens before I check my emails in the morning. The risk of including ‘Check email inbox’ into the Daily Review, or even worse check it before, is that you can easily be rat-holed by only one email in your inbox and before you realise you have reached the afternoon and lost control a fair bit.
So here is what my Daily Review looks like that typically becomes available in OmniFocus at 8am:
First you should review your calendar. It helps you understand which commitments you have today, if you still need to prepare any of the meetings and calls coming up today and most importantly how much time is left to do things that aren’t on your calendar.
I also look at things that I am waiting for other to complete or send. Particular those that are due or even overdue may require me to send out some friendly reminders. But I may have also forgotten to check-off some of those things that I was waiting for that actually got completed the day before.
Either being out and about, in meetings or just capturing it’s likely that there are new things in my OmniFocus inbox since my last Daily Review or the last time I checked the inbox. I use the Daily Review to process my OmniFocus Inbox to zero at least once a day.
As a next step I recommend to verify whether all your projects have a next action defined. Through the week it happens quite regularly that you check off the last task of a project and don’t even realise that there is no next action defined anymore. This result in unpleasant situation during your Weekly Review where you’ll notice that the project actually got stuck. I use a very handy AppleScript to perform this check for me and a simple OmniFocus perspective to retrieve those projects that need a new next action to be defined.
Twice a week I also look at my goals, which I keep in a Mind Map, and make sure that while I am flying low working on individual tasks and projects, I still fly roughly in the right direction. There is no big thinking or actual reviewing happening, more a quick check to remind me what goals I am pursuing. If you are 100% clear about this all the time – lucky you. I need a reminder every now and then.
My final step is to always pull up my ‘Next Action’ perspective and skim through all of them to determine my MITs (most important tasks), which I flag in OmniFocus so they show-up in my ‘Today’-type of perspective. As recommended I try to only select a couple of MITs and focus on them straight after the Daily Review when there aren’t any meetings or calls scheduled.
Your Daily Review may look a bit different and you need to make sure you have all captured what you really need (but not more). As recommended earlier: Keep email or voicemail checking out of the scope of the Daily Review!
Speeding the Daily Review up
I don’t make much use of the notes field in OmniFocus since I am not happy with it’s implementation. However, in my Daily Review I do make a big deal out of using it by linking in applications, files and even OmniFocus perspectives for quick access.
I can easily click on the iCal link to either start iCal or bring it to the front if already running. My Annual Goals Mind Map is also just one click away and I don’t need to go to Finder and browse in the corresponding folder on my hard drive.
To quickly access other perspectives in OmniFocus is use its very own URL scheme. Simply use ‘omnifocus:///’ (yes, triple slash) followed by ‘perspective/’ and the name of the perspective you’d like to see. If the name of the perspective contains a space replace it with ‘%20’. Very handy stuff!
Only for ‘Verify Next Action exists for all projects’ I don’t use the note field since I trigger the corresponding AppleScript from the OmniFocus toolbar. But nothing would stop you from calling an AppleScript from the notes field by compiling it into an application and link it to the notes field. If you only add a normal AppleScript to the notes field, double clicking it would open the AppleScript Editor, which may isn’t what you want.
Work Days vs. Weekends
While OmniFocus’ scheduling engine is very powerful there is one thing it currently doesn’t do (yet): Allowing you to schedule the repetition of a task or project for work days only. There are currently only two ways to deal with this situation: Either accept the fact that you need to check off work days on the weekends to get them out of your way or to create independent copies of the task or project for each work day.
My Daily Reviews are basically using the latter option. I have one task group in a Single Action List inside my ‘House Keeping’ folder per work day, which is set to repeat every week. If you interested to understand why I use Single Action List and task groups instead of individual repeating projects, read my post on Single Action Lists. But basically it just makes things a bit simpler, which I of course like.
Another great thing about this approach is that you can have slight variations of the Daily Review on some days. In my case I look at my Annual Goal Mind Map twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays. But for you it could be that you are in a certain location or meet a certain person on a certain day on a regular basis and hence you could use the corresponding Daily Review to reflect this.
I do have a few other Daily Routines in the same Single Action List like my reminders to check email twice a day (isn’t it great to if you could theoretically forget to check email?). I also used to have a routine to close out the day by looking at any urgent actions I need to do the next days first thing in the morning and prepare any documents I could review if I am travelling the next day. However, I am about to abandon this routine since it simply doesn’t deliver the value to me that I was expecting from it.
As said I schedule each of the task groups to repeat once a week on the respective day. They become available at 8am in the morning and become due at 3pm the same day, in case I really forget to do it. Also the entire task group is flagged as it will immediately show up in my primary perspective, which shows me available tasks that are flagged and/or due grouped by context. I have set to review the entire ‘Daily’ House Keeping Single Action List only every 6 months as not much is changing in these routines, really.
Just spend 10 minutes in the morning of each day to review what your plans are. They may change as the day passes by and things just happen, but at least you know what you are ‘not’ doing in this case. It also helps you to focus on the right things that move the needle instead of just sitting there and responding. I will try to cover my weekly, monthly and larger frequency routines in upcoming posts.