I’m really happy with my life. Over the last 8 years, I’ve been able to do a lot of cool stuff…but without typical “goal setting”. Instead, my weekly review has allowed me to:
- Cycle across Canada
- Travel to 53 countries
- Start training for a marathon twice, then finally finish it on the 3rd try
- Quit my job to start a profitable online business
- Start a TEDx event (TEDxLeamingtonSpa) in 2015 that’s still running 3 years later
- Publish 30 episodes of a podcast
- Go skydiving and bungee jumping (at the 2nd highest bungee site in the world – 220m)
- Create an Android App
- Deadlift 140kg
- Become a licensed Professional Engineer (P.Eng)
- Interview for management roles at Facebook and Google
- Go on a motorcycle trip in Laos, an overnight 90km kayak trip in Latvia, do an improv performance, live in Ukraine, move to the UK, have dinner under Big Ben, and meet Brian Rose (founder of London Real)
…and a bunch more stuff. Almost none of it has been planned in advance either.
Surprisingly, I’m pretty unproductive most days and even weeks…stuff falls through the cracks all the time, but thankfully, I procrastinate on stuff for a few weeks (and not a few months or years, like I used to).
I owe it to one habit that I’ve kept up since 2009 with about 95% consistency. I call it my “weekly review”.
Think of it like an accountability check-in with yourself — the intent is not to check off tasks or plan your to-do list for next week, but rather, to make sure everything is going well (and correct course as necessary).
The format and the questions I ask myself have changed many times over the years, but what hasn’t changed is the fact that I do it every week (well…almost every week).
Some of the questions I ask now are things like:
- What were my wins for this week?
- What am I afraid to do that I probably should do anyway?
- What do I want to happen this week?
After all, a habit that’s 90% effective that you do consistently is better than a perfect system you don’t stick with.a habit that's 90% effective that you do consistently is better than a perfect system you don't stick with.Click To Tweet
Why do weekly reviews work?
I don’t do daily (or nightly), I write it down, and I’ve been doing this personally since 2009. Why does it work?
1) Progress compounds
Think of a weekly review like a general check-in with your life. Most people do this on an annual basis with something they call “new year’s resolutions”, or whenever they’re inspired to by reading a blog post or a book.
But…how often do you look at your goals? If you’re like I was, it wasn’t that often. I also didn’t plan out ways I could move towards them on a weekly basis.
The benefits of increased frequency are threefold:
- You have more accurate data (eg: you remember more of what happened last week than last year)
- You can more-closely estimate what you can reasonably do next week (you don’t over-plan and get discouraged, but you also don’t under-plan)
- You have a better picture of your life circumstance (eg: if you’re traveling or an unexpected opportunity comes up)
“R” is the goal temperature (say, 25 degrees), the “system” is the room, and measurements indicate the current temperature. Disturbances can be someone opening a window, the body heat of the people in the room, and so on.
If you measure frequently (say, every few seconds), the thermostat is able to control the room. If someone opens a window or starts cooking something, the thermostat can adjust and continually measure progress.
If you don’t measure frequently (you take a sample every hour), your room temperature goes to shit. If someone turns on the oven and heats up the room, your thermostat doesn’t find out until the temperature is far warmer than it should be. Then, it blasts the A/C (for another hour), and now your house sucks to be in (and your energy bill is through the roof).
You can think of your weekly review in the same way — disturbances will happen (travel, changing goals, you’re more/less productive than you expect etc.) and increasing your “life review” frequency from a year to a week does wonders (without making you feel like you’re “hustling”)
PS – if you want an example of changing frequency and it’s effect on a “control system” in real time, try to juggle with the lights on, then try again using a strobe light.
Using a weekly review, I don’t feel like I’m “hustling” compared to most people, but get a TON more done this YEAR and this DECADE than I had in the past by setting “goals” alone. If goal setting is the “hare”, weekly reviews are the “tortoise”.If goal setting is the 'hare', weekly reviews are the 'tortoise'.Click To Tweet
2) An “operating system” you can use between goals
You probably have more than one goal at any given time. You want to launch a business, stay in shape, and improve your relationships.
Once you’ve chosen a specific goal (“run 3 times per week”) progress can happen pretty quickly. The problem is…what happens between the goals? How do you notice opportunities to set new goals, and what happens with all the things that can improve your life that you don’t necessarily have a “goal” for?
After all, there’s a lot more to life than a series of predictable achievements.
This also makes weekly reviews highly robust — they stay with you even when you’re shifting goals (or when you don’t have any goals in particular).
It’s a habit that’s stuck with me through 53 countries, 3 computers, multiple jobs and businesses, and changing life goals.
I’m also glad for the non-goal things I did that still made my life better (eg: I didn’t have a “goal” to move to the UK from Canada, but my weekly system got me in the habit of recognizing these opportunities when they came, and I was able to take advantage of it).
How to avoid losing steam
I’ve started sharing this process more with people in the past few years. Some of them stick with it, most don’t. Here are the most common tips I’ve found to keep this process up:
1. Chill out. Most weeks, my weekly review isn’t on Saturday. It’s not always at the same time. Sometimes I miss a week. I’m pretty loose on questions. If it’s going to work, it has to feel easy.
Especially when you’re starting out, nothing else matters but consistency. Especially when you’re starting out, I’d recommend you stick with just 2-3 general questions (eg: what’s going well? What do you want to do next week?).
2. Write it down. Don’t fool yourself into believing you’ll just “think about it.” Writing things down makes them way more real and concrete. It also allows you to go back in time (it’s fascinating for me to look back to years prior to see how I’ve changed and grown).
Don’t do it in Excel either. Spreadsheets are boring and they make things less flexible.
3. Use an online tool. Some people prefer to use pen and paper, but I’ve always found it better to use an online tool like Google Docs or Evernote. Online means I can access it from wherever I am in the world, from any device, as long as I have internet access.
Also, I’ve found that running out of notebooks (and having to find new ones) can be enough of a barrier for people to give up the habit, especially in the early stages.
If you want a habit for a few months, a notebook is fine. If you want to take casual notes about your day, a notebook is fine. If you want a habit for a decade, stick with something that can’t get lost.
4. Start with JUST 2-3 open-ended questions. If you really want to launch an online business, lose weight, or practice guitar regularly, that’s great — don’t make that the “core” of your weekly review. Instead, stay consistent with a couple open-ended questions (“what are some life highlights this week?”, “how can I make life better next week?”). If you really want to, you can also add in a bit for each of your more specific goals (eg: “what did I do for my health this week?”)
5. Create an email reminder. An alarm or a phone notification won’t work — you’ll just turn it off and forget about it. But an email stays in your inbox and is a little harder to ignore. Even though I’ve been doing this for 8 and a half years, the email reminder is what really keeps me from forgetting this entirely.
The email also helps if I’m busy on Saturday…often, my weekly review happens Monday, or Tuesday, or even Wednesday…but the email is what prevents me from dismissing it altogether.
6. Once a week (no more). A lot of people like to do New Year’s resolutions, quarterly reviews, and so on. I notice that we tend to be really bad at predicting where we’ll be a week from today, let alone several months.
On the other hand, daily reviews tend to be too much of a hassle for some people. Sometimes you’re busy, tired, drunk, or sick. Life happens. I’ve found weekly to be a good balance.
7. Summarize it in an Annual Review. This habit REALLY starts paying dividends in the longer run — 6 months to a year. When you think about any given week it doesn’t seem like you’re making progress, but if you summarize your weekly reviews for the year, the progress you’ll see for the year is shocking.
Want to implement a weekly review of your own? Drop your email below – I’ll send you examples of what I’m doing today and the exact tools I use, then pester you for the first couple weeks to make sure you get it done.