Just as books start with dedications, I first want to acknowledge the folks that inspired this article. David Allen’s ground-breaking system for Getting Things Done (GTD) revolutionized my personal organization more than a decade ago. Taylor Pearson is quickly becoming the philosopher and thought-leader for my generation, and his article tailored for entrepreneurs took my mind in a new direction. And the dozens of folks I coach at Port Royal or through Coach.me gift me wonderful new perspectives to consider.

If there’s a silver bullet for being an effective leader, the Weekly Review process would be it.

Leaders simply must pause regularly to look up, down, and around. Once in a while is not enough.

When the leader isn’t focused, organized, and stable, the organization suffers. The same is true for families, churches, teams, or any other unit.

Where there is no vision, the people perish. – Proverbs 29:18

As you might have guessed, I’ve learned the importance of this the hard way. I’ve seen the suffering and unnecessary stress, and I’ve realized that I was often the cause. That hurt.

And I wasn’t alone. Here’s what others have shared with me.

 “I feel completely overwhelmed nearly every single day and even though I know I am “doing” a lot of things I don’t feel as though I’m actually progressing towards anything important.”

“Many people depend on me, and I often feel like I’m letting them down and squandering my opportunities. And that doesn’t feel good.”

“I want to develop a clear focus so that I prioritize my time better.”

“I lie awake thinking about all the balls I have in the air and just waiting for them to drop and for me to lose all my clients and my business.”

But there’s a silver lining. If we’re responsible for the problem, that means we can fix it.

We often talk of leadership being a responsibility and a sacrifice, and I think this practice is a huge part of that.

“The true price of leadership is the willingness to place the needs of others above your own. Great leaders truly care about those they are privileged to lead and understand that the true cost of the leadership privilege comes at the expense of self-interest.” – Simon Sinek

We can always find excuses or reasons that we don’t have the time, and there’s usually no one to question that. But that’s not the real challenge. We know that this practice often leads to scary, difficult, or complicated situations, and we just don’t want to face them. (At least not right now.) So we stay in reactive mode, diligently participating in the latest fire drill and convincing ourselves that we’re busy enough. We can do better.

By using a roadmap, we can guide ourselves through the process and push through mental hurdles.

Step one – Gather thoroughly.

Just like the children’s book, we’ll be sure to look . . .

  • Up – reviewing our mission, goals, projects, and other plans.
  • Down – reviewing KPI’s, reports, customer surveys, and other feedback on our organization’s performance.
  • Around – clearing our email inboxes, notes, piles of mail, or other inputs.

Step two – Question and reflect.

After we’ve looked in every corner and gathered the critical information, it’s time to assess. I call it raising the “BAR,” and it reminds me not to get stuck in any one perspective. Goals, projects, and people are all important, and we’ve got to make sure more than just the squeaky wheel is getting the grease.

  • Big picture – What main adjustments are needed? Are goals and projects on track?
  • Actions – What actions are needed? Who can do them?
  • Relationships – Am I making the time for the key people in my life? Is each of my teams set up for success?

Step three – Plan in detail.

Get organized. When it’s time to execute, vagueness becomes another barrier to overcome. While you’re in planning mode, take the time to be specific. You’ll thank yourself later, and so will your team.

  • Schedule – block out time for your non-negotiables. These could be required meetings, planned family time, daily meditation or exercise, focused project time, or any priority that needs your undivided attention.
  • Set Agendas – make note of the topics and feedback you’ll want to discuss at upcoming team meetings or one-on-one’s. Even better if you can send them in advance so your team feels prepared.
  • Communicate – if you have specific expectations, share them. Often, I’ll go into Basecamp and leave discussion notes to make sure key aspects of a project are considered. Or, I’ll make a quick video to share background on why a project is important. And if you have concerns with a team member’s performance, address it early. Don’t put off having the tough conversations until it can’t be avoided.

Step four – Get accountability firmly in place.

This is the force multiplier we often forget.

  • Checklists – they may seem mundane, but their power is hardly matched. Make yourself a list of weekly recurring responsibilities (or put them in Remember the Milk). Make detailed checklists for anything you do often. Your effectiveness will skyrocket overnight.
  • Mastermind groups – fancy name, simple concept. Find a group of 3-4 folks that share your ambition, work ethic, and values. Have a weekly (or even daily) call where you share your key action items for the week and report back on your progress from last week. You can also talk through common challenges and share ideas for overcoming them.
  • Negative consequences – we’re wired to feel losses much stronger than wins. Use that to your advantage. Make an agreement to give money to the opposite of your favorite charity if you don’t hit an established milestone. It might sound crazy, but it absolutely works.

Other Considerations

When should I do this?

Most of my team does their weekly reviews or reports between Friday and Monday, so if I do it at the same time, my information is a week old. I’ve started carving out Tuesdays to ensure that our feedback loops are tight. Think through the normal reporting cycles in your organization, and pick a time when you’ll have fresh information.

How long does it take?

About half a day. Some of that time is just sitting and thinking. If I cut it short, I always regret it. To get rolling, maybe set aside 2-3 hours and adjust from there.

Where should I do this?

I need quiet, so I usually bring my current project files and work from home Tuesday mornings. If you can pause interruptions, the office is probably better so that you have all of your files handy.

Is this for work stuff or personal stuff?

I don’t think you can separate the two. You have one life, so you should only have one calendar and one organization system. And you won’t last long in leadership if you’re not fulfilling your obligations and taking care of yourself. It all goes together.

What software do you use?

  • Remember the Milk – for maintenance items and personal actions. This is the perfect app for remembering recurring tasks (like approving payroll or giving medicine to the dog).
  • Basecamp – for project plans, checklists, and timelines. There are a million choices for project management software. My teams steadily choose this one, and we use it daily for hundreds of projects.
  • Khorus – for getting real-time feedback on whether your team feels like its goals are achievable.
  • Evernote – for evolving narratives (like the ideal day, goals, etc) or meeting agenda notes. Also great for reference items.
  • Schedule Once – for allowing others to schedule time with you. The $9 plan allows you to set “office hours” and then allow automatic booking so you eliminate scheduling volleyball.