We looked at where your time is going during Week 1, then put the most important appointments on your calendar in Week 2, and then collected all of your to-dos into one giant master list to give your brain a break from trying to keep everything straight in Week 3.

Hopefully, you also had an opportunity to accomplish three tasks on that list, whether easy or hard, to give you a taste of how your new system works and a bit of a dopamine hit when you check something off. Now, it’s time to put the final piece in place and start a potentially life-changing habit.

If you need to catch up on anything first, check out the Tidy ’24 Calendar page for material from the last few weeks (or months).

Tasks Week 4: Review Religiously

It doesn’t matter how orderly your task list might be, how accurate your calendar is, or how great your system is. Things will rapidly become stale if you only go through this process once and don’t revisit your responsibilities, priorities, goals, and day-to-day schedule. They’ll stop aligning with where you need and want to spend your time.

Life happens. Priorities change, things come up, we decide to work on other things, or someone else decides for us. And even if your priorities and goals stay the same, it’s easy to forget what you wanted and planned to do.

What’s the answer? Review religiously.

I picked the word “religiously” on purpose because you really do need to treat it the way people incorporate religious practices into their lives. Consider this something you must do; you can’t get away with not doing it.

I want to mention two kinds of reviews here: a daily review and a weekly review.

daily review should take no more than five minutes, maybe as little as one minute, because you’re just reviewing what you accomplished that day and choosing a few main tasks to achieve the next day.

This is sometimes called the “Ivy Lee productivity method” because it was popularized by a man named Ivy Lee in the early 1900s, and it’s one of the easiest and yet most helpful tricks I’ve come across. Out of everything I’ve read or seen, all the different apps I’ve tried, it’s one of the few techniques that actually stuck with me because it works, and it’s easy to see that it works.

In short, you pick a few things to do the following day at the end of each day (never the beginning). Originally, it was exactly six things, but I’d use that more as a limit and say three to five is a good number. Then, you put those few items on your list for the next day in order of priority. Finally, you work through them in order the following day. Whatever’s left undone at the end of the day gets pushed to the next day or re-prioritized during your end-of-day review.

Daily planning at the end of each day instead of the beginning takes advantage of our state of mind. We’ve finished what we will attempt for the day, so we don’t have an urgent sense of starting on something new right away. We can consider what’s essential more objectively and give ourselves a ready-to-go set of instructions for next time.

If we wait until it’s time to start working before deciding what to do, we often end up attacking whatever feels most urgent. But that’s only sometimes what’s most important.

weekly review will take a little longer, but it should still only be between 15 and 30 minutes. The process is essentially the same, but you’re looking at a longer time window to keep the big picture in mind.

Rather than looking at a single day’s work, you can think about maybe a whole project or a significant milestone, or intentionally plan to do certain things later in the week or on a weekend to work around other appointments or routines that make certain days or times better or worse for fitting in different tasks.

To recap: a daily review lets you make tactical decisions about how to deal with what’s right in front of you, while a weekly review allows you to add in a little strategy and make sure you’re not just reacting to what seems most important on any given day.

Action Steps:

  1. Decide whether you want to try short daily reviews, slightly longer weekly reviews, or both. I recommend both if you can manage them because they serve somewhat different purposes. But I know everyone’s schedule is different, and sometimes it’s hard to fit in something new, even if it’s short. If you’re only trying one, do the daily reviews if possible.
  2. Plan a time to do the reviews. For daily reviews, attach this new short activity to something you already do daily. Extending an existing routine is a great way to develop a new habit. It may fit at the end of each work day or shortly before bed. For weekly reviews, Sunday afternoons work well for me because they are usually relatively relaxed and are outside my typical work week. Because that one takes a little longer, I put a 30-minute block of time on my calendar. It doesn’t always happen strictly at the planned time, but having that appointment there clearly reminds me that I want to finish that afternoon.
  3. Do the reviews. For daily reviews, you should end up with a list of between three and six tasks written somewhere to work against the next day or in your task management app with tomorrow’s date assigned. There should never be anything shown as overdue; either you’ve adjusted it to the new planned date, or you aren’t planning to do it right now, and it’s back on the list of things you might do later. After weekly reviews, you should be aware of upcoming appointments and perhaps pre-schedule a few critical tasks or project milestones the following week.

Don’t worry about creating a super-detailed plan here. The last few weeks have been all about gathering your various timed and untimed responsibilities into a single master calendar and task list. This week is just about beginning a habit of regularly reviewing that calendar and task list so the work you’ve done can be turned into action.

Putting these pieces together—the calendar, the task list, and regular reviews—gives you a robust framework to accomplish whatever you want, whether that’s just a few things here and there or a dense and ambitious set of goals.

How Does This Help?

Writing down what you want to do is the first step in the most effective time management methods. But with imperfect memories and changing priorities, we can’t stop there without quickly losing track of our original goals and plans for spending our time.

Reviewing important information is a time-tested way to make sure it sticks in our brains, whether we’re trying to learn a new language, study a complex subject in school, or stay on top of how we spend our time. You don’t have to spend much time doing it, but even 30 seconds quickly glancing through a list of activities we wrote down earlier helps keep them fresh, so you can proactively plan what to do and when. Otherwise, we fall into a reactionary mode of just doing whatever seems appropriate at the time. For most of us, that shallow “productivity” is ultimately unproductive.

Who Does This Help?

Establishing a habit of regular review on just about any important topic will yield visible improvement or increased efficiency. This is no less true for time and task management. But it’s especially true if this is your first time trying this approach or if you know yourself to be easily distracted or forgetful. Consistently pulling your attention back to what you already decided was necessary, even just for a minute each day, will help ensure you can systematically cross those items off instead of forgetting about them for weeks, months, or even years.

Who Does This NOT Help?

If you have an excellent memory and think about your to-do list frequently, there might be little need to review anything. Very few people are in this category, but if you are–congratulations!

Or, you might have already set up a system where you effectively use notifications to alert or remind you at ideal times whenever you need to do every task you need to accomplish. This is challenging and takes a special kind of person with a very controlled approach to task management and assignment (note, I am not one of these people).

Quick Review

For Week 4, your task is to review religiously. You’re starting a new habit of staying on top of appointments and tasks. Decide which regular reviews you will do (daily, weekly, or both), then plan a time for those reviews, and finally do the reviews. Daily reviews should yield Ivy Lee-like short lists of a few prioritized tasks for the next day, while weekly reviews help you think about important anchor points in your week and where you might more easily fit in specific tasks.

Thanks for sticking with me through Tasks Month. If you’re enjoying Tidy ’24, remember to forward any of these emails to anyone you think might also appreciate these tips.

If you have any questions about this week’s task or anything related to digital organization, reply to this email and let me know.

Happy data-taming!

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