In this article, I'll discuss periodic reviews, a key productivity technique you can use to evaluate your actions, maximize your impact and feel better about how you spend your time.
This content is part of my Obsidian Starter Kit
Journaling is great for capturing what happens/inspires you throughout your day and for focusing your attention on what matters most right now. On the other hand, periodic reviews are essential to make sure that you are moving in the right direction (i.e., towards your goals) and to adjust course if and when needed.
Before we start, keep in mind that effective reviews require knowing about your short/mid and long-term goals. If you don’t have clear goals, then it will be hard for you to perform useful reviews. This means that you have to perform periodic planning too. That is, regularly update/refine your plans. Long-term goals should be your north star, and all your actions should move you towards those.
My personal productivity system heavily relies on regular reviews, inspired by agile approaches and innovation principles:
Periodic reviews are an excellent opportunity to look back, but also to look forward. Evaluate your past, adjust your plans for the future, and make leaps forward.
Periodic reviews can be performed at various time intervals:
- At the end of each day
- At the end of each week
- At the end of each month
- At the end of each quarter
- At the end of each year
Don’t worry though. You don’t have to perform all of those. You can start simple and expand from there if you feel like it. I recommend doing at least daily and weekly reviews, as those can be incredibly impactful.
A daily review should take 5-10 minutes at most. The first goal of a daily review is to identify what you feel grateful for. Even a tiny little detail that was positive about your day is worth mentioning. Try to identify at least 3 items. When you feel down, go back to those points, and you’ll be surprised how much it can help improve your mood. Let me give you an example: today, I’m grateful for the fact that my baby Raphaël kissed me on the cheek three times in a row. It was magic.
Second, take a few moments to consider the items you didn’t complete on your to-do list of the day. Don’t feel bad about those. No need to dwell on the past. Just try to understand what the problems were:
- Did you plan too much?
- Did you get stuck on one of the tasks?
- Did you have to take on unplanned tasks?
- Were you too tired/stressed?
- Did you get distracted?
The goal of those questions is not to point fingers or feel bad about yourself. Instead, the goal is to identify actions you could take in the future to make your days less overwhelming (e.g., by being less optimistic about what you can achieve in a day), more motivating (e.g., by having clearer focus), and your environment less distracting and/or more helpful. This will help you avoid the following type of questions at the end of the week:
- Where has my time gone?
- Why haven’t I achieved anything?
As Amara’s Law states:
Most people overestimate what they can achieve in a year and underestimate what they can achieve in ten years. — Roy Amara
We all tend to make more tangible progress when focusing on less. By the way, that is also the core idea shared by Essentialism, an awesome book written by Greg McKeown that I also recommend.
Finally, the last goal of daily reviews is to plan for the next day. To do so, take a look at your plans for the week, and identify the next most important task. That one should be your highlight for the next day. That’s a concept I picked up from the book Make Time by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky. In two words, the highlight of the day is the one thing that matters most for that day. Once you’ll have done it, you should feel good, even if you don’t achieve anything else during that day.
Once your highlight has been identified, you can take a look at your other backlogs and identify “bonus” tasks, knowing that those might not get done.
Thinking and planning ahead helps remove anxiety for the next morning and bring clarity to your days. I enjoy starting a new day, already clear on what I want to achieve and why it matters.
Daily reviews are about tactics.
Another super impactful review cycle is the weekly review. Once you reach the end of the week, it’s interesting to take a look back and review your achievements, track progress towards your goals, summarize your key learnings, clear your inboxes, tidy up your PKM, etc.
Just like daily reviews, looking back helps to identify ways to improve your future weeks and make your life easier. Compared to daily reviews, weekly reviews allow looking at things from higher up. At the week level, you can already notice interesting trends and recurring patterns.
Again, while looking back, your focus should be on continuous improvement; not self-loathing and regrets. The past is the past!
During those reviews, you should also take time to plan the upcoming week. If you know what your goals are for the month, then this generally doesn't take long. Also, take a look at your calendar for the coming (1-3) weeks. Reserve time blocks for your most important work. By the way, that's one of their key features of focusd, the Zen productivity tool I'm working on.
In the context of Personal Knowledge Management, weekly reviews are also a great momentum to do some maintenance work. For instance, you can review the notes you’ve created/edited during the week, and make sure that those are:
- Named adequately
- Placed in the right location
- Linked to relevant notes
Weekly reviews can take a while, depending on how far you want to go. Mine personally take (at least!) two hours. But that’s just me 😂.
Monthly, Quarterly, and Yearly reviews
And you see where this goes. Each level higher up the chain gives you a higher-level and longer-term perspective on your progress and future goals.
Each review cycle is the opportunity to improve the way you work, improve the way you spend your time and live your best life.
The longer the time horizon of the reviews, the more strategic and bold you should be.
Decide what you want, and do not stop.
Taking review notes
Whenever I do one of my periodic reviews, I create a dedicated note in my Personal Knowledge Management system. Currently using either Obsidian or LogSeq (both use the same files).
I take notes because I want to keep track of my progress and details about the whole process. It leaves me with deep insights about my own journey, the way I approach my work, the recurring issues I face, etc.
Those notes serve two purposes. On one end, they help me uncover trends and patterns, and on the other, they act as a personal log that I can use for inspiration (e.g., to prepare my weekly newsletter). Uncovering trends and patterns is super valuable.
Here is the template I use for most of my periodic reviews. Note that it is part of the Obsidian Starter Kit:
- Goals: what I would like to achieve
- Achievements: what I actually managed to do
- Challenges: difficulties I've faced
- Discoveries: wonders I've discovered, things that inspired me
- Gratitude: what I'm grateful for
Pick what sounds good to you, and be creative. The P in PKM stands for Personal 😄
Here's the naming scheme I use for my periodic notes
- Daily: yyyy-MM-dd (e.g., 2021-10-07)
- Weekly: yyyy-Wxy (e.g., 2021-W40)
- Monthly: yyyy-MM (e.g., 2021-10)
- Yearly: yyyy
The Periodic Notes plugin included in the Obsidian Starter Kit takes care of naming the files correctly.
In this article, I've discussed about Periodic Reviews, one of the most effective productivity techniques I know. Productivity is not about working hard, but about working smart and being persistent. Periodic reviews help with both aspects. They enable you to take some time to look back, evaluate and adjust, aiming for continuous improvement.
That's it for today! ✨
Hello everyone! I'm Sébastien Dubois. I'm an author, founder, and CTO. I write books and articles about software development & IT, personal knowledge management, personal organization, and productivity. I also craft lovely digital products 🚀
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