Regularly reviewing your goals, habits, and progress is a productivity superpower used by everyone from top CEOs to artists, authors, and academics. Unfortunately, weekly, monthly, and annual reviews are also some of the easiest practices to ignore. (Especially when you’re caught in the trap of busywork!)
But the benefits of regular reviews can’t be understated.
According to the Progress Principle, the single most important factor in boosting motivation, focus, and happiness is being able to see regular progress on your most important work.
This is exactly why you should use regular reviews.
A weekly review keeps you organized and focused on your priorities. While annual and monthly reviews are powerful tools for reflecting and adjusting your long-term goals.
The good news is that you don’t need to spend hours every week, month, or year on a review.
In fact, the review processes and templates we’re sharing today will take as little as 10-15 minutes a week to complete!
Jump to a section
- Weekly reviews: To keep you organized and clear out “busywork” debt
- Monthly reviews: To track your progress on goals
- Annual reviews: To reflect, reset, and refocus
How to do a Weekly Review: 2 powerful methods for organizing your life
A weekly review is a powerful ritual that lets you reflect on your past week, tie up any loose ends, and re-align your priorities moving forward.
It’s a chance to break out of the “Urgency bias”–where you spend most of your day jumping between emails, calls, meetings, and other low-value, yet urgent tasks–and really zero in on what’s most important.
Because let’s face it. It’s easy to have a good day or two, but incredibly hard to feel like you used your time in the best way possible all week.
(In fact, according to a recent survey of 500+ knowledge workers, only 10% of people say they feel “in control” of their time.)
A weekly review makes you more intentional with your time so you can set yourself up for success all week long. As writer Tiago Forte explains:
“Your productivity is just like your finances: it doesn’t work if it changes too often. For your time and effort to compound, you have to leave your goals well enough alone.
“If you are trying to completely overhaul your life goals every week, that is a recipe for chaos, not clarity.”
But how do you know if a weekly review is right for you? Here are a couple questions you can ask yourself to find out. Do you:
- Feel like you get to the end of the week and barely made a dent on your most important work
- Always feel like you’re playing “Catch up” on emails, follow-ups, tasks, and projects
- Want to learn new skills, build your network, or improve your productivity quickly
- Never feel like you have enough time for the “important but not urgent” parts of your life
If this sounds like you, here are two options for a weekly review system that you can try. Both of them can be quickly done at the end of the week so you’re not dreading your review.
1. The “Four-Quadrant” weekly review system
RadReads creator Khe Hy breaks his weekly review down into four quadrants that help him balance between reflection and action. Here’s what that looks like:
This is obviously a lot to cram into a weekly session and some sections (vision, task audit) might be better suited to a monthly review. It’s up to you what you include on a regular basis.
Now, let’s dig into each section:
Time and task audit
“Did your actions last week match up to your priorities?”
Start by reflecting on what actually got done in the past week. Did you spend your time in line with the priorities and to-dos you started out with?
To guide this review, ask a few questions:
- Did you complete what you set out to do?
- Does your calendar (and commitments) match your priorities and values?
- What was your allocation of $10/hour work (i.e. answering emails) vs. $10,000/hour work (i.e. building a new feature)
This section doesn’t have to be complicated. Spend a few minutes looking at your calendar and your to-do list (or app) and then compare it to either what got done or your RescueTime data.
RescueTime tracks every second you spend in apps, websites, and even specific projects–giving you a full picture of where your time goes.
Take this even further: Learn more about how to do a time audit in RescueTime.
Planning and Prioritization
“What loose ends need to be tied up? Where should your time be allocated next week?”
It’s time to move from reflection to action. Now that you have a good idea of what got done this week, it’s time to clear out loose ends and prep for next week.
Your best bet is to be methodical here and tackle each app/tool/approach one at a time:
- Email: Clear your inbox and move tasks and follow-ups into next week’s list
- Calendar: Review your meeting schedule for next week and schedule time for important work (if you use a strategy like time blocking). You can also look a few weeks back as well to find follow-up opportunities you might have forgotten about.
- Desktop: Get rid of digital clutter by clearing out your desktop and downloads folder
- Notes: Go through all your notes–both digital and physical–and either file them away or turn them into action items
- Tasks: Clear your to-do list out and then set your priorities for next week
“Step back from the chaos and think through why you’re spending your time how you are.”
Any review runs the risk of turning into just a planning session. But the point of a weekly review isn’t just to plan next week but to make sure you haven’t gotten off course in the past 5 days.
Journaling can be scary for some people, so start with three questions:
- What went well?
- Where did you get stuck?
- What did you learn?
“Are you still on track with your life/business/work goals?”
This doesn’t have to be a part of every weekly review. But on a regular basis, you should re-examine your long-term goals to make sure you’re still working towards them.
Are you trying to build a business, learn a language, or make money blogging? Do those still feel like the right goals? And are you actually working towards them?
There are no easy answers here. But if you’re drifting off course, wouldn’t you rather know about it sooner rather than later?
2. The “Getting Things Done” weekly review system
David Allen–the author of Getting Things Done (GTD) and probably one of the most famous productivity gurus out there–calls the weekly review “the master key” to your productivity.
And so it’s no surprise that he has his own idea of what should be included.
The Getting Things Done system is all about capturing everything you need to think about–emails, notes, tasks, etc…–and then reframing them as action items you can prioritize and work through.
As part of that system, Allen suggests a weekly review that’s designed to clear up any loose ends and file away tasks for easy access later on. Here’s what that looks like:
- Get Clear:
- Collect loose papers and materials/notes
- Get your “inbox” to zero (i.e. tie up any loose ends)
- Empty your head by capturing new projects, action items, “someday” tasks, etc…
- Get Current
- Review what’s on your next actions list (i.e. what tasks are you working on next)
- Review your past calendar and capture follow-ups and action items
- Look ahead on your calendar
- Review your “waiting for” list (i.e. tasks that have been delegated or where you’re waiting for someone else)
- Look at the status of all current projects and make sure you have action items for each
- Review any relevant checklists
- Get Creative
- Dig into your “someday” list and look for action items that will help you work towards big projects
- Be creative and think through any “hare-brained, creative, thought-provoking, risk-taking ideas”
Download our free weekly review templates
Weekly reviews are so much easier when you’re not starting from scratch each time.
Choose which weekly review system sounds more appealing to you and download one of our free templates to get started:
- Download the “Four-Quadrant” weekly review template (Google Docs or PDF)
- Download the “Getting Things Done” weekly review template (Google Docs or PDF)
How to do a Monthly Review: Track progress on your long-term goals
A monthly review is an opportunity to reflect on all your accomplishments and then re-adjust your long-term goals. While a weekly review is meant to be a quick check-in on what’s happening right now, your monthly review should skew more higher-level.
Here are a few things to include:
- Checking in on your progress on your long-term goals (both personal and professional)
- Assessing your current habits, routines, and daily schedule
- Doing some big-picture planning on your key projects
- Making hard choices about what tasks should be left behind
The reason a monthly review works so well is that it lets you see progress on a longer timeline.
It’s easy to forget how much you accomplish when you’re always looking forward. A monthly review lets you see the results of your choices and habits so you can be motivated to make meaningful changes.
What to include in your Monthly Review
A monthly review is broken down into two sections: Reflection and Planning.
The reflection part can take a few different forms. While some people might prefer filling out a template, others might prefer something a bit more freeform like journaling.
Choose whichever works best for you. The goal here is to step back and put yourself in a retrospective mindset before making any future plans.
Part 1: Reflection
- List everything significant that happened last month. This doesn’t have to be just your achievements—any significant life changes or events you attended also belong here.
- Reflect on your top three things from the past month:
- Your biggest personal milestone
- Your biggest professional accomplishment
- You most valuable lesson learned
- Do a quick time audit. What was your intention at the start of the month? How did you actually spend your time? There’s often a large discrepancy between these two. Look through your calendar and to-do list (or data from RescueTime) and see how much of your month was spent working on your long-term goals.
You can choose to go as in-depth or as simple as you want with your monthly review. The goal is to get an honest picture of how you spent your time, what you prioritized, and any new habits, changes, or routines that are happening.
As Clay Christensen, author of How Will You Measure Your Life? writes:
“Your decisions about allocating your personal time, energy, and talent ultimately shape your life’s strategy.”
Part 2: Planning
A monthly review is great for retrospection. But it can also be used as a planning tool.
Once you’ve gone through the reflection process and are in the right state of mind, spend a few minutes roughly planning out the next month.
Here are a few things to consider:
- What are your key projects for the next month? I.e. What are some things that, if you finished them, would make you feel accomplished at the end of next month?
- What is your number one priority at work? (pick just one)
- What is your number one priority in your personal life?
- Are there projects that are weighing on you and should be delegated or discarded?
This last point is an important one to include. We often drag projects and ideas from month to month without making any progress on them. This sucks and makes us feel bad.
Take a few minutes to write out these projects and make a final choice about them. If they stay, you need to make time for them. If you can’t, let them go.
Download our free Monthly Review template
The best monthly review template will be the one that works best for you. If that means journaling and writing out a few goals in your notes doc or project management tool then do that.
If you’d rather take a more structured approach, we’ve put together this free monthly review template for you to use:
- Download our free Monthly Review template (Google Docs or PDF)
How to do an Annual Review: Reflect, reset, and refocus your energy for the next year
The personal annual review is the granddaddy of all reflective exercises.
If you can’t commit to something as regular as weekly or monthly, then you should at a minimum set aside time each year for an annual review. (Seriously, go put it in your calendar right now).
The end of the year is a natural moment for reflection. However, rather than get swept up in New Year’s Resolutions you’re statistically most likely to drop within a matter of weeks, you should use this time to dig into your goals, habits, and vision for the future.
Want to go deep? We put together this in-depth guide on how to do an annual review in RescueTime.
What to include in your Annual Review
A personal annual review is a lot like a performance review (except you’re both boss and employee). You want to ask the hard questions that help you grow.
At a high-level, your annual review should:
- Be data-driven whenever possible. It’s hard enough to remember what you did a week ago, let alone 12 months ago. Take time to gather data about your year to power your annual review. This could be in the form of calendars, to-do lists, journals, RescueTime data, or anything else that you think might help. (You might even want to skim your Amazon and credit card purchases).
- Create an overarching “theme” for the year that’s tied to your values. An annual review should look forward to the next 1, 5, or 10-years as well. How will what you do next year help get you closer to your larger goals?
- Set you up with a realistic plan for a successful year. Use SMART goals you can measure throughout the year (not vague wishes and hopes that get dropped by mid-January.)
That feels like a lot. But using the below template and our full guide, you should be able to do an annual review in about 30–60 minutes.
Here’s an annual review process you can use inspired by entrepreneur and author Chris Guillebeau (who’s been doing annual reviews every year since 2005!)
1. Start with a high-level reflection on the past year
Ask yourself two questions and try to come up with 6–8 responses for each:
- What went well this year?
- What did not go well this year?
These could be work events, personal events, or a mix of the two. The reason it’s good to start high-level like this is that it puts you in a more open state of mind before you get into the specifics of analyzing last year and planning for the next.
Remember: It’s easy to overestimate what you can do in a day and underestimate what you can accomplish in a year!
2. Reflect on your goals from the past year
If you regularly do annual reviews or are disciplined in your goal-setting, you’ll want to reflect on any goals you set out this time last year.
Not only does this help you recognize progress, but it can also help you see where your priorities have shifted. Certain tasks and projects that felt important a year ago may fade away, change, or expand.
3. Dig deeper into your personal data to uncover trends and insights
Now that you’re in a good headspace, dig into any data sources you have to get specific about how you spent the last 12 months.
This could mean looking at your calendar, to-do lists, or journals. Or something more comprehensive like your RescueTime annual dashboard.
Look at your total time spent online, which apps and tools you used the most, productivity trends, or even seasonal changes. (Check out our full guide for more tips on using RescueTime data in an annual review).
4. Set actionable goals for each category of your life
It’s now time to look forward. Powered by your data and self-reflection, come up with a few (3–5) actionable and measurable goals for each category of your life. Here are some categories you might want to consider:
- Friends and family
(The categories you use are up to you! Just pick 4 or 5 that connect to your most important values).
5. Map out our immediate next steps for each goal and schedule them
Next to each goal, come up with a shortlist of “Actions required to reach this goal.”
In other words, you want to come up with a list of things you can do right now to start working towards that goal.
Action often precedes motivation. And if you want to use this annual review as a way to actually get things done, you need
6. Zoom out and create a theme for the year
At this point, you should start to see some patterns emerge. Look over your goals and categories and create a few high-level themes for the year:
- Purpose: Where do you want to focus your time and energy the most this year?
- Outcomes: What are 2-3 accomplishments that will make this year a success? Try to think of your “big list” items (the crazy, audacious goals) as well as the “small list” ones (the more achievable “must-haves” for the year to be a success).
- Theme: What is this the “year of” for you? Connection? Experimentation? Growth? Choose a single theme that encapsulates your biggest priority.
Download our free annual review template
Writing down and regularly revisiting your annual review is a powerful way to stay committed to your long-term goals. That’s why we put together this in-depth annual review template you can download for free!
- Download our free annual review template (Google Docs or PDF)
Slow down and reflect. Your future self will thank you.
With all the ideas, apps, and obligations competing for your attention it can feel impossible to spend time each week or month (or year!) to reflect. But the truth is that self-reflection is one of the most powerful tools you have for building your skills, prioritizing your time, and moving forward.
Researchers have found that reflection makes what we’ve learned stick in our minds better, helps us perform better at work, and even improves our self-efficacy–our belief in our own abilities.
If you’re ready to try your own reviews, grab one of these templates and adjust as you go. You’ll find your own needs change over time and dictate what kind of reflection is most useful.