Want to be happier and more successful? Write about yourself every week.

For a bunch of reasons, I believe there’s something very powerful about going through the process of writing your thoughts down on paper in a structured way. I don’t know about you, but for me, I feel that there’s just constantly so much going on, so many things I could work on, so many competing priorities, that without some sort of self-management system I’d quickly become completely swamped, reactionary and not strategically impactful. I’d also become a bottleneck to others trying to get their work done. My system for countering this is that every week, I write up a status report, detailing the actions I took during the week, the lessons I learned and my aspirations and plans for the future.

I do this primarily for myself, because I find that by writing it all down and getting it out of my head, it gives me peace and helps me switch off at the weekend. Although I do it for myself, I often share a slightly sanitized and less blunt version with the people who I work most closely with (my boss, my HR business partner and my executive assistant). I’ve found that this is a cheap, quick and thorough way of managing up, proactively sharing context and inviting asynchronous coaching, feedback and support. By consistently following this self-management process, I can mostly stay in charge, in control of my time and actions and not fall into a completely reactionary mode. It’s also a consistent opportunity for me to improve every week and attempt to delegate work, unblock others or simply show them some gratitude and camaraderie by saying thank you over email and acknowledging other peoples’ great work.

Hopefully, this process and ideas outlined in this blog post might resonate with some folks who don’t have a strong system for managing themselves and/or managing up and might help them get such a system in place, thus enabling them to be less stressed, happier and more successful going forward.

My weekly status report has the following sections:

1. What goals did I take on this week and what progress did I make against them?

2. What else did I do this week that was valuable, but not part of my pre-planned goals?

3. What am I feeling positive about and/or grateful for? Who should I be thanking or giving kudos to?

4. What lessons did I learn? What should I do differently next week?

5. What are my medium-term goals (for the quarter) and how are they progressing?

5a. How did I think about this topic at the start of the week?

5b. How am I thinking about this topic at the end of the week?

6. What goals should I take for next week?

I generally write up my status report at the weekend. I know, this might sound like a really bad work-life-balance habit, and perhaps it is, but I usually enjoy going through the process of creating it and feel better afterwards, and there’s sometimes some extra clarity I can get about work stuff when thinking and writing about them in a calm, unrushed time over the weekend, in a comfy spot with a nice coffee that make it worthwhile for me.

Thinking and writing up the report usually takes 60 to 90 mins.

Writing the report is somewhat of a cyclical process, each weekend I complete this week’s report and start the next week’s one.

Here’s the general process I go through.

I start by filling in section one, “What goals did I take on this week and what progress did I make against them?”. I’ll note whether each goal is a hit or a miss and describe the progress I made. I’ll also do a quick retrospective on each one and examine them for quick follow up actions or emails that I can complete (or delegate) there and then, or meatier actions that I need to carry forward and note under the “What goals should I take for next week?“ section. I’ll also look for mistakes or lessons and note them under the “What lessons did I learn” section.

Next I’ll look through my calendar for the past week to see what meetings I attended, I’ll review my sent items and see what emails I sent, and generally I’ll search my memory to try and identify any other good, valuable things I did during the week and write them down. I do this because I want to remind myself about all the good things that I do, to keep my own morale and sense of momentum high. I find that work can often feel relentless and lonely. You can’t rely on others to give you the pat on the back, the recognition that you need to keep going, you need to self-serve here. These first two sections are part of my way of doing this. By writing it down you’re more likely to believe it and remember it, by sharing it afterwards you’re more likely to hear an echo coming back at you.

Section three is to give credit where credit is due, it’s to raise or sustain the engagement and motivation of others who are doing a great job. It only takes a few seconds to send someone a genuine email to thank them for a job well done, and it’s a super powerful thing. I know that by consistently noticing and positively commenting when things are being done well, and by drawing others attention to these things, I’m creating positive feedback loops that create a higher performing, more resilient organization, which makes my work life more rewarding and fun. It also feels nice to do in the moment. Be the change you want to see in this regard people.

Section four, the lessons learned section, gets filled out incrementally as I go through each of the sections before, and the ones afterwards, but I also pause and give it some dedicated thought. To prompt some lessons, I’ll often ask myself some “bottom line” questions like “How do I feel? Am I feeling good or bad, and why?” or “Am I taking on too much stuff? Are there things I could be delegating to others?”

Section five, the medium term / quarterly goals section is less like a fixed goal list and more like an ordered list of challenges. The higher up the list an item is, the more detail I write about it. So my top 4 or 5 items are likely to be active, have a current status and have the next few actions already mapped out for each one (each action is a candidate goal for the coming week). Whereas the items lower down the list might just be a placeholder phrase, to ensure I don’t forget about it once I have capacity to work on it (or delegate it). At the end of every week, I review the previous list and knock off anything that’s done, update the “next actions” list for anything that’s remaining, re-order the list of priorities change and add/prune stuff as appropriate.

To create my goals for the following week (section 6), I first review my calendar for next week to see what’s already prescheduled and how much time I’m likely to have to work on anything proactive. I’ll try and by as ruthless and clinical with my calendar as possible and decline or postpone any meetings that don’t feel like a great use of time. For any meeting that I’m unsure of I’ll send a quick note to the organizer (or my EA) to try and get more info and to see if I really need to attend. Once I’ve freed up my calendar as much as possible, I’ll then review my medium-term priorities again (from section 5) and start to list out my goals for the coming week, usually looking to keep the list to about 5 items or less. I never want to be fully committed from a time perspective, I need some slack in my week to (a) deal with the unexpected stuff that crops up and (b) just have some time and space to think and breath and perhaps be creative.

Once all this is done, and my report is complete, I’ll start the following weeks report by copying in my goals for the week into section one of the new report and my current medium-term priority list into section five-a.

Finally, I’ll copy and paste the doc into a google doc, strip out any overly personal thoughts that I’d be uncomfortable sharing and then share the report with my boss, by HR business partner and my wonderful executive assistant.

In closing, I honestly do think that following a process like this is somewhat of a secret sauce to success. I’ve followed a version of this process since about 2007 onward, and I can correlate times of sustained success and progression with how consistently I’ve filled in my weekly reports. I actually think I first started this type of process after reading “Getting Things Done by David Allen” — it’s definitely worth a read if you’re in need of convincing or looking for more first principles context to help you build your own self-management system. Let me know if this resonates and you’d like help setting up your version of this system or even you’ve got one of your own that you feel I could learn from?

Thanks for reading!

Rich.