The Weekly Review and Self-Management of Attention

This photo has been professionally simulated to appear like my Weekly Review station. Don’t try this at home.

I don’t remember who said this (maybe a Peter Drucker quote that I first heard via Merlin Mann?) but it has always struck me as more profound than we give it credit for (and this is undoubtedly paraphrased from whatever the actual quote happens to be): “The first job of any knowledge worker is figuring out what their job is today.”

How do you know what your job is on any given day? Sure, you have a job title. When you were hired you probably responded to a job application that had some kind of job description attached to it. There’s a list of bullet points that I guess is some kind of description of what you’re supposed to do — right?

If you’re a knowledge worker, particularly one with any kind of agency over how you spend your time at work, you know that the makeup of your job shifts constantly. What you were hired to do X years ago is just a shadow of what you do now. Your neat and tidy job title is laughably inaccurate given how you’re expected to spend your time and attention now.

The problem that I’ve seen in my coaching and consulting career so far is that very few people actually take the time to figure out what flavor of their job they need to inhabit at any specific time. They try to bring the same frame of mind and habits to everything they do. They have a very undifferentiated take on what it means to show up and be a knowledge worker every day.

All of this is just preamble for the main point I wanted to make today: do a Weekly Review.

The canonical Weekly Review comes out of David Allen’s Getting Things Done book and methodology. As part of GTD, the Weekly Review is the time you set aside at the end of a week to go through your system and make sure it’s updated and ready to go for the week coming up. I’ve been practicing and tweaking GTD for my own needs for about 10 years but one thing that has always stayed constant is the Weekly Review. I’ve built out a very robust checklist that I fire up every Sunday evening and systematically work through with a mug of tea and either a podcast or some soft music to keep me company. My template is here (but it is so customized to my needs it’s probably not useful other than as an example for what yours could look like).

I’ve been thinking about work, particularly knowledge work in complex environments, more and more from an attention management perspective lately. Our attention and the way we develop, protect, and allocate it is foundational to understanding the future of work.

A Weekly Review helps me survey the entire landscape of where my attention is currently going (without my knowledge or choice), where it is currently going (with my knowledge or choice), and where it could or should be going but isn’t. This dedicated time allows me to pull apart these strands and make some decisions instead of just leaving them all gummed up into some kind of untenable ball of vague confusion. It combines steps of letting my attention spread wide (collecting all my open loops and thinking about the future) and brings my attention back into a narrow focus (making specific decisions about projects and next actions).

To bring it back to the opening quote, a Weekly Review is an awesome tool to help you figure out what kind of jobs you’re likely to have this week. It helps you feel confident about what’s coming up so you can bring the right mentality to everything that’s thrown at you this week. In a world where expectations are high and the pace is unrelenting we need every little bit of help we can get.

At least, I know I do.


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