(originally published July 10, 2016, updated February 8, 2021)
While it may seem simple and straightforward, I know adopting a practice of weekly review and planning is hard for adults with ADHD. It is also hands down the one strategy many of my clients have said gave them the most benefit in terms of being productive and feeling grounded. Yet, I know you may overlook or even resist doing it because you:
- aren’t sure how to it.
- don’t think you have the time.
- have tried to do it before and it didn’t “work.” So now you’re hesitant to try again.
Hopefully, after reading this article, you’ll be willing to give it a try, whether you’ve attempted to do it before or not. Because you’ll both buy into that it’s a good use of your time and feel more capable of doing it. Ready to see if this could be true for you, too?
Then let’s get on with it.
What Does It Mean to Be Productive?
I know you want to be productive. But, if your metric for measuring productivity is how many tasks you can tick off your list, then you probably feel like you’re often on a hamster wheel. Because there is just no end. It’s like a game of Whac-A-Mole, right? As soon as you do one task, another one pops up.
And when you don’t feel like you’ve done enough, you may even feel like you’re not enough. If that’s true for you, check out how you can change this mindset so you can stop measuring yourself according to how much you get done. And, if you decide to adopt this more helpful mindset, you may even get more done. Really.
OK, back to defining productivity.
I know, at least in theory, you’d like to live a full life that includes being present with the people who are important to you and engaging in enjoyable and meaningful activities. But are you doing that right now? If not, part of the reason is likely because you’re in a race to get all your tasks done.
Defining productivity differently is one of the first steps you can take to live the full life you envision, as well as complete your tasks. Take a minute to visualize a day doing what is essential to you. Not sure what this would include? Try using this definition in creating your vision:
Productivity is doing what is essential (important) to you — engaging in activities that bring meaning to your life.
How would you be spending your time? Would it include more time with family and/or friends, better self-care, time spent on hobbies, other activities? Before figuring out how to be more productive you’ll want to figure out what being productive looks like for you. Then you can use the weekly review process to make sure you’re heading in the right direction.
How a Weekly Review and Planning Process Can Help ADHD Adults Be Productive
Given how busy you are it totally makes sense if you feel you don’t have time to commit to this process. But, if you are willing to take the leap of faith and withstand the initial discomfort, you’ll save time in the long run. Promise. Usually, I stay away from making promises because it feels disingenuous. But, on this point, I’ll go out on a limb. 😉
When asked what gets in the way of people being productive, David Allen of Getting Things Done (GTD) answered:
It’s not one thing, but five, all wrapped together: People keep stuff in their head. They don’t decide what they need to do about stuff they know they need to do something about. And they don’t organize action reminders and support materials in functional categories. Also, they don’t maintain and review a complete and objective inventory of their commitments. Then they waste energy and burn out, allowing their busy-ness to be driven by what’s latest and loudest, hoping it’s the right thing to do but never feeling the relief that it is.
This is definitely true for ADHD adults. And engaging in a weekly review and planning process will help you address these concerns, as well as ADHD specific challenges. A consistent practice will:
- offset the pull of immediate gratification.
- help you to be more intentional.
- remind you of your priorities, intentions, and best practices.
- minimize the need to rely on your wonky memory.
- reduce the overwhelm you are feeling trying to keep information in your head.
- help you be confident you are remembering your commitments.
- and, yes, save you time in the long run.
If you decide to incorporate this practice into your week, I’m sure you will experience several of these advantages. I can’t promise on all of these points. But I’ve definitely seen people accrue these benefits when they’ve been able to sustain the process.
Using Your Weekly Review and Planning Time Wisely
I know you’re going to be tempted to work on other tasks during this time. And, in these moments, you’ll tell yourself of those other tasks, “This will only take 2 minutes.” It will be hard to resist this urge. Because you’re worried you’ll forget to do it later if you don’t do it right away.
If it literally takes 2 minutes or less, go ahead and do it. Write all other tasks on a piece of paper next to you. Otherwise, once you start working on tasks that take longer you’ll never get through the review and planning process. And then bemoan the “fact” that you just can’t stick to the process. 😉 You can.
OK, now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, on to suggestions for creating your own checklist. The suggestions below, liberally adapted from Steven Covey, David Allen, and clients, both current and former, will help you get started. There’s nothing magic about these suggestions. Your goal should be to create a personalized checklist that allows you to review and plan for your various areas of focus.
Weekly Review and Planning Suggestions
Step I – Process
Paper /Physical Items: Go through all the paper/physical items you have not yet processed from the previous week. This may include anything you would put in a physical in-box, like mail, receipts, business cards, etc. Decide and put all the items where they belong – add to task list, recycle, throw away, file, etc.
Notes: It’s better if you process meeting notes soon after the meeting. But, if you haven’t processed any of your meeting notes from the previous week, now is the time to do it.
- This is also the time to process emails from the week before. Those emails that are more than a week old should be part of a “backlog project” to do at a separate time.
- Process any other forms of communication from the week before, including text, voicemails, slack messages, etc.
- other items you need to process not listed above.
Step 2 – Manage Your Tasks
Decide what goes on your task list and craft your task list to make it easier to execute. If you don’t yet have a working task management system, check out this 3-Part Series, starting with Part 1 – How to Tame Your To-Do List When You Have ADHD
- Add any new tasks or projects to your list.
- Review the status of your projects (new and old). Add new actions and mark off completed tasks. Make sure you identify at least one action step for each project.
- Add new and mark off completed discrete tasks (not associated with a project).
- Make sure you are including “waiting for tasks,” whether part of a project or a discrete task. For example, if you call the plumber and are waiting for a call back. You might add the task, “text Bob if I don’t hear from him.” And be sure to add a reasonable due date. So, if you called him on Monday, you might decide Thursday is when you want to call him again.
- Check on your Maybe/Someday List. This is a list for those tasks and projects you have no intention of doing right now, but don’t want to forget. Decide whether you want to take action, leave them on the list or delete them.
Step 3 – Manage Your Calendar
The purpose of your calendar is to help you remember what you need to do on specific days at specific times. It is the hard landscape of your life. It is not a place to put your task list. For more on using your calendar check out, ADHD and Calendars – What Is Your Plan?
- Look back a week and add any tasks to your list that come to mind. Just in case you forgot to add tasks.
- Scan upcoming dates. This could be the upcoming week, month, quarter, etc. Whatever you think would help you be proactive. Then decide what you need to do to be prepared for upcoming dates and add those projects and tasks to your list.
- Adjust and/or confirm appointments, if necessary.
- In addition to scheduled appointments, you might want to block off time to work on specific tasks/projects. If you do this, make sure to treat these times as any other appointment.
Step 4 – Reflect
Note what went well the previous week and what was a challenge. Decide if there’s anything you want to do differently the next week.
The 5 Keys to Sustaining a Weekly Review and Planning Process
1. First, make sure your system is the right one for you. Add and subtract steps as needed. There is no one right way to do a weekly review. Really.
2. You might be tempted at times to give up because you can’t do it perfectly. Be careful of this black and white thinking. If you don’t have enough time to do a thorough review, do part of it. A partial review is better than no review. Choose the steps that are the most important if you can’t do a full review.
3. Habits take time to build. You know that. And, if you have not been successful in building habits in the past, you may want to give up on doing a weekly review if you are not initially successful.
Give yourself permission to do the weekly review imperfectly for at least 8 weeks before you decide it is not worth the effort.
4. Remember to focus on reviewing and planning, not doing the actual tasks. I know focusing is a challenge, right? Repeat the mantra, “I’m doing this and not that!”
I’ll say it again. You will be tempted to start working on tasks that come up during the review. Resist this temptation. Do the task only if it literally takes 2 minutes or less.
5. Choose a specific day and time each week to do your weekly review.
Choose a time when you are most likely to be fresh and alert. I recommend Thursday or Friday morning so you can go into the weekend feeling confident you are ready for the next week.
Weekly Review and Planning for ADHD Adults
If you follow the steps above consistently, you will strengthen your reviewing and planning muscle. And resist the pull of immediate gratification. Remember, it will take time and practice. As you want to get good enough so that you are in the driver’s seat and can do what is most important to you.