The weekly review: Planning for sustainable sacrifice

Planning the weekChristian ministry, like many modern occupations, can be complex. We need to juggle a whole host of different responsibilities. This complexity can generate a great deal of anxiety. Often the anxiety arises from a vague fear: we know there are things we’re responsible for, but we’re not quite sure exactly what they are, nor when we’ll find the time to do them. Of course, our first response when feeling anxious should be to pray to our loving heavenly Father–who after all has it all in hand. Yet there are also concrete steps we can take to reduce the anxiety, and to fulfil our commitments. One of the most useful habits I’ve learned in this regard is the weekly review (part of the GTD methodology). In my weekly review, I get my trusted system up to date, and then use my trusted system to plan my tasks for the coming week.

This weekly review takes me 2-3 hours each week. It may seem like a significant investment of time each week. But it has a massive payoff. It helps me to approach the week more joyfully, and less fearfully. After my weekly review, the week feels much more like an arena of opportunities to serve God and others, and much less like a minefield of formidable unknowns.

(This blog series is about habits and personal organisation structures I’ve developed over the years for “sustainable sacrifice” in Christian ministry. They’re specific to my own situation, so if you think any of them are worthwhile you may have to adapt them. For more information about the purpose of this series see the first post: Slip, slop, slap for sustainable sacrifice.)

The foundation of the weekly review

The weekly review is such a worthwhile habit that I wanted to write about it as the first post in this series. However, I quickly realised that couldn’t. That’s because my weekly review relies on other key structures and habits. So I had to explain these first:

So how does the weekly review work?

Preliminary step: Tidy up the system

Firstly, I tidy up my system to make sure everything’s where it should be.

  • clear my inboxes.
  • I look through my workbench and, if there’s anything that I’m finished working on, file it in Evernote.
  • I review our personal finances and weekly budget.

Step 1: Review commitments

Once I’ve finished tidying up, it’s time to review my commitments.

  • I look at my calendar for the coming week, to see if there are any appointments or events I need to prepare for. I then create any tasks that are necessary.
  • Then I look at every commitment (i.e. every project or sphere of life) in my trusted system. For me, this involves looking at every “project” in Omnifocus, one by one (I have about 100 of these). For each commitment, I:
    • Mark anything “complete” that needs to be marked complete
    • Check that all the tasks are up to date and correct
    • Decide if there are any tasks that need to be done this coming week
    • Flag that task for action during the week.

Here’s an example. It’s one of commitments I reviewed yesterday. The commitment is to Moore College chapel. I have five tasks in this commitment, with various due dates. Since I need to prepare a sermon this week, I flagged this task during my review.

Chapel project
An example of a commitment under review (“Chapel”)

Step 2: The diary sync

The next step is to talk to my wife Bron about the week, with our calendars / diaries open in front of us. We talk through the things coming up in the week that matter for both of us. We also decide together about when we’re going to have some time together (e.g. we try to have a date night each week, etc.), and when we’re going to have time with the kids, with extended family and friends, etc.

After the diary sync, I usually need to create a few more tasks, or remove some flagged tasks.

Step 3: Plan the week

Then I actually sit down and plan my week.

Gather flagged tasks into zones

  • I gather together all the tasks that I flagged for the week (see step 1). I normally have about 20-30 tasks flagged to do during the week.
  • I group the flagged tasks according to zone. Omnifocus does this for me automatically, which saves a lot of time.
  • For each zone, I look at all the flagged tasks in that zone and estimate how long it will take to do all these flagged tasks.

For example, in a certain week I might have:

  • 3 tasks flagged in the “Personal admin” zone, which I estimate will take me about 1 hour total
  • 2 tasks flagged in the “Research” zone, which I estimate will take me about 7 hours total
  • 2 tasks flagged in the “Resourcing” zone, which I estimate will take me about 2 hours total
  • 10 tasks flagged in the “Teaching” zone, which I estimate will take me about 4 hours total
  • 1 task flagged in the “pastoral” zone, which I estimate will take me about 6 hours
  • etc…

Assign zones in the weekly calendar

Weekly review: Typical calendar with zonesI then look at my calendar. Any time in my calendar that isn’t taken up by actual appointments or events (i.e. discretionary time), I assign to various zones. I try to make sure I have enough time in each zone to comfortably do the flagged tasks that need doing. I assign the zones in this order:

  1. Make sure there’s room for good sleep (I need 7-8 hours a night), Bible & Prayer, time with family (including Bron), rest (e.g. a day off and nights off), and exercise. Most of this won’t be covered by flagged tasks–they are just zones that I need to set aside every week.
  2. Make sure I have swathes of time for any zones that need extended concentration (e.g. research).
  3. All other zones fit in around these.

The picture on the right is a sample of the what my resulting calendar looks like for one day (today, in fact). I use

  • blue for appointments related directly to my work at Moore College
  • red for appointments related directly to family and home; and
  • green for the zones which I assigned to do particular tasks during my discretionary time.

Too many flagged tasks?

Often, after trying to assign zones to my calendar, I find that I can’t actually fit all my flagged tasks into the week. If that’s the case, I have to go back and look again at my flagged tasks. Normally, I have to choose some tasks to defer, drop or delegate.

  • To defer a task means to decide I won’t do the task this week. I unflag it and leave it till the next weekly review.
  • To drop a task means to decide that I just can’t do it. Sometimes this means I have to apologise to someone. An apology can be uncomfortable, but it’s much better to apologise ahead of time than to leave the person in the lurch.
  • To delegate a task means to ask someone else to do it.

Sometimes, I simply can’t defer, drop or delegate the tasks. That means I have to have an extra busy week, in which I eat into rest, family time, or sleep. That’s life sometimes of course. But it’s important to remember that an overly busy week must not be the norm. If week after week I find myself compromising rest, exercise, family time or sleep, that becomes a recipe for burnout. So an over-busy week is a signal that I need to pull back in the future. That is, I need to take deliberate steps in future weekly reviews to defer, drop or delegate entire commitments.

Doing the tasks during the week

Once my review is done, I feel a lot better about the week. And then I can spend the week having a go at doing the flagged tasks I decided to do, within the zones I assigned in the calendar.

Of course, God’s plans are never identical to my plans. During a typical week, the plan always gets messed up to some extent. Sickness, emergencies, unforeseen needs, new opportunities, new challenges–not to mention my own sin, distraction, hardness of heart and laziness–all happen and can change the plan. Sometimes the whole plan gets thrown out the window. But that’s OK. God’s in charge, after all, not me. And anyway, the trusted system is flexible enough to cope with all sorts of changes during the week. The point is not that I have a rigid plan that can’t be changed. The point is that I have an actual, deliberate and thought-through plan, which means that most of the time I can get most things done, and also feel OK about the things I’m not doing. And when the plan doesn’t work, it’s another opportunity to trust God’s goodness and timing.

The posts in the series so far