Want Less Stress? Think of the Very Next Action

Posted by Barbara O'Connor on Dec 8, 2015 2:00:00 PM

Death_to_stock_communicate_hands_1.jpgYou know that feeling, just before you go on vacation. You've cleaned out your email inbox, returned voicemails, finished tasks that needed immediate attention and noted what you need to handle after your trip. You've notified people in advance about the vacation, so they know not to bother you. Your bags are packed. You feel calm, ready to relax and enjoy your time away. It's an amazing feeling!

Why do we do that only before a vacation?

What if we did that weekly? What if we reviewed all our "open actions," current projects and upcoming meetings, so we knew with complete clarity where things stood and what still needed to be done? How much easier would it be — and how much less stressful would work feel — if we did this routinely instead of before going away?

Well, I've been trying it. I'm a student of David Allen's book, "Getting Things Done," and his "GTD" methodology. Essentially, it's a path that helps busy professionals take steps toward stress-free productivity. Think of GTD as a work-life management system rather than as a strict set of organization tips.

A critical part of GTD is what Allen calls the "weekly review." When I first heard of it, I assumed the concept was smart but impractical. With so many to-dos on our list, and with so many responsibilities in the hands of other people we manage, who wants to fill up another slot on the weekly schedule? To me, that seemed daunting.

Actually, it's simple and effective.

I listened to a guided weekly review on the GTD website ( and got started. The weekly review is a bit like exercise — hard to get motivated to begin, sometimes uncomfortable during the middle and leaves you with a great feeling when it's over. Even a partial weekly review is worth it — you feel more in control, proactive and aware.

I'm fairly new to the weekly review, and I'm still learning. My main struggle is wanting to actually do everything as I process my open actions. I will quickly take care of this or that! But in doing so, the weekly review can turn into an endless exercise. The purpose is not to do everything, but rather to think through and document the very next action that will move the project forward.

In that sense, the concept has elements of the "daily scrum," which is part of the Agile methodology of software development. In a scrum, time is divided into short work cadences, known as "sprints," that typically last one or two weeks (instead of the gazillion hours it seems to take software firms to roll out new technology). Finishing isn't the point; getting to the next step is. Team members meet daily (in quick meetings, standing up) to remove impediments and talk about what they did yesterday and what they'll do today. Again, the very next action.

David Allen has a great quote: "Your mind is about having ideas, not holding them." That's what I’m shooting for at PSDA — leading a team that thinks of ways to help members grow and then keeps moving projects forward.

In the end, the proactive, regular thinking and processing of a weekly review leaves your mind clear. You’re in control of your work instead of your work controlling you. I highly recommend it.

Give it a try and let me know how it goes for you!

Barbara O'Connor is the executive vice president of PSDA.

Topics: Business Management


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