Getting Things Done: Reviewing

It’s been a while since I started a series of posts based on the book Getting Things Done, but I never actually completed all of the steps outlined in the book. Or, I should say, I never wrote about them all. I got this far:


And, in fact, I would say that what I implemented in those steps has stuck, for more than  year now. Our file system has been maintained, the household inbox still exists and serves the same function, and I do periodic collections of stray items around the house and try to feed them into the system. I definitely feel more on top of things.

Not pretty, but still functioning!

However, there was a fourth step that I never really got a handle on: reviewing. In the book, Allen describes reviewing as the process of looking over your whole organisational system in order to ensure it is up to date, refresh your memory on the status of certain projects, and see what you need to do next. You should review the whole system regularly, he suggests weekly. It’s quite clear that reviewing is a major lynchpin in the success of organisation. I would add, too, that regardless of whether you follow the Getting Things Done procedure exactly, no system will work without some kind of of reviewing. If you don’t update your lists, your calendar, or check them regularly, they won’t work because they won’t be kept current.

But frankly, reviewing is also the least interesting part of organisation. I think most people, myself included, will acknowledge that the initial gathering up of a load of clutter (physical and mental), sorting through it, and slotting it into a comprehensive system is very satisfying. But maintaining that system doesn’t have the same cathartic release as a major overhaul. Hence why I often get lackadaisical about reviewing.

However, I decided that I need to make it part of my weekly routine to review my system. For me, Monday mornings are ideal, because I start work (at my job) slightly later and thus have an odd hour, first thing. I thought to myself – I hate the idea of reviewing because it sounds stressful, but if I only have an hour, I can only spend an hour. No risk of an entire morning being sucked away in this horrific task.


  • I made a pot of coffee.
  • I made a review list – oh yes! A list of items I ought to review each week.
  • I gathered all the stray receipts and input the grocery receipts into my account sheet.
  • I went over my master to-do list and updated it, ticking off things done and adding a few things that came to mind.
  • I went through my to-do folder and finally called the painter who needed to come fix our wall…after months.
  • I checked my schedule for the week and made sure all the details were there for appointments, any food prep necessary ahead of time, or due dates for certain tasks.
  • I checked my library books to renew any that needed it, and marked the day to return some of them.
  • I reviewed my list of sewing/knitting projects, updated completed items, and considered which to tackle next.
  • I went through the household inbox file folder, which contained odd bits of paper that needed acting on, filing, or data inputting. None of the papers went back in once I was done! I was a good girl.

In the hour allotted, I also had time to hang out a load of laundry and gather my stuff to go to work.

Although this is a lot of individual tasks, most only took a few minutes. That is one major point about reviewing: if done regularly, it should never be an enormous task. I hadn’t tidied up my system in a few weeks, so if I were to do so regularly, it probably wouldn’t have taken me even as long as it did today.

Moreover, the after this exercise I had such a feeling of clarity and peacefulness. This is just what is promised by Allen’s method: confidence that nothing was slipping out of control, no task was lurking half-remembered in my consciousness.

Concomitant with this feeling of mental clarity was a great feeling of power and control. Because I knew everything that was going on, everything I needed to do, and was confident in the completeness of all this information, I also felt that what I did would be my choice, not dictated by sudden emergencies. I also felt that because my system was functioning efficiently, if I wished, I could choose something else to accomplish. You’ll notice that in my list of review tasks I consulted a list of sewing and knitting projects. This isn’t household administration or PhD work, but I included it because they are projects I work on every week and I simply wished to take them seriously. And I think there’s no reason that, if you have a good organisational system humming along with regular reviews, you can’t simply throw personal projects into it and allow them to be administered as well. Reviewing one additional list isn’t a big extra task if you already review several others. Does this make sense?

This leads me to my final thought, one further reason why I really want to incorporate a regular review into my schedule. This is that while reviewing everything, and feeling on top of everything, I felt like I could take myself seriously as a person capable of doing things. I often find – and I suspect this is common – that I have a lot of aspirations that live in a limbo world: ‘I’d love to ____, but I suppose I probably won’t.’ I don’t mean big life aspirations, but more short-term projects: learn a skill, cook a certain dish, knit a certain sweater, write something, maintain a blog, or even just have guests over more often. But because I label those things as ‘personal’, not ‘work’, I don’t take them seriously, and because I often fail to follow through with them I’m never willing to grant them real ‘project’ status because that would just make their failure that much more official. But I find that all of this tends to make me timid in undertaking things, self-depreciating about my abilities, and genuinely doubtful whether I can accomplish any of the things I think about. Thinking about things and never accomplishing them is depressing after a while. Today, when I was reviewing my little administrative demesne, I realised that simply being regular in this kind of review-and-update routine would enable me to accomplish things, if I wanted. Not everything all at once, but it could bring certain personal projects out of pie-in-the-sky status and into the status of something regularly pursued and taken seriously.

So here I am, saying that I intend to start reviewing my system regularly! What do you think? Is reviewing something you do, or think would be useful?

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