Ah, the dreaded “review”. That thing we’re “supposed to do” to keep our systems up to date and working. That thing that might explain how we fall off the wagon of whatever system-du-jour we’re trying to make work.
There are many times I’ve heard how difficult it is to review. I’d be a hypocrite to say that I haven’t skimped on several parts here and there. But I still do it, though at varying depths, every week. It inevitably helps me catch things I’ve forgotten to capture, revise things that require revisiting, and ultimately vitalizes my system to support me.
The general suggestion is to devote a period of time, perhaps an hour or two, to examine existing lists. Project lists, action lists, or anything else that you rely on are worthy candidates of a weekly perusal. Old ideas get tossed. New ideas are stimulated and entered. Misplaced ideas are replaced. Lists too long are hopefully shortened.
In an ideal world, one reflects on what is meaningful and makes adjustments so that those ideas appear when and where they would be relevant and helpful.
But to examine anything in depth takes time and attention. Even a few hours to examine one’s entire database of tasks, particularly one that has been around for several years, is simply impossible.
One way we can get into particular trouble is at the Inbox. An Inbox, after all, invites getting things off of your mind. It is ready to catch any idea and whisk it away to whatever project of your choosing.
But, anyone with a mind can readily attest to the quite human condition that more thoughts, dreams, and worries easily come to mind than can be pursued in several lifetimes.
So there is a build up of ideas. It would be nice to clear something out of the Inbox, but the dread that a task will be lost once sent away can halt us from addressing it. So we are faced with a losing choice when seen:
- Do the task, which now is likely not a good time for, or
- Leave it in the Inbox which now compromises the Inbox’s utility as a place to set something aside.
The work of review is not simple. But it is a skill that can be learned. For a PDF of the basics of review, consider my sample chapter from Creating Flow with OmniFocus, available for free with the mailing list.
But, I’d like to go beyond the basics today and point out this particular issue of transition from Inbox to Project. Digital task managers, whether OmniFocus or otherwise, offer this wonderful benefit of smooth transition.
You can assign a project to an Inbox task and poof, that task is now sent to the project’s list of tasks.
But that is also the rub. Without looking at where the task goes, it is now simply sitting at the bottom of a list that you may not have looked at in some time. Even if you do decide to send the task from the Inbox, you are now faced with a new seemingly losing decision:
- Go to the project and position/prioritize the task within the project (leaving the Inbox to further decay)
- Continue processing the Inbox (leaving the project in a potential growing mess)
We might hope that the automatic prompting to review that OmniFocus provides or a regular weekly habit would address the matter. However, as I suggested above, having to examine every task we’ve ever written quickly exhausts our resources.
Part of what makes it difficult is that we don’t know whether a task itself has been reviewed. We can mark a project reviewed, but having to remember what tasks have appeared since we last saw a project is very difficult. After all, everything entered from the Inbox is simply added to the bottom of a list.
Here’s an example of an unreviewed project in my library:
I cannot tell what I’ve added recently. But here’s the trick:
Use sub-groups to identify what tasks have and haven’t been reviewed.
To do so,
- Multi-select any number of tasks (holding Command):
- Type Option-Command-g
- Make any further adjustments that make sense:
- Mark it as reviewed.
Now, let’s say I add a new task through the Inbox:
Once sent to the project, it now appears at the end of the list where it is not in a group:
It is clearly marked as something that has not been integrated as part of the project:
At this point, when I revisit the project through a review lens, I can quickly realize that it is not integrated and do the work of integration.
I have now, soon, later, and someday projects for personal and work items. I review now daily. Soon every 3 days. Later every week. And someday every month. That has helped me break the dreaded review task into smaller chunks so that I actually do it.
Modulating the frequency of review is another great option!
Are you suggesting pushing all reviewed tasks into subgroups, whether or not they really need that grouping? I guess for projects that don’t need subgroups I could create a subgroup holder, “reviewed” for all the tasks. Another work around.
Just for those that seem to benefit from it. It’s just another option for helping distinguish what’s been reviewed and what hasn’t.
The risk of this approach may be that you are tempted to skip reviewing the tasks that are in a sub-group, whereas I though the power of the review was to review ALL remaining tasks, whether or not they’re added in the last review period. When I review I check: Have I done the task & forgotten to check it? Is the task still relevant? Are there dates, and are they relevant? Does the task need dates added/changed? Sounds a lot, but it’s pretty fast. If the task is really old – I might move it to the one day/some day project, so at least they’re accessible in search, and for that mythical day that I’ll have extra time.
That is indeed a risk. In my own practice, at least for certain projects, it has been helpful to keep things feeling more organized. Having things in subgroups also helps me to retire or drop entire sub grounds as I reflect on their obsolescence.
Another option could be a meta-task that acts as a divider (named ‘~~~~~~~’ for example)
After each review you move this task to the bottom of the project, so all new tasks will be added below the divider-task.
I use such naming technic to divide my project list visually into subgroups without adding hierarchy level.
Ilya, that’s a great idea! I’ll try that out!