Rethinking the Weekly Review with OrgMode

Another english article in my blog for the LinkedIn GTD group and there specially for Jarrod who asked  how we do our weekly review fresh, exciting and realistically achievable. Good question Jarrod, so I thought about how I was doing the weekly review in the past and what I could do better. For all non-GTD poeple: The weekly review is a basic concept withing GTD. You must review your ToDo lists every week.

So, first let me explain how I did the weekly review in the past. Since I’m using OrgMode I created a capture template that holds a checklist for all the things I have to do in the weekly review. This checklist was practically based on the PDF checklist that you can download at So when it was time to do the weekly review it was easy, I just had to press F6-w-r and a Emacs window pops up that hold the complete checklist. Then press Ctrl-c twice and its appended to the journal. Then I just open the journal and here we go, do everything on the checklist and then cross the checkbox off by hitting Ctrl-c twice on that line. So far so good, but there was something that made me feel uncomfortable. The checklist was still cluttering up my journal and hey, what’s the use of keeping finished checklists that all look the same because every item is checked off?

So the first move was directing the checklists to a dedicated file that archives the checklists for ever weekly review in a datetree. But I still had the problem, that all the checklists look the same at the end. So I needed to put more into the weekly review. And when I read Jarrods question I decided that it was time to move on.

The first action was to put some OrgMode specific headers in the tracker file for the reviews. This looks like that:

The first line defines a property named „Rate“, I had the idea, that I could rate the big points on the checklist, so one day I can quickly see how any week went. So if I feel that the last week that I’m reviewing now was bad or good, I can track it in that file.

The second line defines a column view for orgmode. That just shows the items (the big bullet points) and then the rating for that item and a clocksum. Yes, the other idea was a bit of accounting, of measuring how long the weekly review really takes.

wr-screenshot-1 So here we go. Pressing F6-p-r and the template for the review for my private stuff pops up (its alle the same templates for private or work reviews). Then pressing Ctrl-c twice to append it to the tracker file and open this file. The emacs window will look like the screenshot you see on the right (click to enlarge). You see the two headlines, then the datetree, staring with the highest level „2015“, then „2015-09 September“, then a line for Today and then a line with „Weekly review“ and a timestamp that records when I called the template. The next hierarchy level is from the checklist, it says „Get clear“ and then I have 3 other headlines for the things I have to do to get clear. The first thing „Collect lose papers and material“ (oops, I spotted a typo there) is already completed as you see from the „[2/2]“ right to it beacause all checkboxes below have the „[X]“. We also see an Orgmode drawer called „:LOGBOOK:“, this is where orgmode keeps the timestamps to measure how long it took to complete this step. So when I started the step I pressed „Ctrl-c Ctrl-x Ctrl-i“ which is the shortcut for „clock in“ and at the end I pressed „Ctrl-c Ctrl-x Ctrl-o“ for „clock out“. Both timestamps were reorded and put into the logbook drawer.

You see that  I was just starting the review when I did this screenshot. Then its really moving down the list, doing what has to be done and checking of the items. And finally, when we’re done with the whole list we go back to the top line with „Weekly reveiw“ and switch to column view.

wr-screenshot-2This is done by pressing „Ctrl-c Ctrl-x Ctrl-c“. Then you see all the headlines in the defined columns. Now if I place the cursor in an empty cell in the „Rate“ column and press „Shift“ and „Cursor-Left“ or „Cursor-Right“ I can cycle through the values that I have defined in the headline for the ratings. So at the end my collapsed (only showing the headlines) weekly review in column view looks like the screenshot on the right.  The top line tells me that I rated the last week as „Good“ and that the whole weekly review took me 54 minutes. 33 minutes I was busy with inbox zero, thanks to a lot of paper in my „paper inbox“. You also seee 2 lines without time information, that means those parts where done in less than a minute. I just had one waiting for that was done and the calendar data was also empty. So I just checked off the items on the list and proceeded. So my weekly reveiw for this week is done. And I can see next week if the next one takes longer or not and in a longer view I can review how my weeks were rated.