It’s obvious that some employees perform at higher levels than others—but why? David Maxfield, vice president of research for the leadership-training firm VitalSmarts, studied 1,594 managers and employees and found that high performers have adopted smart habits, one of which is an important ritual for getting more done: a weekly review.
“They keep a sacred, non-negotiable meeting with themselves every week to re-sync, get current, and align their daily work and projects with their priorities,” Maxfield says.
This step is very different than how the average person runs their week, says Maxfield. “It’s very easy to plan life from the bottom up, but that’s being reactive,” he says. “You focus on pleasing the people around you and meeting urgent objectives. You could live your entire life that way and be pretty successful, but you’d also be pretty unfulfilled.”
Instead, plan and review with a cadence of once a week. “This is about your spirit,” says Maxfield. “Who do you want to be? What are your long-term aspirations? Ask yourself, ‘How do I become a better me?’ It’s not being responsive to immediate tasks; it’s being proactive, making sure you are aligned with personal and professional goals.”
Sunday nights are an ideal time because it’s likely when you can carve out quiet time, says Maxfield. “Close the door and spend some time on it,” he says. “Try to capture everything that might be hanging around, and make sure that you’re not losing track of stuff.”
Here are the three objectives a weekly review should address.
Do a gut check about your direction, making sure you’re aligned with personal and professional goals. “Is it time to have a crucial conversation with a boss or customer?” asks Maxfield. “Identify times when your career was pushed off course from your own desires, and decide what you want to do. It can be hard to get back if you don’t address it.”
Then look at what’s been added to your calendar, especially tasks given to you by others. “Are those aligned with what you’re after?” asks Maxfield. “Ninety percent of the time they are, but the other 10% are very important because they can be huge time sucks. It’s bad for me and for the person who put it on your calendar.”
Review the past week by looking at your roles and responsibilities. Are you missing something because you’re consumed with something else? “Are you doing the things that further your goals, and are you living up to your principles?” Maxfield asks. “When you are in line with your purpose and principles, it grounds you. When your mission and the moment connect, you feel fulfilled and you can accomplish more.”
Capture loose papers and materials, and organize yourself for the coming week. For example, get your inbox to zero and empty your head of everything you’re holding onto, such as to-dos or ideas, by writing them down and scheduling them.
Review your calendar to see what’s coming up. “Review the list of to-dos and ask yourself if those are the right tasks and right appointments? Do they fit with your goals? Are they aligning with your purpose and principles?” Maxfield asks.
Finally, consider long-term planning by checking in with your “someday goals.” “For example, I’d like to hike Hadrian’s Wall,” says Maxfield. “I don’t have a date attached to it, but I don’t want to lose track of this. It’s important to review different horizons. Is it time to take action on any of those?”
A weekly review will help you to lead your life with purpose. “It’s common sense,” says Maxfield. “Anyone looking at this would say ‘duh,’ but one of the interesting things about common sense is that it’s very uncommon. This practice is incredibly and profoundly important for anyone who wants to perform at a higher level.”