What should I be doing?

Decide what is (and isn’t) worth your time.

Last week, we discussed the power of the weekly review, and before that, the power of daily reflection.

Now, let’s look a little longer term.

When you compare things in your life month-over-month, you are able to assess your systems from a high level. What is effective? What is not? What is most important? And (most importantly) what should not be in my life anymore?

When deciding what to cut from your life, I find the Monthly or Quarterly review to be the place where I have the clearest head, and also to possess all the information I need to make a good decision.

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupery 

Deciding what you will no longer do is often the fastest route to being more effective and successful. But this is a very delicate decision to make – you shouldn’t decide to abandon a project, a relationship, or a job because of what happened this week, or what only happened today.

By performing a Monthly or a Quarterly Review, you can compare your months (and your quarters) against each other, to determine what is really working in your life, and what is really not working.

How to Do a Quarterly Review

Some people can do these types of reviews monthly, but there are so many other monthly-related financial tasks that I find quarterly reviews to be more effective for making high-level decisions.

Personally, I still have a Monthly Review, but it is more tactical – a review of all the monthly-related recurring tasks, and the execution of those tasks. To really make long-term decisions, you need strategic planning time that is separate from execution.

Determine Measurable Metrics

What monthly numbers do you need to track? For finances, for example, expenses, income, and the difference between the two are an easy place to start. If you aren’t automatically tracking your expenses through a platform like Mint.com, which automatically syncs with your bank and credit card accounts, this is an easy way to effortlessly create reports of your financial activity. Reviewing these reports a few times a year can give you incredible perspective on your financial life.

What goals are you making progress upon? If you have annual goals, or New Year’s Resolutions, you can (and should) review these regularly during the year to monitor your progress, and remind yourself of the long-term horizon to which you are aiming. (More on this in the next issue, on Annual Reviews.)

Set Aside the Time

A high-level review like this doesn’t happen because you find yourself with nothing to do on a Tuesday afternoon. You need to plan for this review time, and prepare for it.

Schedule a 1-3 hour block of time on your calendar. Decide where you will be, and what you will need. If it takes two weeks for you to gather the data and prepare for this review, that’s fine. The more data you have to review, the more accurate your decisions will be.

I create recurring calendar events every 3 months for a Quarterly Review, and I have friends that schedule Monthly Reviews on the New Moon. This regularity gives your process a system that can be perfected over time – because it’s a regular habit.

Make Hard Decisions

During the Quarterly Review, you won’t be reviewing and processing work; you will be assessing the flow of your work, and deciding what is essential and what is extraneous.

It’s always surprising to discover what is taking too much time and energy, because those are the very things that become the hallmark of our work – the things that take all our time and energy.

But are those things really worth it?

The best way to find out is to do a Weighted Average Decision Matrix. This is a spreadsheet-like tool that lists all of your priorities, and gives greater weight to what is more important. This way you can compare priorities against one another based on how important they are to your long-term goals.

You can find a WADM in this workbook from Fizzle, or this ebook from Crow, or this article from Smart Wealth.

Remember the Pareto Principle? 80% of the effects will come from 20% of the causes, and vice versa. If you can identify the most effective work for you to be doing, than you can plan your weeks (and your days) by the decisions you make during these longer-term reviews.

Don’t make your plans based on what you can do; plan to do only the most important things for you to do.

A monthly or a quarterly review (you know which is right for you) will serve as a bridge between the short-term, tactical plans you make during your days and weeks, and the long-term, strategic plans you make to guide your years and longer periods of your life.

Making a plan within the structure of an Annual Review is what we will discuss next week – stay tuned!