The “R” in CORE

This article first appeared in Alpha Efficiency Magazine: Issue 4: Reviewing, subscribe and buy here

It’s rare that you’ll find an example in life where taking the opportunity to look back isn’t a good idea. Even 100m sprinters take quick glances to the side to assess whether their current strategy is putting them ahead of their competitors.

Reviewing is all about asking yourself the question: How am I doing?

The Basics

Reviewing is often viewed as one of the most difficult habits to embed, with good reason. The results of reviews are often intangible and not immediately obvious. With no immediate return and with other priorities stacking up, a review is often at the bottom of the pile and first to be discarded when you’re under pressure.

Reviews give you an insight into the past that allows you to understand what brings you value and what doesn’t. Without a review, how do you know if your activities are gaining or losing you time, money and energy? The more time that elapses without doing any kind of reviewing, the more likely it is that some percentage of your effort is being wasted through inefficiency or because you’re moving in a direction that’s no longer conducive to your goals.

If you are in any doubt at all as to the value of reviewing, take a look at the corporate world. All successful companies invest time and money into reviewing. It’s why they insist on employee targets and objectives; it’s the reason they conduct appraisals and bonus schemes. You may or may not like these processes in your place of work, but successful firms have known for some time that they are key to being able to track and incentivize performance. Start treating your personal life in the same way and you’ll make more objective decisions about whether you’re getting “value for money” out of it.

In addition to giving you insight into the value and effectiveness of your activities and their outputs, reviewing will also lead to significant discoveries about your decision-making process. This meta-level information essentially allows you to understand better why you’re doing things in a certain way, how you’re prioritizing your activities against your objectives and how this is making you feel.

The key is to focus on the data that gives us actionable information.

Evaluating leads us to significant discoveries about our decision-making process. There are numerous data that we want to pull from our reviews, but the key is to focus on the data that gives us actionable information.

The Purpose Of Reviewing

Reviews give us insight into our own behavior and enable us to make goal-driven decisions. But it goes so much more beyond goals, it can give us insights that can help us bring balance to our locus of control, where we can make sane decisions that will yield long-term results in all fields. We can also see the consequences of our poorer decisions, helping us to prevent a repeat of those mistakes in the future.

Establishing The Life Dashboard

Reviewing your “life data” is a bit like looking at website analytics. There are numerous data points to consider: where the visitors are coming from, how long are they staying, what they are clicking and where they exit. All of these actions and numbers are stored in analytics software. When it comes to reviewing your life, the numbers aren’t written out for you and most of the time you have to work to get them. Unlike websites where analytics software collects data in the background, some of our life data needs to be collected before it can be quantified, which keeps the review stage of our lives tightly connected to another CORE principle:

Collecting.

Collecting actionable life data enables us to act with intelligence and intention in order to steer our lives in the right direction. Armed with enough quantifiable data, we can set realistic goals and expectations for ourselves.

Reviewing is an art form in its own right, with the biggest barrier to effective reviewing being the collection of data. Considering that data collection is the critical component that enables the review, it’s important to automate this process wherever possible. Luckily with the advantage of the technology, we can remove the limitations and barriers to collecting. Whenever something is not actionable, yet it can give us actionable data, then we should opt for as much automation as possible. Any type of collecting information creates friction that we want to avoid, so we can have hassle-free quantified life data.

Some of the quantifiable information in our life can’t yet easily be tracked automatically and requires some degree of manual input; other data might not be worth the effort of collecting. If you are 100% certain that you are eating right because you’ve developed it as a habit, then you don’t really need to track your fitness goals. Sometimes we just need a snapshot of our life in order to understand where we are. In other circumstances, it’s worth the extra effort to collect that data in something like a journal or spreadsheet. With all these things, the decision to capture manually is a matter of judging the relevance and importance of that data.

Types of reviews

When carrying out a review it’s possible to take a broad sweep of many different aspects of your life or focus in on a particular theme; in our experience, it can be very useful to hone in on a particular area of focus and keep that review compartmentalized from other themes.

Financial Review

When it comes to tracking finances, it may be very hard to understand where your money goes. The easiest way to track your finances is to try and automate everything you can. This way you can measure whether you are breaching your budgets (budgets are financial goals) and if you are acting in a fiscally responsible manner. We cover more on the topic of tracking finances in the self-quantification article later in this issue.

When you have the clear picture of where your funds are going, you can make strategic decisions that can help you cut spending or allocate your resources better.

Health Review (Fitness)

With the advent of various fitness trackers, we can collect a multitude of data on our current situation, trends, and effects. This includes heart rate, sleep patterns, trips to the gym and even results from medical check-ups.

These insights can help you determine if there are necessary changes in your lifestyle. Paying attention to your health will help you prevent health problems and improve your overall body functionality.

Nutrition Review

Nutrition review is particularly hard because the worse your habit patterns are, the more difficult it is to track your nutrition habits. The biggest problem of nutrition review is the fact that there is almost no way to automate the collection of data. Apps like MyFitnessPal and MyPlate can help to make this collection “semi-automated” by introducing shortcuts like assisted searches, favorites and barcode scanners, reducing but not eliminating the friction associated with tracking your nutritional habits.

Goals Review

Goals reviewing is the activity that keeps us connected with the question of why am I doing this? Staying in touch with your goals and the rationale for having those goals is what keeps you motivated. There are really two levels of goal review: the refresh, whose purpose is to give you a quick reminder of why you’re out there each day doing what you do, and the deep dive, which is designed to ask you those big questions; what do you want out of life? How are you going to get there? The refresh should be performed as often as you can and should be as quick as possible; this can be achieved by having a few index cards handy with your primary goals written on them. The deep dive needs considerably more effort; most people struggle to manage it quarterly. At the least, you should try and do one deep dive per year.

Work Review

The work review is probably the most familiar and easiest to understand. It includes the task list reviews popular with many productivity methods, but can essentially be boiled down to any activity where you’re looking at how much you’re managing to get done and the value of what you’re achieving as a result. In its simplest form, this involves taking a look at the things you’ve ticked off your task list in the last period (whether that’s daily, weekly or monthly) but it should also to extend to an assessment of whether you got the important (rather than the urgent) tasks done and whether the things you have achieved are really moving you towards your goals.

How Bojan Reviews

My insights about reviewing come from numerous self-development books that I’ve read over the years. My father also taught me to review my finances on a regular basis. The approach evolved over the years and my reviewing capabilities have become more advanced. One of the most important reviews is my yearly review. In the spirit of the holidays, with free time to spare, I tend to pause and reflect on my accomplishments for the past year. During this time I also find the notes that I’ve generated in the previous year and draw conclusions on whether I accomplished the goals I set for myself.

For me, good reviewing comes from strong goal-setting habits; that is the focus of my reviewing activities. Strong orientation towards my goals is what makes it possible. Both Darren and I have a strong tendency towards statistical analysis, so we might be spending more time on the review process, however, we draw some very good analytical conclusions from the time spent analyzing the data.

I’ve decided to make 2014 a year of self-quantification, where I will be able to quantify as much as possible in my life with as little friction as possible. For that purpose, I’ve been using Mint, Evernote, and Omnifocus. However, I feel the urge to expand this data set and include the extremely important metric of sleep.

Reviewing for me is not a simple review of my tasks, it is expanding the set and reviewing the critical components of my life: wealth, health and energy. The trick with accumulating all this information is to make it as frictionless as possible, so I can actually live whilst collecting information about the most important business, my life.

Reviewing gives us a sense of accomplishment when we are doing well and it corrects our course of action when we need to change tack.

How Darren Reviews

I review on a number of levels, the most regular of which centers around my eating and fitness habits, which I track using MyPlate and (to a lesser extent) Full Fitness. My daily reviewing habits tend to be quite sporadic and I go through bursts where I review consistently, followed by periods where I’m less diligent.

I have a longer ‘arc’ when it comes to goals and targets, but I always check in with myself regularly to think and reflect on where my current priorities are and what I’m trying to achieve. This year I’ve tried to simplify this by going with the “three words” method and focusing on Paradigm, Entity, and Partnership. This keeps me present in my goal-oriented thinking but it doesn’t remove the need for occasional, deeper reviews.

What I try and avoid doing is building a routine that requires me to have sizable blocks of time “set aside” to review, as my current lifestyle doesn’t permit me that degree of certainty about when and where my free time will occur. Instead, I try to seize opportunities to do “micro-reviews” as and when they occur. This could be a quick skim of my task list over a coffee, or it could be a 5-minute reflection on my goals whilst queueing for stamps.

Where to start?

Be warned: starting a reviewing habit from scratch takes effort. Reviewing your tasks and goals might be the easiest thing to start with. There are also numerous things that you can absolutely automate. Reviewing shouldn’t be hard, it should be something you are mindful of. We believe that review is one of the most rewarding phases of the CORE, as it gives us a sense of accomplishment when we are doing well and it corrects our course of action when we need to change tack.

Apart from focusing on tasks, you should truly review the thing that is currently the main focus of your life and build out from there. For example, if your main goal is to get in shape and fix your nutrition, you should be collecting data on those activities and make charts to see how well you’re progressing. Seeing the upward trend on your activity is a strong motivating factor.

When you accomplish this, you can slowly start implementing reviewing in other areas of your life, assessing the areas that need the most improvement. When you find something in need of attention, seek to understand the reasons behind your shortcomings and address them with an appropriate action.

There are numerous tools out there that could help you with the review, but from our experience, most of the charts and trends can be done with any spreadsheet application that resides on your computers and smartphones. If you want to go “Hi-Tech” you can always incorporate niche-specific applications that can help you evaluate specific areas of your life.

However, you choose to review, start small and build out to incorporate those areas of your life that are most important to you. Above all: Measure, Adjust, Repeat.