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How to do a Monthly Review

glasses on a monthly calendar

Fantasizing about all the things you’re going to achieve over the coming year is fun. But as anyone who’s made New Years resolutions will tell you, sticking to your goals is harder. This article will go through how to do a Monthly Review, which is key to keeping on track with your longer term ambitions.

What is a Monthly Review?

I’ll define what I mean by a Monthly Review, as opposed to a Weekly or Yearly Review. Whereas the Yearly Review is all about setting the direction, and the Weekly Review is all about executing, the Monthly Review is in between.

The main purpose is to check your systems are delivering what you’ve set out to do. It’s about checking progress against your goals, and correcting for any errors. The Yearly Review is about what you’re doing, and the Monthly Review is about how you’re doing it.

Thiago Forte, who I mentioned in my article on Second Brain calls it a systems check:

Think…of a master builder checking the structural integrity of a house. He’s careful, curious, reflective. He’s looking for cracks, for drips, for subtle patterns indicating something deeper is misaligned. He knows the house can withstand tremendous amounts of force. Earthquakes and hurricanes even. But one little misalignment and over time, a crack will widen straight through the foundation

Tiago Forte

Another way of thinking about it is at the level of tasks. If your Yearly Review is about Goals, and your Weekly Review is about Tasks, then your Monthly Review is more about Projects.

Your Monthly Review should also take a bit more time than your Weekly Review, but less time than the Yearly Review. An hour is usually enough.

Why should you do a Monthly Review?

So why do a Monthly Review at all? As with any reviewing and planning, it’s about knowing where you are, so you can make as much progress as possible in the future. But the specific reasons for the Monthly Review are as follows:

  1. It’s a long enough period of time to achieve some progress. We don’t tend to achieve that much in a week, but can make real progress in a month. So looking back over what you’ve done in the last month gives more satisfaction and motivation. It also means you can add some punchy goals to your system and make real headway before the next review. After a month, you can also see if things are working are not, and tweak accordingly.
  2. It’s a short enough period of time to catch any failings. Some people prefer to do Quarterly Reviews, but if you’re behind on things for three consecutive months, that’s usually too much time to recover it.
  3. There isn’t enough time each week to do an overview of your progress, and look back over your Yearly Plan. But you should be able to make that time each month.

How to do a Monthly Review

My Monthly Review process is influenced by the Getting Things Done method, by David Allen.

Here’s my step-by-step guide to doing your Monthly Review. I find it’s helpful to imagine you’re a mentor giving advice to someone less wise than yourself while you’re doing this – you want to be honest, but gentle.

  1. Set aside the right time. Ideally, you should have your Monthly Review blocked in your calendar for the same time each month. But unlike the Weekly Plan, which should be done on time, you’ve got a bit more leeway with this. If you do it early in the following month, that’s fine, as long as you get it done. If you’ve already done Weekly Reviews, then the Monthly Review should take no more than an hour. It’s also best to do any more in-depth reviews before your overall Monthly Review. For example, I do a Financial Review once per month that I complete before my Monthly Review.
  2. Gather any relevant data. If you’re into life metrics, then record these before you do your review. It’s also worth looking over your Weekly Reviews, calendar data, and logbook from your Task Manager.
  3. Look over your Yearly Review and Yearly Plan. It’s good to remind yourself of where you could have done better last year, and the things you thought were most important for this year. You can also cross off any goals that you’ve already achieved. For the remaining goals, now’s the time to check how far along you are. If you keep up this pace over the rest of the year, will you achieve what you set out to do? Have you hit the milestones you should have done by this point? If not, make a note of what you’re going to change. You can also consider whether – after working on them for some time, or having not got round to them – the goals you’ve written down are worth keeping. Now’s the time to change, delete, or add goals if appropriate.
  4. Review your habits, routines, and daily schedules. Are these optimised for helping you achieve your goals? If not, think about how to tweak them for the following month. It could also be that you have a different focus for the following month, which requires some adjustment.
  5. Make a note of what’s going well and what’s going poorly. This can be a free-form journal-type exercise, or bullet points. This needs to be as honest as possible, if you’re going to improve – remember to think like a mentor offering advice.
  6. Make a list of what you’re going to change in the following month. Again, be honest. You’re probably not going to completely rip up the whole plan and start again, but chances are it makes sense to tweak things. Don’t just think about these things, but write them down.
  7. Review your Projects. This is more of a tactical review, but for your Projects, rather than your Tasks. Look through your Projects for the year, and decide if you’re going to take action on any of them in the following month. If so, set the next action in your Task Manager. Consider whether there are any Projects you are going to put on the back burner, or delete permanently. A good indication is if you haven’t taken any action on them for a few months. If you’ve completed a Project, move it to the Completed list.
  8. Go through your Someday / Maybe lists. If you feel like you might have a little room in the next month, turn something from this list into a Project or Task. Chances are, the things you’ve put on this list are more important than whatever pops into your head throughout the month. After all, they’ve been there for a while without you deleting them.

What to do with it once you’ve done it

As with your Yearly Review and Yearly Plan, the Monthly Review should be a living document, albeit with a shorter lifespan. Every time you do your Weekly Review, get out your Monthly Review to check whether you’re doing the things you said you would. Make sure that looking over your Monthly Review becomes part of your Weekly Review process.

Summary

  • A Monthly Review is where you take a look at what you’ve achieved over the past month, and whether you’re on course to achieve what’s in your Yearly Plan.
  • This forces you to evaluate your systems. If you’re behind, you need to change things to get back on track. And even if you’re on course, you might need to tweak things to make sure you stay there.
  • There is also time to evaluate the goals themselves. If they’re not right, then now’s the time to change them.
  • The Monthly Review is the right time to review your Projects, rather than individual Tasks.

Further resources

Here are my favourite resources on the topic of Monthly Reviews: