📓 Staying on top of what you do at work

Daily, weekly & monthly planning and retros

Niki Birkner
6 min readJul 23, 2021

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We have already learned in one of my past writings that when people remember and imagine, the same identical network lights up in the brain. This, says Donna Rose Addis, allows us to:

[…] troubleshoot upcoming experiences, to think through the way in which events might unfold, potential obstacles that might come up and the ways in which we might deal with those obstacles.

In this piece, I’m unveiling my system for staying on top of what I do at work, not making the same mistake twice, and avoiding dropping any balls. 🥁

Are you ready?!

Disclaimer: My process is set up in Asana, but there are many platforms where you could implement the exact same process (or you could use pen or paper, if that’s your style).

First things first

What is sprint planning and print retro?

Sprint planning is a Scrum term that refers to a meeting at the beginning of a sprint where the team decides what work will go into the upcoming sprint (usually 2–3 weeks worth of work).

Sprint retro is another Scrum term that refers to a meeting at the end of a sprint where the team reflects on what went well, what could be improved, and what they will be working on during the next sprint. (In case you’re interested: The word retro comes from the Latin prefix retro, meaning “backwards, or in past times.”).

And how does that apply to me?

When I was in college, I did a few internships in consulting, banking and the startup world. I never wrote anything down about what I was doing. Fast-forward a few years (or even months) later, when I was interviewing for my current job I came to the realization that I do not remember much of the impact I had in each of those past jobs. This was a light-bulb moment for me — I let the rush of life take over and I took no time to look back and reflect.

I promised myself that with the start of my full-time job at Asana, I would figure out a workflow for capturing the impact I’m having in a way that doesn’t feel too high lift and that can be made part of my routine. That’s when I came up with my “Priorities & Retros” workflow.

Photo by Michael Skok on Unsplash

The setup

Here’s the 10,000 foot view of my project.

This is my Asana Priorities & Retros project!

Notice a few of things:

  1. I have a section per each month, that makes it easier for me to “Collapse” sections when need be, and to track patterns every month closely.
  2. I have a Monthly Priorities task for each month, a Weekly Priorities & Retro task for each week, and a Daily Priorities & Retro task for each day.
  3. There are 4 main columns I use… a) Assignee — to make sure this is dropped in Asana’s My Tasks and it’s easily accessible, b) Date — the appropriate date or range, c & d) Focus Time & Meetings — these are number custom fields where I write down how many hours were spent focusing vs. in meetings, and then I can pull out interesting data from that!

Here’s an example of a daily planning & retro (with dummy data).

Notice a few things:

  1. I added a reminder to fill out the Focus Time & Meetings custom fields linked to this task!
  2. I write down all the meetings I have.
  3. I write down the things I’m working on actively (I have a clear, concrete next step I’m working towards), and passively (I’m watching something, or waiting for something to occur).
  4. I have a section for new work that comes up throughout the day.
  5. The emoji legend is one of the favorite parts! You’ll notice there’s an emoji before every bullet point. I add emojis at the end of my day as a reflection of where I’m at.
  6. Along the way, I reflect on what went well, what didn’t, and what I could do to do better tomorrow! I don’t always write these thoughts down, but it’s part of my routine to wrap up my retro by thinking through these questions.

Here’s an example of my weekly planning & retro (with dummy data).

It’s exactly the same as the daily planning & retro above, with one key difference:

  1. This one includes a day to day breakdown. As you’ll notice, I link the daily planning & retro tasks for each day of the week, and then summarize what I did. This then helps me reflect on what I accomplished for the week in aggregate.
  2. The emoji legend is the same as the one above.

On the emoji legend

Make sure you know what each emoji means before starting to fill your page with emojis! Also, a cool tip to make sure nothing falls through the cracks is to check for any of the ⚠️ or ❌ emojis in your daily and weekly retros. This will give you a sense of things that you weren’t able to complete that you might have to prioritize in days or weeks to come.

The process

If it’s in your calendar, it will for sure happen

I have 15-min daily retro slots in my calendar towards the end of every work day. During those 15-min, I reflect on what I accomplished for the day, and create my plan for the day ahead.

I also have a 30 min weekly planning on Monday mornings, and 30 min weekly retro on Friday mornings. I use this time to reflect on the week that just passed, and plan the week ahead. Why two meetings? The weekend so happens to be in between those days, and I’ve found myself more ready to start the week when I do my planning on Monday mornings (compared to Friday mornings).

Benefits I’ve seen so far

  • 😴 Better sleep: Doing daily retros allows me to close up my day and calm down my thoughts. I don’t reminisce much anymore because I know that my system has me taken care of.
  • 💪 More confidence: I now speak confidently about my achievements in growth and feedback conversations I have with my manager and teammates. I’m able to speak in depth about the impact I’ve had on the team, which allows you to take credit for all your hard work.
  • 👀 Give clarity to everyone in your team: It depends on how open you want to be with your teammates, but it might be good to share these openly so that people are aware of your priorities. I don’t share my daily planning & retros, but I for sure circle around my monthly priorities. This makes everyone around me clear, and also makes me more accountable for keeping my agreements.
  • 🚀 And many more! I don’t want to turn this article into a huge book, but this has improved my life exponentially.

To wrap up… It’s impossible to completely predict everything you will do on any given day, let alone week or month, but the goal is to get closer and closer to that. I know I’ve quoted this several times in my blog, but it’s so so relevant that I couldn’t resist:

“You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote towards which you are ceaselessly striving.”

— Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air

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