Think Bigger

The weekly habit that’s helped me launch my business and travel through 53 countries

One of my favorite quotes is from Albert Einstein: “Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it … he who doesn’t … pays it.”

You’re probably thinking this refers to finance, but the same principle applies to your day-to-day life. A burst of motivation for a few weeks feels great, but the more important changes happen over years or decades. You can either win with these slow, steady changes (if you have a system for implementing them), or you lose (if you’re making inconsistent bursts of progress but everyone else is slowly, but steadily, passing you by).

I spent years reading personal development books and blogs. (So so many books…) Setting goals, trying to improve my life, and generally thinking I was making progress. I was getting tasks done, but the life I really wanted seemed far away, and I didn’t know when I’d get there.

I’d set annual goals (that I sometimes met), tried new systems for a few weeks or months, and started habits that fell apart when I went on holiday, started a new job, or changed goals.

I was making one-off “bursts” of progress, rather than the continual, compounding progress that I knew I needed for sustained change.

So, I made a shift in my system and started incorporating my weekly review.

The weekly review (aka “The Rich Life Operating System”)

I’ve been reviewing my life weekly for the last eight-ish years. The weekly review serves as my “operating system” to implement personal development initiatives, make sure I progress on projects, and appreciate my life. Here’s how it works:

  • Every week I sit down with a coffee and think about what happened last week.
  • I write down things I’m happy about, where I think I can improve in any aspect of my life.
  • And I make sure I’m making steady progress in the areas of life that are important to me.

It’s simple. But most useful things are.

It looks like this:

My current format (in PBWorks)

This all goes in an online journal (I use PBWorks), which makes it hard to lose, searchable, and easy to do while traveling. I expect I’ll be able to do it for the rest of my life. (You can download a simple Google Docs template here.)

When I started doing this myself, it didn’t seem to be making much of a difference (after all, it feels much better to be inspired by a blog post or TED Talk and hustle over the short term), but looking back on the last eight years, the difference in my life is shocking.

I’ve been able to:

  • Launch an online business (starting from complete scratch)
  • Travel to 53 countries (see the lead image of this post for proof!)
  • Teach myself how to make Android apps and a balloon dog
  • Start a podcast
  • Run a marathon (after two failed attempts)
  • Start a TEDx event
  • Become a qualified professional engineer
  • Move to the UK (from Canada)
  • Qualify for MENSA

Surprisingly, I STILL feel pretty lazy compared to most people that are “hustling.” But just like compound interest, you don’t need massive bursts of progress if you’re making a little progress very regularly.

Here are some things I’ve learned about keeping this system going.

Make it easy to do for the next 20 years

Most habits fail because they’re too inflexible. Don’t make the mistake of creating an overly rigid system that relies on you answering a list of 10 perfectly optimized questions. Start simple, only add complexity after several months if you really want to.

When I started my weekly review, I used to ask very specific questions (“what did I learn this week?”) that sometimes didn’t have really great answers.

My first weekly review — I abandoned this format because it was demotivating to leave some categories blank

After a year, I shifted to a more general format that worked a TON better because it was easy to write things down.

I’ve used a similar format since 2011

My review is now centered around two themes/questions:

  • What were some highlights last week?
  • What do I want to do next week to ensure more of these?

Both of these always have an answer even if I’m on holiday, change jobs, or get really busy (e.g., they are better than “was I grateful this week?”, “did I go for a run three times this week?”, or “what new person should I reach out to?”, all of which I’ve tried and quickly eliminated), and have been central to my review for the last five years. Other questions have changed, but these have always stayed the same.

This is the imperfect system that I can actually do for a long time.

Here are some questions I suggest you start with:

  • What were some highlights last week? (“called my sister,” “pitched Sean an article for GrowthLab,” “one of my readers landed a TEDx talk”)
  • What do I want to do next week to improve my life? (“make a list of people to pitch guest posts to,” “negotiate bank fee,” “book a trip to Spain”)
  • What am I afraid of right now? (“I’m a bit nervous to raise the price of my course right now, because I don’t want my subscribers to think I’m greedy or out of touch with my true value”)
  • What do I wish I would have done differently? (“I didn’t go to the gym at all last week”)
  • Check in with your current projects – what progress did you make this week?
  • Any affirmations you want to remind yourself of (optional)

If mine don’t resonate, what’s important is that your prompts:

  • Are easy to answer (“wins for the week” is easier to answer than reflecting on various categories of your life, like “how did I get better at parenting this week?” It’s also more motivating to have a big list of wins than to leave some of the categories blank)
  • Reinforce positive behavior (“did you hustle every day this week?” can be demotivating vs “what did you win at?”, which always has a positive answer)
  • Have different answers every week (e.g., “what are you grateful for?” can easily be the same every week of your life, but your wins of the week are also things you can be grateful for, but these things are in your control)
  • Are goal-agnostic (“did you pitch three guest posts?” might be good for now, but in five years you’ll likely have different goals)
  • Are flexible — I change my questions every few months or years whenever I see the value of reflecting on something new (e.g., “what am I afraid to do?” is a new addition)

Remember, this isn’t a replacement for other habits and systems (i.e., a to-do list, a health/fitness habit, your business tasks, etc.), but rather, the underlying system that can transcend all of it. It’s the operating system, not the app.

You should be able to easily keep this same habit up for the next 20 years. That means it can’t be based on a specific life goal, city you live in, business, or career. It should be insanely easy and flexible.

Write it down

What are some of your highlights from 2014? Chances are, you spent a ton of time on personal development efforts and made real progress in your life, but do you remember any of it?

A written weekly review makes it simple to remember how you’ve moved forward in your life, and looking back on these insights is a ton of fun. I do that each year in a yearly review for easy referencing:

A portion of my 2014 year-end review

This ability to review the victories of the past not only makes you appreciate how far you’ve come, remembering these victories helps form the habit of always moving forward.

I write down wins from the day as I notice them (I made an app so I can be reminded to do this and track wins whenever I have my phone with me, but you can use a notebook or piece of paper), roll these up into a written review for the week (on PBWorks, but you can use Google Docs, Evernote, or whatever tool you like), and summarize highlights for the year (also in PBWorks).

Use an email reminder (not a notification)

I use a recurring calendar event with an email reminder. Emails are harder to dismiss than a notification.

8 years later, I still use a recurring Google Calendar event with an email reminder (and link to my review) to stay consistent

At least half the time my review doesn’t happen on Saturday, and certainly not at the same time, but I’m more concerned with consistency than with maintaining a set schedule.

The email reminder ensures whenever I look at my inbox, I’m reminded that I still haven’t done my review for the week.

If it happens on Tuesday and not Saturday? Great. Still happened. Flexibility (not rigidity) is the key for consistency. If you have the choice between stopping this habit and making it easy on yourself, choose to make it easy on yourself.

Celebrate as much as you can

This week I’m happy about three new Tinder matches, buying some fresh roasted coffee, trying a co-working space for the first time, and sending an email reaching out to an influencer in my industry.

Get in the habit of celebrating anything you possibly can.

By noticing every tiny victory you have, you train your brain to recognize opportunities to create more of them. Victory isn’t just a positive result, it’s positive action. Noticing and celebrating these things is the key to developing the habit of creating more of them over the long term.

What have you done this week that you’re proud of? At first, calling your mom, having one less sugar in your coffee, spending 20 minutes reading a business book, or publishing one blog post doesn’t seem significant, but they’re all worth identifying and celebrating.

What about now, this very moment? No matter how far along your career or business is, where you are in the world, or what you’re planning to have for dinner, there are tiny steps you can take to make your life richer. Alone, they’re insignificant steps in an insignificant day, but as part of a regular weekly review habit, they can add up to something huge. I’ve seen it happen firsthand.

The Rich Life you want doesn’t have to involve a ton of “hustle” if you’re willing to make tiny, consistent changes. It doesn’t have to be years or decades away, you can start creating it today.

Stuck for ideas? I’ve got a suggestion — start your own weekly review.

I put an email series together to help get you started. You can sign up here.

Did you start your own weekly review? I’d love to hear from you (and I’ll celebrate this for my own review)!

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There Are 24 Comments


reshanda Yates

I love the insights you uncover behind flexibility vs. rigidity. Also, after using this system for a few months now (since January 15), I can say I’ve been much more aware of what goes right daily than what goes wrong. It is extremely easy to adapt to your existent routine.

For example, I journal and have since I was 13 (I’m 36). But now, for my weekly reviews, I simply thumb back over my journal each week and remind myself of my wins for the week, learnings, etc.

I love that I now have this summary of my weeks being recorded in a way I can easily skim over every quarter and end of year and see my progress.

I love these tips! I’ve done an annual review for a few years now, and only recently started a monthly one as well. But…like the picture you painted of your “before” life…it’s been pretty inconsistent. The idea of a weekly review that incorporates more than just business achievements really appeals to me.

That’s it. I’m in.

I’m even going to set a reminder to come back to this post and comment again 52 weeks from now. (Accountability, baby!)

Thanks for the inspiration – and congrats on the balloon dog 🙂

Hey Ryan – great article, I really enjoyed this. I have something similar on a daily basis: a recurring calendar reminder at 4:30pm to a) make sure all the incoming tasks for the day have been captured on my master list and b) plan what I’m going to work on first thing the next day. I really like the weekly review too, I’m going to start implementing that.

And hey, I didn’t realise you were the person behind TEDx Leamington Spa! I actually grew up right down the road in Kenilworth, and lived in Leamington for a couple of years. Lovely town.

hey Andrew! small world.

I started doing a review (a la GTD) that was task-focused. I still do make sure tasks are done, but use this more for victories (eg: “talked to a cute girl” etc).

I have a similar system, inspired by Tim Ferriss: . I have a list of big ProjectsI like to tackle, like Fitness and business.

Everyday I journal about what have I do to improve on them
and set up concrete goals for the next day.
I like that System, because thinking in days not in years keeps me focused on improving the small subaspects. I usually focus on huge undefined ambitions like getting fit but that gets me into paralysis by analysis.

The only Problem I got with that is, that I dont work on every part of my life everyday, so it does feel rigid and pressuring. I gotta figure out a way around that.

Hey Ryan – I’ve started doing this every week since your post was published! Loving it so far, and particularly finding your tip of setting up an auto-email so worthwhile. Cheers!

Great idea! I noticed my productively and feeling of accomplishment increase dramatically when I started using Todoist to schedule the things I needed to do. I spend much less time trying to remember everything that I need to do because I know I have a plan.

Big “tasks” can usually be broken down into a series of smaller steps that I can schedule out into the future.

Adding this weekly review into the mix will really promote more reflection and confirmation that I’m heading in the right direction. It’s the perfect way to wrap everything up!

I’ve been doing something similar for a long time, based on ideas in Earn1K. I’d notify myself each week to fill in a Google Form of weekly review questions. But since it is a Google Form, so it A) is very hard to review the past answers because it is in a big long spreadsheet and B) hard to change the questions from week to week as my priorities change over time.

I’m taking your suggestions! Great article!

Stephen Idahosa

This might actually work. I will try this out. I am actually in a very challenging stage in my life as a startup founder and I think I need all the help I can get in terms of tip on how to scale.

Great to hear! I’ll have to credit Ramit with the auto-email tip though — that’s a blast from the (2009 or so) past 😉

Keep it flexible and easy to keep doing for the next few decades. This process has helped keep me sane and moving forward in a lot of areas 😉

“Big “tasks” can usually be broken down into a series of smaller steps that I can schedule out into the future.”

Yep..but sometimes you can’t schedule every little task…sometimes all you need to know is “keep moving forward”.

Often the big, scary projects (eg: starting a biz) aren’t comprised of things you can forecast every step of.

Thank you Ryan!
It was a delightful read. I particularly liked your upbeat tone and an inspiring CTA – start your own weekly review.
I started incorporating your weekly review a few weeks ago, after I came across your recommendations in the ZTL Vault.
And immediately I felt like I’d made a major improvement.
I am not new to weekly reviews. I have been doing them on and off for a while, I also love journaling and do it almost every day. I’ve been setting all sorts of goals and followed through with some of them, and didn’t with the others… But I’ve always been using paper, paper diaries, notebooks, pieces of paper. Great because I totally love it. Not too great because I hardly ever dig out my diary from 2009, easily find the right page with the date I want and identify what I was planning, hoping for or writing about back then.
The examples of your first entries from 2009 made it crystal clear for me that it makes so much sense to write the weekly reviews online, they are just easy to track, to search, and to fill out. It’s simple.
And that’s how I went ahead and created a Google doc with a few questions, wondering why I haven’t done it before. I also appreciated your real-life examples and the idea of 2 main themes/questions. Thank you!

This is a great method. I love to write down ambitious goals that never happen. A to do list for me is more often a list of what won’t get done ha ha. I am trying focus more on marketing, which is a must. I like the idea of the flexibility because then you can see what you did right and what you want to do next week.

Christian funicelli

I love how you emphasize celebrating the littlest of wins. I am at sq 1 of my career and my life (just out of college) but i have a very clear vision that will take time to bring to life. I make consistent baby steps but it is hard to appreciate when i am still struggling. The point you just made reiterates the fact that i have to be proud about and it is okay to “celebrate” even those baby steps! Great read!

Thank you Ryan.
I was looking for something like this a longer time ago, don´t know why i stoped searching/thinking.

But this is perfect and also reminds me at a good moment to start, so I am doing the first know after I set the weekly reminder.

this convinced me to write a comment (normaly i just don´t like to comment stuff)

Did you start your own weekly review? I’d love to hear from you (and I’ll celebrate this for my own review)!

Akash Thakkar

Easily one of my favorite reads on Growthlab! Glad I stumbled upon it right as the new year rolled around!

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