Take a Moment to Re-Assess

What a clumsy Vietnamese restaurant taught me about Personal Reviews

Reading time: 4 minutes

This essay was originally sent through my newsletter – INTERMITTENT INSIGHTS

A few months ago, I visited the most disorganized “restaurant” I’ve ever been to.

A modest but trendy street food joint with over fifty customers perching on tiny plastic chairs. Something like this:

There were 5-7 waiters, and none of them had a clue which table to deliver each dish.

Every time food came out of the “kitchen” (it was more of a food stall), a waiter would walk around feeling lost like a bee in a faux flower shop, trying to randomly guess the correct table.

There was no rule.

All servers could take orders, but no one would write them down. There was no division of sitting areas. It was total randomness, confusion, and running all the time.

As I was in awe, watching this remarkable scene, a waiter came by and gave me a free drink. He said that he couldn’t find who ordered it and that I seemed like a nice guy so I should have it. Sounds crazy but true. I swear.

Ironically, they found the client right after I took my first sip.

Lesson Learned

As I sat there, puzzled, I thought there was something to learn from this experience.

Sometimes, like those waiters, we are overwhelmed with everything going on (school, relationships, work), so we run on autopilot.

We think that if we took a moment to breathe and re-assess our situation, we’d drown in commitments. So we continue doing whatever necessary to stay afloat. Work harder. Even if it’s inefficient or counterproductive.

We are so caught up in the micro that we forget about the macro.

It would have taken the waiters less than five minutes to split tables, or agree to write down orders. With minimal planning, they could have boosted their efficiency, reduced their stress, and improved customer experience.

Derek Sivers faced a similar issue when running CD Baby. He was too overwhelmed to spend time properly training his employees, so he continued doing almost everything himself. Eventually, he burned out. Then, he realized that he had to take the time to train his personnel. It was hard, but afterward, his team started running the business and Derek could focus on improvements and innovations (the stuff that he liked!).

We can do the same when we feel that we are not running our life as much as our life obligations are running us.

It takes as little as 15 minutes/week to assess if you are spending time in the best way to move towards where you want to be. Then, you can figure out ways to improve.

Where do you want to go?

If you don’t have any vision or direction for your life, it’s good to spend some time figuring that out first.

If you cruise through life with no direction, you’ll be steered wherever the winds take you. Unfortunately, in society, there are powerful cyclones that will blow who doesn’t have a direction towards an unsatisfactory rat race.

Ikigai is a very useful framework to figure out where you want to go. Its basic concept is to brainstorm as many answers as possible to the following four prompts. Then look for common, overlapping answers.

  1. What you love
  2. What the World needs
  3. What you can be paid for
  4. What you are good at

You can take 30 minutes and do it right now. Here’s a template to get started.

“Vision is the bottleneck of talent. Most talent is wasted because people do not clearly know what they want. It’s not a lack of effort, but a lack of direction. There are many capable people in the world, but relatively few that focus on what matters.”
– James Clear

Assessing your direction

Once you have an idea of where you want to go, it’s crucial to set up some checkpoints along the way.

These will help you to assess whether you are moving toward your vision, or if needed, they can help you decide on a change of direction.

In the productivity world, these checkpoints are known as personal reviews. They can be done annually, monthly, weekly, or whenever you prefer.

The purpose of personal reviews is to ensure that you don’t get lost in the daily grind and keep in mind the grand scheme of your life. It was partly thanks to my regular weekly review that I decided to quit my job.

Week after week, I kept facing the fact that my job was making me miserable and not bringing me any closer to my long-term vision. After a while, it was natural to opt for a change of direction (I go more into the reasons for quitting in this article).

If you want to start the habit of a weekly or monthly review, it is best to start with something simple. Your habit will feel less overwhelming and easier to complete.

“The good program you follow is better than the perfect program you quit”
– Tim Ferriss

A weekly review can be as simple as having a Google Doc with five prompts on it, such as:

  • Review your life vision and set sub-goals for this week
  • What do I want to learn by the end of this week?
  • Did I achieve my goals last week?
  • What went well last week?
  • What didn’t go well last week, and how can I learn/improve from it?

I made a simple template you can copy here.

To make the habit stick, it’s useful to set up a recurring reminder on your calendar or task on your to-do list. I do it every Sunday.

You can set one up now → http://calendar.google.com/

As you make your weekly review a habit and become familiar with it, you can customize it according to your needs and preferences.

Some people might think that setting aside 15-30 minutes each week for a personal review would be a waste of their precious time. Especially when they already feel overwhelmed, lagging behind, unable to find a moment to relax.

I’m sure the restaurant waiters thought the same.

Ikigai Resources

Weekly Review Resources

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