It was the breakthrough that we had been looking for. We had been talking for about forty minutes and my client was spinning their wheels the entire time. Was it a strategy that I had given? Was it a piece of advice? A new tool? No, it was a question that had allowed the person to reflect.
Researchers spent some time in a knowledge-based customer support and back-office service company (i.e. call centre) and conducted an experiment with a portion of its employees. Half the group was asked to resume their daily work activities. The other half was asked to spend the last fifteen minutes of their day reflecting on their learnings for that day and to record those thoughts in a journal.
After ten days of the experiment, the researchers stopped the study and looked at the data. What they found was that the employees who spent fifteen minutes at the end of each day reflecting about lessons learned, performed 23% better than those who did not take time to reflect.
Peter Drucker was quoted as saying, “Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.” Our time in quiet reflection helps us to think about the times we exhibited strength and the times we had challenges. It helps us to learn from our mistakes, build on our strengths, and interpret how conversations or interactions went that day. It gives our brain a chance to sort through the myriad of events of the day so that we can create meaning for that day. One of the best ways to learn is to use our own experiences and draw out the learning from each day’s events.
So if reflection is so great, why don’t more leaders do it? Simply put, we’re often too busy, our task lists are too long, we pack our schedules with back-to-back meetings, and for some, we don’t like what we see when we stop and pause.
So how can you fit time for reflection into your schedule? Here are a few ideas:
Schedule it: We make time for what we schedule. If taking time to reflect is in your calendar it shows that you have consciously blocked off the time. We are more likely to keep those times if they are in our calendar already.
Start small: For some of us, we try to dive head-first off the cliff before checking the depth of the water below. If you were training for a marathon, you wouldn’t start with running forty-two kilometers for your first run. It would discourage you and you likely would not run again. So start your time of reflection with five or ten minutes, and slowly build from there.
Ask yourself the tough questions: Having a set group of questions to lead you through your time of reflection can be helpful. So take care in creating them before you sit down to reflect. Some potential questions are: How have I meaningfully contributed to my work today? How have I meaningfully contributed to my colleagues and/or staff’s lives? When did I feel most alive today? What challenges have I overcome today? How did I hinder the growth of my colleagues and/or staff today? What obstacles did I not overcome and why? What did I avoid? When did I feel least alive?
Get comfortable being uncomfortable: Leaning into the discomfort of trying something new (in small steps, of course) can be the key to our growth. When we push ourselves to take a small step to the outer edges of our comfort zone, we avoid becoming overwhelmingly uncomfortable, but rather comfortably uncomfortable.