It’s dangerous to mistake busy work for great work. Because, if not tamed, busyness kills leadership. How many of us waste our time and energy running on the treadmill of life, trying to keep up? Far too many.
Busyness leaves us stuck in jobs we don’t like. Stuck in relationships that cause us harm. Stuck in situations that leave us stressed. Great leaders harness the power of reflection to get off the busyness treadmill.
You need to learn to stop doing busy work, so you can focus on doing great work. If you’re going to focus on your best work, you must breakaway from busyness and make time to reflect.
Reflection is the process of examining one’s own beliefs, motives and actions. The kind of reflection I’m talking about is not the idle navel gazing kind. It’s the kind of reflection that helps you make time to figure out what’s working, what’s not and what needs to change.
The Value of Reflection
“Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.” – Margaret J. Wheatley
One of the many reasons leaders fail to improve is the lack of regular reflection. They don’t make time to learn from their experiences, to make the adjustments to grow and improve. A regular habit of reflection provide leaders with the following benefits:
- Reflection helps leaders to examine their actions, underlying assumption and core beliefs
- Reflection helps leaders learn from their mistakes, failures as well as successes
- Reflection helps leaders make better choices and decisions
- Reflection helps leaders manage their emotions, so they can respond effectively and not react to situations
- Reflection helps leaders increase their level of self-awareness resulting in personal growth
- Reflection helps leaders expand their perspective when facing difficult problems and situations
- Reflection helps leaders clarify their vision, purpose and values during uncertain times
Reflection is an opportunity for leaders to create a life of purpose and vision. Helping them respond to events, people and circumstances in a proactive way, therby strengthening their leadership skills.
How to Make Reflection a Daily Habit
The process of reflection doesn’t come naturally to many of us. Often the last thing you want to do is sit down and think! To overcome this resistance it helps to make reflection a daily habit.
The habit of reflection involves setting aside regular time to think about your day, asking yourself some simple questions. Questions like, what happened, why it happened, how you reacted and what you can lean. The following steps will help you develop a regular habit of reflection.
1. Schedule Regular Time to Reflect
You can start by booking out 5 – 10 minutes each day or some time once a week. A good example is George Shultz, the US secretary of state in the 1980s, who made it a habit to reflect for an hour every week.
Taking time to reflect does not happen automatically, like all important work, it must be scheduled. To be effective reflection must become a regular habit. The best way to do this is to schedule regular uninterrupted time, in a quiet place, where you can focus.
“He sat down in his office with a pad of paper and pen, closed the door and told his secretary to interrupt him only if one of two people called:
‘My wife or the president,” Shultz recalled.’” – David Leonhardt, You’re Too Busy. You Need a ‘Shultz Hour.’
2. Start with a Few Questions
A small set of focused, open-ended questions is a great way to kickstart the process. Using questions as as guide to kickstart the process and help you focus.
3. Keep a Journal
Keeping a journal is one of the best ways to reflect, writing brings clarity to your thinking. Using a journal helps to slow down the thinking process, it makes your thoughts visible, helping you to see events from a fresh perspective.
Reflect on Your Day
The most common way to reflect is by thinking back on past experiences, situations and events. Reflecting on the past helps you observe your experiences from a fresh perspective. Reflecting allows you to think clearly with less emotional bias, it helps you understand what happened, why it happened and to learn the lessons to grow and improve.
The process of reflecting on your day is simple. At the end of each day set aside some time to reflect on the day’s events. Find a quite place, take along a notebook and ask yourself the following questions:
- What happened today?
- Why did it happen?
- What’s working?
- What’s not working?
- What needs to change?
- What did I learn?
- What’s next?
Reflect on Your Reaction
After reflecting on the day’s events, you need to think about your reaction. Thinking about your reaction is important as it increases self-awareness and leadership effectiveness. Some of the questions you can use to help you reflect on your reaction to events are as follows:
- How did I respond to the day’s circumstances, events and people?
- What did I do?
- What should I do next?
- How well did I do?
- Do I see any patterns in what I did?
- Where could I use this again?
- What was important about it?
When to Reflect
“Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.” – Peter Drucker
Developing a daily habit of reflecting at the end of every day is a great start. There are also specific times when you may want to dedicated time to reflect for a specific purpose.
- Annual Reviews: At the beginning of each year it’s useful to schedule time to conduct an annual review. The start of the year is a great time to clarify your vision, purpose and goals.
- Weekly or Monthly Review: A weekly or monthly review is the practice of setting aside a regular time to pause, reflect and plan for the week or month ahead. It’s a useful way for leaders to regularly reconnect to their purpose, vision, goals and commitments.
- After an Event: Just had a project failure? A project success? Had a fight with someone at work? A friend? These kinds of events are great opportunities to pause, reflect and ask yourself what happened? How did you react? What would you do differently next time?
- When You’re Off Track: Then there are time what you feel off track in your personal a professional life. You may feel stressed, sad, unhappy, off purpose and demotivated. When feelings surface it’s a signal that you may need to pause, reflect and regroup.
All leaders make regular time to pause and reflect on what’s happening. By doing this they learn, grow and improve their choices and decisions.
Take a few minutes and schedule 10 minutes of uninterrupted time for reflection.
Next time you find yourself stressed out or overwhelmed make some time to reflect.