Why Regular Reflection Can Help You Become More Productive
- Define Your Areas Of Focus
- Identify Your Goals
- Perform Daily Reflections
- Perform A Weekly Reflection - AKA The Weekly Review
- Perform A Quarterly Reflection
It can be easy to fall into the pattern of working from day to day, week to week. Finding the time and motivation to learn how to improve or become better than you were before can seem like a huge task.
However, by building a practice of regular reflection into your life, you’ll notice huge benefits over time.
Being great doesn’t happen overnight.
Start small with intentional improvements and build upon those over time to allow for even more improvements.
“If we forfeit the opportunity to learn from our experiences, as the saying (sort of) goes, we condemn ourselves to repeat our mistakes.” - Ryder Carroll, The Bullet Journal Method.
In this article, I’d like to share with you the benefits of a regular reflection habit, how I incorporate this into my life to become better, and why you should consider adding this habit to your toolkit.
I hope you find this information helpful and it inspires you to try regular reflection for yourself.
Define Your Areas Of Focus
Before we can start reflecting on “what” we’re doing each day, it’s important to understand the “why” behind those things.
I’ve written before about the benefits of determining the why behind your work and how it can help to motivate you to work on tasks or work towards your goals.
The best place to start to understand the “why” behind your work is to define the things that you care about and the things that define you as a person.
The eagle-eyed among you may recognize this as being like the GTD top level of your Horizon of Focus: your purpose and principles.
Take some time to do a brain dump of what you would consider your areas of focus.
It doesn’t have to be right the first time but simply thinking about this can give a good indication of what’s important to you.
There’s also no one right way to do this.
My list has evolved over time but some examples include: Creator, Student, Friend.
For more detail on how others go about this process, I recommend listening to Episode 117 of the Focused podcast: Roles & Goals.
It provides some great insight into how other people establish their areas of focus or roles.
Identify Your Goals
Now that you’ve looked at and clarified the bigger picture, it’s time to set some goals.
I’ve talked about goals at length in previous articles including:
- Don’t Get Overwhelmed By Your Goals – Keep It Simple. Here I give you some tips and techniques for setting achievable goals
- Building A Consistent Writing Habit. Here I share with you a personal example of one of my goals, building a consistent writing habit.
Let me summarize the basics here:
- The goals you pick should align with your areas of focus. This will give you the motivation to keep going when things get tough and procrastination looms.
- Follow the SMART Goals technique - By following the SMART Goals technique for goal setting, you’ll clearly define effective goals that you are more likely to follow through on.
- Measure your progress - By measuring your progress as you work towards your goals, you’ll be more motivated to continue.
Now that we’ve covered areas of focus and goal setting, the next few sections will look at the different types of reflection and how they work.
Perform Daily Reflections
Daily reflection can be done first thing in the morning, before you end your workday, or before you go to sleep.
Depending on how you work, you may do all three of these or you may only do one.
The 2 daily reflections I carry out are in the morning and in the afternoon before the end of my workday.
First thing in the morning, I open up my bullet journal and plan my day.
- I look back at the previous day and migrate over any tasks I didn’t get done to today’s task list.
- I look at my calendar to see if there are any meetings or events today so I can be prepared for those.
- I then check my Todo list and write down my top 3 tasks for the day to guide me.
By doing this morning check-in, I can take the time to plan my day in a meaningful and relaxed way, free from distractions and stress.
Of course, my days don’t always turn out as I had planned in my morning check-in.
However, by having the afternoon check-in, I can reflect back on what derailed me and how I can prevent it from happening going forward.
- I start by clearing off my desk. Anything that has accumulated throughout the day gets removed to give me a clear space to work.
- I open back up my bullet journal and look at the task I completed.
- I make a short journal entry of how my day went:
- I comment on how my workload was to see if things were manageable or unmanageable.
- If I didn’t manage to complete one of my top 3 tasks for the day I can reflect on why it didn’t get done.
- I try to mention at least one nice thing that happened that day.
- I then make a rough plan for the next day based on my upcoming meetings, tasks, and priorities.
The afternoon check-in also provides me with a mental cue that once I’ve finished, I am finished working for the day.
I can move on and turn my attention to other things like making dinner or spending time with friends and family.
This is a great tip for people that tend to work long past the end of their workday as it can help you to reclaim your personal time.
The Benefits Of Daily Reflection:
- You can plan your day ahead of time to ensure you’re working on your most important things.
- By reflecting on how your day went, you can make course corrections to improve upon the next day.
- By journaling about your work or the things you do throughout the day, you might find some interesting insights you hadn’t thought about before.
- By taking note of things like your workload or stress levels, you can take steps to alleviate things when you become overwhelmed instead of burning out.
Perform A Weekly Reflection - AKA The Weekly Review
A weekly reflection/weekly review is done once a week to reflect back on how the last week was and to plan for the week ahead.
Not to complicate things, but I do 2 weekly reviews, one for my job and one for me. I find that by separating these 2 areas, I’m more effective at thinking and planning.
I do my personal review on a Friday and I’ve blocked off an hour in my calendar for it. This reminds me to do it and makes sure I don’t double book myself.
I’ve created a weekly review template in Notion so I don’t have to think about the setup as much:
- I create a new weekly review entry in Notion and date it accordingly.
- I review last week’s entry to get me in the frame of mind.
- I ask myself 4 questions:
- What went well this week?
- What should I start doing?
- What should I stop doing?
- What should I continue doing?
- These questions help to guide me to reflect back on my week to ensure things are on track.
- It’s important to reflect back on both the things you should stop doing and the things you should start doing. This allows you to get a bigger picture and to reflect on the positives as well as the negatives.
- Once I’ve reflected back on the last week, I start planning for the next week.
- This includes things like looking at my calendar to review any upcoming meetings or events and checking the deadlines on certain tasks.
- I’ve recently started time blocking my weekdays so I check in and see if anything needs to be updated on my calendar (hopefully more to follow on this once I’ve experimented with it a bit more).
- Once I’ve finished my weekly review, I close down my computer for the day and do something fun like play some video games or watch TV.
If you want to read about my weekly review in more detail, you might like to read this article: Restarting The Weekly Review Process.
The Benefits Of Weekly Reflection
- By reflecting on how the last week went, you can take concrete steps to improve the next week. This compounds over time.
- By asking yourself what you should start, stop, and continue working on, you’re constantly evaluating the things you do each week. This leads to continuous improvement over time.
- If you’ve had a crap week, a weekly review gives you the chance to reflect on that and then wipe the slate clean for next week. You can draw a line in the sand once you’ve done your weekly review and move on.
- Doing a weekly review session on a Friday gives you the weekend to relax and enjoy your free time without worry or distraction.
Perform A Quarterly Reflection
Each type of reflection looks at your life on a slightly higher horizon or level of focus.
Daily reflections show you the day-to-day tasks and activities you perform.
Weekly reflections show you how the day-to-day tasks and activities you perform impact your work, goals, energy, stress levels, and happiness.
Quarterly reflections look at the slightly bigger picture of your goals.
It gives you the opportunity to see how your daily and weekly tasks and actions have contributed to your success or failure at reaching your goals.
It also allows you to plan for goals you’d like to work on for the next quarter.
Before we continue here, I’d like to say that I’m an advocate for the 12 week year and set my goals on a quarterly basis. This insight came from reading The 12 Week Year by Brian P. Moran and Michael Lennington.
There’s so much more to say on the topic of a 12 week year but that’s for another time. If you’d like to learn more, I highly recommend you read the book.
Anyway, here’s what my quarterly reflection looks like from a very high level:
- I glance back over the tasks, projects, and activities from the last quarter to see what things I worked on.
- I look back on my goals from the last quarter and examine my successes and failures.
- I ask myself what things I should start, stop, continue working on (similar to the weekly review).
- If there are goals I’d like to continue with, I make some tweaks to them for the next quarter.
- I define 1 or 2 new goals I’d like to work on for the next quarter (using the SMART Goals technique).
The Benefits Of Quarterly Reflection
- You can look at your work from a higher level and focus on your goals rather than your day-to-day work.
- By reviewing your goals every quarter as opposed to once a year you’ll have more opportunities to succeed at the goals you set.
- If you’ve had a bad quarter or didn’t achieve a goal, you can reflect on why that was the case and work on improving it over the next quarter.
- If there are new things you’d like to try like a new hobby or a new skill you’d like to learn, a quarterly reflection is a great time to consider them. You can make a plan and incorporate these things into your life.
I hope you enjoyed reading this article and you found some value from the things I’ve shared.
Regular reflection is the best way to improve and even if you just started doing a weekly review, you’ll notice the results almost immediately.
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