Want to Get Better at Your Job? Build in Time to Reflect

April 10, 2017

A recent study found that reflecting improved performance by 23% in just 10 days!

In 2016, researchers from three universities – including Harvard Business School – conducted an experiment with call center employees. For the experiment, call center employees were separated into two groups: a control group and another that was encouraged to spend 15 minutes at the end of each day reflecting about how their day went.

After just 10 days, the call center employees who set aside time for reflection each day were outperforming the control group by 23 percent. 

Also in 2016, Harvard Business School conducted another similar experiment. In it, they took a group of professionals and encouraged them to reflect each day during their commutes home from work, and compared that to a control group. The researchers found employees who used their commute time to reflect weren’t just more productive at their jobs and less prone to burn out, but also happier with their lives overall.

The point? Building in reflection time is not only good for your mental health, it’s critical for improvement.

“More often than not, we try to forget and move on,” LinkedIn Learning Instructor Tatiana Kolovou said in her course, Building Resilience. “We rarely make ourselves go back and carefully reflect. But, in fact, reflection is among the most valuable and most under-used processes of learning.”

Reflection is already a habit of many successful people

This idea of building reflection into your day is something many highly successful people do already. Here are three examples:

  • Benjamin Franklin might very well have been the godfather of this practice. The Founding Father dedicated time each evening to “examining the day,” and all he did was introduce the idea of electricity to the world, become the most famous newspaper columnist of his day and helped lead a revolution that would forever change the world.
  • LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner schedules at least 90 minutes of reflection time each day. Why? “As an organization scales, the role of its leadership needs to evolve and scale along with it,” he wrote. “I've seen this evolution take place along at least two continuum: from problem solving to coaching and from tactical execution to thinking strategically. What both of these transitions require is time, and lots of it. Endlessly scheduling meeting on top of meeting and your time to get these things right evaporates.”
  • Jack Dorsey, who astonishingly serves as CEO of two companies – Twitter and Square – dedicates each Sunday to “reflection, feedback and strategy.” And he does so for much the same reasons as Weiner, as he believes that reflection time is critical to ensuring both of his organizations and the people within them are headed down the right track.

The bigger point is this: without reflection, your life will always be focused on action. While that’s great, often you need to reflect on if those actions are the right actions and if you could be doing those actions more effectively.

But, if you never stop to reflect, you’ll never give yourself that opportunity. Not only does this risk burnout, but it also curbs both your performance and your ability to be strategic.

Okay, so how do I reflect?

It’s great to want to reflect. But there are two parts to making it a reality.

The first is scheduling time to reflect. Because if you don’t block out chunks of your day for it, it won’t happen.

“Make sure you make that time for yourself – everyday and in a systematic way – and don't leave unscheduled moments to chance,” Weiner wrote. “The buffer is the best investment you can make in yourself and the single most important productivity tool I use.”

Second, there’s the actual process of reflection. This varies widely from person-to-person. For example, introverts tend to prefer to reflect alone, whereas extroverts prefer to talk things through with other people.

The bottom line is you need to find out what works for you and make the commitment to do it. Because, as Harvard researchers uncovered and what Benjamin Franklin already knew, scheduling time for reflection can lead to drastically increased performance – and a happier life.

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