I encourage my clients to find a way that works for them to reflect. This means setting aside some time to THINK. I get a lot of resistance, and understand that finding the time to reflect is difficult in their busy schedules. The thought of spending time along can be tough too, considering most of them (like most leaders) are action-takers. The idea of being still to reflect can be a bit disconcerting; it may not feel like anything is happening (but what if thought were considered “action”?).
The reality is that action without reflection can translate into being blind to what really needs to be done for ourselves and for the organization. We may be going down the wrong path. And by the time we discover this, it is too late. My colleague Steve Roesler calls this “Prognosis without Diagnosis”.
Learning to be proactive by looking back before we take the wrong turn is crucial. It means intentionally finding ways to slow down. It means that in our crazy-busy world, we have to regularly reflect on our actions and the reactions of others. How? It’s not as hard as you think. Instead of feeling like you have to spend large amounts of time reflecting, start by fitting a few minutes into your schedule every day.
Block out the time, every day; it takes discipline to make this a practice. Don’t let the though of finding a large chunk of time stop you – finding thirty minutes or even an hour may be too tough. Try blocking out fifteen minutes on your calendar for the next few months. Some find that first thing in the morning works, others may prefer lunchtime or the end of the day.
Turn off the electronic gadgets, including your computer and cell phone. Close the door and let anyone who needs to know that unless there is an emergency, you are not to be disturbed.
Ask yourself the right kinds of questions. Questions are a great way to get started. Open ended questions are the best thought starters. Some questions that you might use – or you can create your own:
- Did I follow the path I intended to in the last 24 hours? Why or why not?
- What path do I want to follow in the future?
- What makes the path important to me? To others?
- What have I noticed in others’ reactions to me today?
- What actions do I need to make to follow the future path?
Write down your answers. You can be efficient here. Don’t let the thought of “journaling” get in the way. Get a small notebook and answer your questions with bullet points; large notebooks and never-ending prose are unnecessary. I realize actual writing with a pen is out of fashion, but doing it this way will allow you to think through your answers.
Stay accountable: If you are self motivated, this won’t be a problem. However, you may want to discuss your answers with someone. For many leaders, having a “reflective partner” will help with accountability; the right partner can spur creative thinking. Consider scheduling time with a friend, colleague or your coach to discuss your reflections.
Stick with it: After a while, your “reflective practice” will become a habit – like eating or sleeping. And you’ll see the results – better observations and presence, decisions and clarity.
Fifteen minutes and bullet points! Is that so hard?