Increasing Productivity:How Reflective Thinking Impacts Workplace Productivity

“Reflective thinking requires the continual evaluation of beliefs, assumptions, and hypotheses against existing data and against other plausible interpretations of the data.” — John Dewey, American educator.

“Reflective thinking turns experience into insight.” — John C. Maxwell, American author and leadership guru.

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: first, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third, by experience, which is the most bitter.” — Confucius, ancient Chinese philosopher.

As a savvy SuperCompetent, I suspect you take a few moments occasionally to examine your workflow process, carefully considering what works and what doesn’t so you can maximize your productivity going forward. Psychologists call this process “reflective thinking.” Whether you call it that or not, you almost certainly practice it on some level, because reflective thinking underlies and informs any effective workplace productivity schema. It also acts as a touchstone for how you react to new situations, especially emergencies and other crises.

Put simply, reflective thinking represents a process of learning from experience. You spend time in thoughtful reflection, integrating new knowledge, deciding how to handle specific situations in the future, and identifying what you want to improve. It may also include decisions about which practices to abandon, and which new ones to adopt. Ultimately, every change you make to your personal productivity efforts—every time you tweak a system, implement something new, or trim away something that no longer works—is rooted in this process.

In many ways, reflective thinking resembles metacognition, because it involves thinking about how you think and coming to terms with how you learn. Some researchers consider the terms synonymous, and at the very least, they do overlap somewhat. Certainly, both allow you to take positive advantage of your self-knowledge, whether in terms of your general education or, more specifically, in how you hone your productivity at work.

You can do your reflection and the resulting winnowing on the fly if you have to, and many of us do. However, I consider that akin to fixing a car as and when it breaks down. It keeps the motor running for a while, but eventually, things will grind to a halt as failures cascade through the system—failures that could have been avoided if you’d spend some time reflecting on the system overall, so you could find and correct the problems point by point.

Long-term success at any business venture requires you to occasionally step away and look at the big picture, so you can then home in on the “problem children” in your workflow. If you don’t already regularly set aside some time for reflective thinking, do so. Put it on your task list as a Priority 2 item—important, but not urgent—and keep those appointments with yourself so you can locate and fix the bugs in your workflow machine.

Reflective thinking has a second component that relates to but diverges from the metacognitive one, in that it bears directly on one’s ability to adapt to the changing work environment without either freezing up or going off half-cocked. This form of reflective thinking is the opposite of multi-tasking—which doesn’t give you enough time to really think about your situation—and the antithesis of the “fools rush in” attitude of doing something just to do something.

Admittedly, when events come to a head, you can’t just stand there doing nothing; you have to make a decision, probably quite quickly. As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, action beats meditation any day. That said, you need to contemplate the situation long enough to decide the best course of action. If you react too quickly, the results can be disastrous. So study the context and gather as much information as you can before you respond.

Effective communication requires the consistent use of this form of reflective thinking. If you say or write the first thing that comes to mind, especially in response to a tense situation, you may make things worse; whereas if you let things cool a bit and offer a measured reply, you have a better chance of remedying the situation.

As long as you don’t over-think things, both forms of reflective thinking positively impact your workplace productivity by smoothing out and tightening up your workflow. On the one hand, reflective thinking about your systems, processes, habits, and tasks can help you cut wastage and improve your personal efficiency. On the other, the “look before you leap” form of reflection helps you avoid unproductive situations and mistakes that might, ultimately, crash your personal productivity, at least temporarily.

So implement reflective thinking and its sibling, metacognition, in your personal action plan. Step off the merry-go-round now and again, so you can stop and think—and focus on what really matters. If it helps you get things done more efficiently and keeps you from making as many mistakes, then it’s well worth the effort.



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