The Reflective Practitioner: Five Ways Self-Reflection Can Improve Your Productivity

“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 bitterest.” – Confucius, Chinese teacher and philosopher, circa 500 B.C.E.

We all have experience with self-reflection, even if we rarely use it at work.
Remember when you did something naughty as a child, and your Mom sent you to timeout to think about what you did? That was a kind of reflection, or at least it was intended to be. (Whether it worked or not was up to you.)

According to David Boud, Rosemary Keogh, and David Walker in their book Reflection: Turning Experience into Learning, “Reflection is a generic term for those intellectual and affective activities in which individuals engage to explore their experiences, in order to lead to a new understanding and appreciation.”  Beyond childhood punishment, people have recognized the value of reflection for thousands of years, per the Confucius quote included above. Reflection clearly has significant value in helping you learn, which can help you boost your productivity—assuming you properly apply what you’ve learned to your continue endeavors. For most of us, this is an instinctual process; if you’ve truly reflected on your experience, you can’t help but be more reasonable, logical, and productive.

Here are five ways reflection helps you.

  1. It’s a powerful tool for improvement. It’s always good to stop and look back on your work. This applies to all the basic building blocks of your work-time: day, week, month, quarter, year. Take some time to think about what you’ve done, so you can deepen your understanding of it. You’ll probably instinctually adopt the workable tactics and discard the bad ones. However, thinking critically about what you’ve done may help you see situations where even a tactic that didn’t work could work elsewhere; or, vice-versa, discover that not all good tactics work equally well in all situations. Sure, you can use a chisel to hammer in a nail, but a hammer works better.

  2. It improves retention. Thinking on your accomplishments and errors ensures you retain what you’ve learned. One great way to increase retention is by writing down what you’ve already thought about, per the previous entry. Journaling works well because writing something down, whether longhand or electronically, can help you fix it in your mind. As my father taught me, “If you think it, ink it!” It also offers the advantage of letting you come back later and review what you’ve written, sometimes allowing for new epiphanies. Finally, the process of marshalling your thoughts to put them on paper in the first place may make things clearer as you write, providing new ideas to exploit.

  3. “Tell me, and I will forget. Show me, and I may remember. Involve me, and I will understand.” Confucius, to whom this quote is also attributed, was a wise man.  Most parents and mentors hope their charges won’t make the same mistakes they did, cautioning them about what will happen if they do… but as you know, the new generation almost always makes the same general mistakes anyway. Experience teaches, and the reflection that follows drives the point home. Personal growth is a by-product—as long as you understand your experiences.

  4. It leads to abstract understanding, and so on. Thinking about your past actions not only helps cement them in your memory, it also helps you take what you’ve learned and apply it to other experiences and potential experiences. This then allows you to plan better, to experiment, and try out what your reflection has taught you, which leads to more experiences to reflect on, and the cycle begins anew.

  5. It develops problem-solving skills by letting you discover what works and what doesn’t in each situation. As much as it would be nice to viscerally understand the advice others give you, again, you probably won’t really get it without accumulating harsh experience—and then reflecting on how you’ve dealt with it. Without reflection and experience, it’s hard to reframe a problem as a solvable challenge.

Reflection as a way to improve work practice has become popular only in the last few decades, but it can reap a significant harvest in increased productivity. Whether you realize it, you probably use reflection to help you anyway. So, formalize it. It’s simple; to quote the philosopher Blaise Pascal, just “sit in a quiet room alone.” Journal, talk to someone or yourself, or just think about your work and how to make it better. Use the above methods and others, and you’ll see your productivity soar.

About Laura Stack, your next keynote speaker:

© 2019 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored eight books, including FASTER TOGETHER: Accelerating Your Team’s Productivity (Berrett-Koehler 2018). She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and a member of its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at an upcoming meeting or event, call 303-471-7401 or contact us online.

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