If you are like me, the end of the year includes some time to look back and see what you have accomplished. You likely set some goals at the beginning of the year. How much progress did you make them? And further and probably more important– what did you learn from the experience? I use four tools to help me prioritize taking the time to reflect on what I have learned from my experiences.
At the end of each day, I take a few minutes to consider the day and write down what I accomplished – my daily wins. Some days those wins are big – and sometimes they are really small – like cleaning out my email! But even after a day that did not feel super productive I can always come up with items to note that I got done. It helps me see the progress I am making. One small step after another – moving forward.
First I take 30-45 minutes at the end of each week to do a weekly reflection. My daily wins journal helps remind me what I did over the course of the week. The weekly reflection is centered around seven topics and I answer the same questions each week. I focus on vision, awareness, needs, feedback, core skills, action and results. I begin each reflection by looking at the intentions I set for the week and think about how things went. Did it go as I imagined? What was different and why? Often times I am setting intentions around how I will feel during a piece of work – confident in a presentation or centered while facilitating a session. You can download my weekly reflection worksheet here.
At the half-year mark, I take a few hours to review my weekly reflection notebook. What happened? What were the ups and the downs? What patterns do I notice over the course of months? What did I take away from the experience? I use this worksheet to capture my notes as I review my weekly entries.
Yearly professional learning plan
To take this six-month review one step further I create a professional learning plan for the year. What do I want to learn over this coming year? I start by taking stock of where I am. What have I learned this past year? What does my current situation require of me? What do I currently contribute to my field?
Then I think about where I want to be in a year. What is the next year going to bring for me? What challenges am I facing? What skills and knowledge do I need to do my job more effectively? Will an upcoming project push me in a new direction? What does the field demand from a successful professional? When I look back on this coming year, what do I want to have achieved?
How will I learn the skills I am aiming for? This may include formal professional development opportunities – yet it likely also includes taking advantage of informal learning. By setting intentions about what I want to learn in the next year, I am ready when opportunity presents itself. Here is a template for creating your own professional learning plan.
For example, a couple years ago I wanted to learn how to sketchnote. I bought a book, read about it, watched some videos. Now when I attend conferences, I go with a sketchbook and a couple colors of pens and I sketchnote each session I attend. My notes may not be super pretty or incredibly well illustrated but they help me remember the session. – They are also a great conversation starter for those at my table!
Give yourself the gift of reflection
In our go-go culture, it can be difficult to find the time to reflect when there are so many urgent things going on in the present. Yet the benefits are great when you take some time to capture your learning as you go. Make an investment in yourself by giving a broader view at the six month and end of year point. Give yourself the gift of some reflective time to support your learning!
The new year is often a time that people step back and think about where they are in life. This is a good time to look back and think about what the year has brought you, what you have learned, what you have achieved. And what your hopes, dreams and intentions are for the coming year.
Developing a Practice
I have a weekly reflection practice that I developed and have practiced over the past five years. It gives me rich material to review at the beginning of the year to answer those questions. This practice came out of my experience at graduate school. I consider myself a life long learner. Yet the reflection we had to write after writing every paper was the bane of my existence. Too often I wrote it in the last 20 minutes before the submission midnight deadline. Deep reflections they were not.
My graduate cohort was prepping to go on our international residency to South Africa. We were discussing what would support us as we worked with our clients. Through a variety of visioning exercises, we culled our conversation into a few key concepts:
I saw these as all interrelated and remembered David Sibbet’s work on visual meetings and how mandalas demonstrate unity and holistic thinking. I then built on a set of daily reflection questions I had come across, adapting it and using these major topics as a framework. Download the tool for your own use.
Adding a layer
I began using it regularly through my work to set intentions as well as observe what I was learning as I went along. Because it is structured and now a regular practice, it makes reflection do-able for this reluctant reflector.
With this habit established, I then added another layer. At the six-month and year-end mark, I review my weekly reflections and look for insights and themes. I use different categories on large 11” x 17” paper to capture what strikes me as I review what I have written. These are:
Seeing the patterns
Even though I am no artist, I have also sketched the journey of the year. What were the twists and turns? Ups and downs? Significant events and memories? How did the year feel?
What have I learned? And what will I do as a result of that learning? With that in mind, what is my vision for the week ahead, months ahead, year ahead.
What is yours? Need help getting started? Get in touch with me for a complementary coaching session that can help you reflect on where you are and what your intentions are for the year.
I allowed myself to take a break yesterday. I had been traveling for a chunk of the week and felt weary. My body and mind were telling me I needed a pause. Yet our go go culture abhors the break. When you are at your job and you are not being super productive instead of encouraging people to listen to your body and take a break, most work cultures want you to power through. Or at least pretend you are busy.
Busy Bragging Rights
Powering through was what I have done most of my life. I’ve played the “I’m more busy than you” game. I remember the one-up manship as early as when I was in college. ‘Oh geez got a paper due tomorrow and I haven’t started.” “Oh you think that is bad – I have a paper due and a test tomorrow.” And it continues – the endless cycle of bragging who is more overwhelmed by work. Multiple articles and studies have been done recently on the idea that busyness is a new status symbol. “I am a very busy and important person – you have two minutes to make your pitch.” I spent much of my teens and twenties sleep deprived. I’m not interested in winning this game any more.
And today I just proved it doesn’t work anyway. After just 24 hours of a little rest and relaxation, I came back to my to do list fired up and moved through it with ease. I got more done today than I have in a while. And certainly more than if I had plodded through yesterday which would have spilled over into plodding through today.
We are not machines
A work ethic is critical. Yet lots of science is demonstrating that through our economy is made for machines – we have to remember we are actually NOT machines. In addition, much work today is now knowledge work that requires creativity and innovation. These require white space. They require all the things you were either told not to do growing up – day dreaming, for example. Or the things that weren’t necessarily valued - time away from work – play – time in nature. I don’t need to go to Arianna Huffington’s extreme of collapsing from exhaustion to agree with her assertion that our constantly busy ethic is killing us.
Is rest just to make you more productive?
At the same time, my argument is a little perverse – or at least still representative of our culture. My reason for a pause is to recharge to be able to get back to work and be more productive. I would call myself a recovering ‘productivity-a-holic.’ I can aspire to relaxing into taking a pause for the sake of taking a pause, rather than to just make me more productive later.
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