With so much on our professional plates, it can be difficult to set aside time to pause and reflect. Too often, we move from one task to another like a raging river, forging ahead without stopping to consider our trajectory. Though many of us like to feel busy (busyness equals progress, right?), motion without mindfulness can actually cause more harm than good.
Rather than constantly pressing forward with your many tasks and responsibilities, it’s a good idea to take the time to pause, reflect, and ask yourself a few thought-provoking questions. Reflection may seem like an activity reserved for yoga practices and meditation, but it is actually a crucial component of effective leadership. Regular reflection allows us the time and space to assess what is going well…and what could use a course correction. This includes course corrections we need to make within ourselves.
The application of reflection (and its cousin, meditation) is wide, and there’s a reason so many high-level businesspeople practice it on a regular basis: it works! Successful CEOs such as Jack Dorsey (Twitter) and Jeff Weiner (LinkedIn) understand the value of creating space to let your thoughts diverge from your regular set of tasks. Whether practicing formal meditation or simply setting aside “unstructured” or “do nothing” time, it is crucial to regularly remove yourself from your daily checklists and let yourself think in a different way. This can promote creativity and innovation, improve planning and goal setting, and allow you to consider different perspectives and options, or it can help you reflect on your own career or leadership.
There is no “right way” to practice reflection. However, to help you get started, I’ve listed a few approaches that have worked for me. I advise trying several of these tips to see what feels comfortable for you.
- Intentionally Set Aside Time
If you don’t block off time on your calendar for reflection, will you ever really do it? If you’re like most people, you probably won’t. Until regular reflection becomes habitual, it’s a good idea to intentionally set aside time for it. You might try reflecting in the morning, after important meetings, or at the end of the day—whatever works best for you.
- Reflect With a Purpose
Reflection doesn’t have to be aimless (although it could be!). Try centering your focus on a particular subject such as a particular project, an employee that is experiencing difficulties, or a recent meeting that you’d like to unpack so you can take follow-up actions. You can also reflect on things you’ve personally done: What has gone well and could be repeated? What didn’t go well, and how could you approach a similar situation differently next time? Additionally, if you’re suddenly faced with a difficult situation or an opportunity, you may want to pause what you’re doing and set aside time to reflect.
- Ask Yourself Bold Questions
Great things can happen if we dare to ask, “What if?” Challenge yourself to question the status quo and ponder what would happen if systems, roles, projects, etc. were changed. What if your organization changed its marketing approach? What if some of your team members shifted their responsibilities? What if you tried X instead of Y? Little progress is made by remaining stagnant, so be bold during reflection time and ask tough questions that incite change and forward momentum.
- Keep a Journal
It is often helpful to write notes as you reflect. You might even choose to write during your entire reflection time (letting your thoughts pour onto the paper as a stream of consciousness). Or, you could jot down ideas as they come to you. Or, you could write down the top takeaways from your reflection session. No matter how you choose to incorporate writing into your reflection practice, it’s usually a good idea to have a notebook handy. Ideas and passing thoughts can be easy to lose in the shuffle of daily life.
Regular reflection is a critical component of professional success. Without it, we tend to press forward through our work days without pausing to consider the path. By regularly practicing reflection, we allow ourselves the time and space to evaluate our options, plan, change tactics, or perhaps even overhaul an entire system. We create an opportunity for self-reflection and meaningful personal change. How might regular reflection bolster your career?
Juli Geske-Peer is the founder and president of Peer Performance Solutions, a company focused on enhancing individual and organizational performance. Her particular expertise is on facilitating exceptional leadership, relationship and accountability skills. Juli works with companies ranging from local nonprofits to multinational organizations. She is also the author of “5 Senses for Success: Strategies to Thrive in Any Arena” and was recently a guest on the ‘Leadership from the Arena’ podcast.