One of the best ways – some would say the only way – to keep tabs on where you’re at and where you’re headed in terms of being productive is by looking back on where you’ve been. It’s challenging to do this regularly. Really challenging. What’s more is that many people don’t do it at all. Doing this (or, rather, not doing this) is a recipe of mediocrity…or even organizational disaster.
All that aside, you can do this. You can review, reflect, revisit…whatever you’d like to call it…and you can do it regularly. I’m not going to outline what this consists of – there’s many different ways to do it and not one particular method works for everyone unilaterally. What I can do is present to you a plan on how to make sure you get to the act of doing it.
Write it out
Write it down. Write it ALL down. Electronically or with a basic pencil and paper, you need to have something to work with if you’re going to be able to reflect on anything. There’s tons of different ways to do this using either method. Popular ubiquitous software solutions like Evernote would be one way (yep, there’s even an app for that!), a digital recorder, grabbing a legal pad and jotting stuff down as you go are all effective – but only if you are consistent in doing so. David Allen deals with “capturing” as a regular practice, so all I’m saying here is to do just that. It goes hand in hand with reflection.
Read it out
So you’ve written it all down. Nicely done. Now you have to read it all. Of course, there’s a natural absorption that happens when you get it down on paper or on “screen” but you need to really read it to get it to stick. Much like there’s a significant difference between the terms “hearing” and “listening” – there’s a clear distinction between “note taking” and “reading.”
When you listen to someone – or to something – you really catch all the nuances in the message being sent. The subtleties are all there. If you’re a good listener, you rarely miss a beat. As you get better at it, the beats you used to miss come fewer and farther between. What’s more is that you generally get better at everything because your ability to pay attention becomes stronger.
When you hear someone, it’s just a noise. Listening makes the noise identifiable – and great listeners can get incredibly specific when identifying noise.
You have to read what you write. It’s the only way to separate the noise from what matters.
Block it out
You’ve written, you’ve read. Now what do you need to do to interpret it all effectively?
Simple. Block out the time you need to do it.
(Okay, maybe sort of simple.)
You must take the time to reflect. You’ve also got to take the time to schedule taking the time to reflect. So it’s not going to be very simple. It’s going to be quite difficult…at first.
Just like doing the reflection itself, it’s going to be very challenging to make the time you need to reflect in the manner that you’ll need to. You have to keep in mind that is a task – a responsibility that you owe yourself to fulfill in order to achieve more. A reflection gives you the tools to make this happen. You’ll be giving yourself the opportunity to take stock in what you’ve done and apply what you deem necessary to go further than you have before. A reflection doesn’t just provide a guide for constant growth and development – it provides the ingredients.
As with anything else, you have to make – and take – the time for this exercise. If you don’t then you’ll be taking part in another exercise – one in futility.
Act it out
This is the part where you actually do the reflection. Whichever way you decide to do it is fine. Just make sure you do it. ‘Nuff said.
“The unexamined life is not worth living.” – Socrates
As with all good quotes, Socrates hits the nail right on the head. To take it a step further would be to say that if you don’t examine your life regularly, you really have no life at all. What you end up with is a series of events that unfold around you while you react to them as best you can. The idea behind reflecting is that you put yourself into a very advantageous position: one where you become proactive instead of reactive. While you can never control what goes on around you in a direct manner, you can control how you handle them. If you reflect on a regularl basis, you will have the ability to control how you handle them in an effective and efficient manner. You’ll end up doing what suits you and the situation best, not just the latter.
Your ship will be rock solid…thanks to some regular rock solid reflection.
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