To Increase Productivity 20% in 10 days — Self-Reflect. (It is really priceless, so embrace it.)

Questioning that self-reflection is priceless?

Let’s get into the “why” of self-reflection straightaway to understand this invaluable ability. It strengthens self-awareness, which leads to growth, makes us happier through greater productivity and positive results, and builds and strengthens confidence, which reduces stress and anxiety.

If you are thinking yea, yea, right. Research has proven it.

A Harvard Business Study found that employees who spent 15 minutes reflecting and writing about the key lessons they learned that day improved their productivity by 22.8% in just 10 days, compared to a control group of peer employees who did not. Best of all, when the researchers assessed this group’s performance a month later, they maintained that higher productivity level.

These employees found patterns in their behaviors to work smarter, not harder.

What is it?

Self-reflection is thoughtful, deliberate, honest thought about what happened and the outcome. In reflecting on the steps that led to that outcome, we can determine what worked, what didn’t, and why. It is a time to consider what might have led to a different, better outcome.

This process sparks learning, which informs our future mindsets, decisions, and actions we take. It helps us improve by avoiding repeating mistakes, which causes frustration and unhappiness. Learning is a growth process, which requires being comfortable making mistakes or learning something unpleasant about ourselves or a weakness. So, it is a courageous activity.

My husband and I went to our 10-year-old nephew’s soccer game one Sunday afternoon. While talking with our brother-in-law, and to state the obvious, he mentioned how kids need to make mistakes so they can learn what to do differently or better next time. Then at the end of the game, I overheard another parent asking their child, “What did you learn today?” I smiled at that reflection question.

And Sara Blakley, the founder of Spanx, a clothing brand rooted in smoothing, body sculpting undergarments, often talks about her childhood family dinner conversations. Her Dad would ask her and her brother, “What mistake did you make today?” It is a spin on the “What did you learn today” question. They both gave their children permission to pause and reflect on their actions, behaviors, and experiences. Then, the conversation would turn to how to improve next time. Sara and her brother have never felt bad or as though they were disappointing their parents if they made a mistake. They learned early on mistakes or thinking about how to be even better leads to learning and growth. And now that 10-year-old soccer player is too; what a gift these parents gave and are giving to their children.

They were and are helping their children to develop self-reflection and how to do it.

As adults, we don’t have an external source to push us to reflect. We need to do the pushing ourselves, especially at work.

Think about what we all spend most of our time doing. We think about what needs to get done. We analyze our company’s financial results or sales, marketing, or customer service data, review processes for efficiency, and experience what we created for our customers to look for improvements. We then define processes or strategies to improve something and accomplish goals. And we may even go so far as to test ideas before implementing them more broadly to confirm the designed approach will work as envisioned. If not, we adjust it to make it better.

That is the same process and curious attitude we must take during our self-reflection. Humans are a set of behaviors, actions, and traits that can be analyzed. With an understanding of this analysis, we can define actions to strengthen further and improve. We should examine our results, experiences, or behaviors and then define steps to improve or perform even better.

So, why don’t we do it? There are several contributors, some of which you might relate to.

We don’t know how to do it, or knowing where to start can be overwhelming. I’ll help with this one in a minute.

We might fear disappointing others, and we, therefore, fear self-disappointment. We need to recognize the disappointment but to grow, we need to get through the irritation and vulnerable feeling and shift our mindset to learning. The focus needs to be on determining how we could have done something better to produce a different outcome.

Some individuals like knowing stuff or being a subject matter expert. And most of us possess expertise in our career fields, whether finance, engineering, sales, healthcare, or law. So we are uncomfortable with the initial feeling of unknowing. We need to adopt a curious mindset about ourselves to get comfortable with unknowing. This mindset will lead to great knowledge.

Or, for some, sitting quietly and thinking can feel unproductive. We may have a seemingly unending list of pending deadlines or get energy from completing projects or tasks. Self-reflection can feel like we are not producing or accomplishing anything.

We can’t see an immediate result, so we want to move on to doing something to feel productive. But, once you start self-reflecting, you’ll realize this is so far from the truth it is a valuable time investment that will lead to greater productivity.

To be even more productive in the future, we need to set aside time to complete the same process I described earlier. The one we move through when we designate time to think about how to accomplish a work task or responsibility, define a path to achieving a goal, or determine steps to take to fix a problem.

Okay, now to some guidance on how to do it.

  1. Commit to doing it. Like the Harvard Business Study employees, set aside time daily on your calendar to do it. And don’t double book this time.
  2. Get in a curious mindset — about yourself — before you start.
  3. Ask yourself “what” or “how” questions during this time versus “why.” Why sets the wrong, negative tone and is not conducive to learning. Asking “why” feels accusatory, which can make us defensive. And be sure to include good performance or results to build on those.
  4. Write down a situation statement, the questions, and your answers. Consider organizing your questions by topic. Maybe you are working on a specific project, your collaboration-building approach, and how well others understand your communication. Or, you can focus on how you felt throughout the day. These categories might include excitement, surprise, frustration, and failure. Some questions might include:
    • Individuals
    • (Excitement) That project was a great success. How did I approach it to ensure the desired outcome?
    • (Project / Surprise or Failure) What data could I have analyzed to define better how to accomplish a goal?
    • (Collaboration / Frustration) I’m not working effectively with a colleague. How well do I know my colleagues, especially those I work with often? What is their family structure? What do they like to do for fun?
    • Managers / Leaders
    • (Team performance / Frustration) My team doesn’t appear to be performing at their best. How well do I understand each individual’s unique capabilities and cultural norms? What actions can I take to remove barriers for my employees so they can achieve their goals?
    • Colleague relationships / Excitement) My colleagues enjoy working with me. How did I create those strong relationships to continue to do so when I meet new colleagues?
    • (Leadership) How can I better lead by example to build and maintain a respectful culture?
  5. Start with 10 minutes, so it doesn’t feel daunting. Start small, experience the positive results, and you’ll naturally invest more time on this process.
  6. End your time by defining an action or step to take to improve something.

You will discover ways to strengthen your future work quality, build more connected, collaborative relationships with your colleagues, have a greater sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, and experience more joy and less stress.

In as little as 10 days, you will come to value this time investment and self-learning as priceless.