Not too long ago I was on a call with a client, and we got to talking about the things that she could improve.
We’d already done the big, obvious stuff; the client pipeline, the follow-up, laying the groundwork for scaling.
That’s all important stuff, but it’s still a small fraction of what a person does in a day. So, what should we focus on improving next? Nothing very obvious sprang to mind.
So I said, “You know, probably the way you’ll improve the most is if you take ten minutes every day to reflect and write about what happened, how things went, and how they could go better.”
She said, “I can see the value in that idea, but I’m not sure how I would keep myself from being upset about all the things I didn’t get done. I’m always thinking about the things I wanted to get done but didn’t.”
Well, I didn’t have an immediate answer for that, because, well, I always have things I wanted to get done, but don’t, too. How did I come to feel even-keeled about this, even with my Type-A ways? Finally I decided that it was this:
I begin with the assumption that I’m doing my best.
I’m not “phoning it in.” I care. I’m trying. I want to succeed, and I’m willing to put in the effort.
So when I reflect on the day, I’m rarely disappointed in myself. I’m not looking to wag my finger like a performance review. I’m looking at things that happened, trying to figure out why they happened, and figuring out what I could have done differently to have a different outcome.
Often, what this does is highlight the problems that are occurring, but that I probably wouldn’t notice until too late. For instance, if my lower back hurts, not only am I less productive (because it’s distracting and uncomfortable) my days lengthen to get my work done, which exacerbates the problem. By realizing, “Hey, things aren’t going very well today because I’m sore,” this triggers me to think, “I’d better take a break and do some yoga.” This seems small and petty and incredibly obvious, but it’s not something that happens automatically without that time for reflection.
The other thing is that when you identify reason for things, you can avoid the guilt spiral. On Tuesday, I only got three things done off my to do list. But when I reflect, I realize that I spent 4.5 hours wrestling with webforms, and THAT’s where the day went. Or, on a larger scale, I’ve realized that if I work all weekend (as I frequently do for the Amazon business) by Tuesday or Wednesday, my brain is on strike. So when I realize I’m grinding like a dying wind-up toy, I go with it. I don’t sit there hating myself because I just wasted two hours on reddit.
Don’t make this into a willpower issue
With this as with many things, the key to success is to make the best use of your time automatic. I subscribe to RescueTime, because then, several times a day, it will take over my computer, and direct me to write down what I’ve accomplished. It’s incredibly annoying, but I would never do it otherwise.
Mike Vardy, I’ve been told, has a special “Work Journal” that he fills out every evening before he shuts down for the day. There are also services like DayJot that email you at a preselected time, and when you respond to the email it creates a log.
It’s really hard to tell you exactly how things change when you start logging what’s going on… mainly because there’s nothing really that prevents you from noticing and making the changes on your own. But the issue isn’t that there’s nothing preventing you. It’s that there’s nothing triggering you to be mindful about how things could get better.
THAT’S the habit you want to form— the habit of reflection. And the bonus is that it replaces the habit of self-flagellation. Removing that nasty guilt trap will probably improve your productivity, too.