Do less, reflect more: hit your goals faster 

They say the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over, expecting different results. If that’s the case, maybe we’re all in trouble.

Consider this: For Powrsuiters, the biggest self-reported barrier to professional development is busyness. That’s right; women leaders are too busy being busy to learn how to free up time. We strongly suspect there’s plenty to free up. Take our recent article (and podcast) about the 80/20 rule – the theory that a small proportion of our effort delivers the bulk of the value. Unless you’ve now slashed a bunch of time off your to-dos, you’re still probably doing a lot of unnecessary tasks

Wasted effort is just the beginning. By making the space to reflect on how we spend our days, we can find new opportunities to work smarter, not harder: create more value in less time while reducing stress.

The ignored third wheel: reflection

Participants in our pilot programme know we’re fans of a Powrthruple (you’ll still get to experience this epic leadership tool in our membership network). But the law of three isn’t limited to people-power. 

Quality work flows through three phases: plan, do, and review. Most of us are familiar with planning, and almost all are strong in ‘doing’. But how much time do you spend reflecting? In our experience, this critical step is the first to be abandoned when time is tight.

There’s a good reason for this. We’ve been socialised to equate doing with succeeding; being busy has, like digital cameras, become a status symbol. In high-pressure, deadline-driven environments, we pride ourselves in gritting our teeth and getting sh*t done. Even if it’s the wrong stuff. Even if it’s inefficient. Even if we’re repeating mistakes.

Also, if we’re really honest, most of us don’t really know how to ‘reflect’. The idea of pausing to think about how things are going can feel either uncomfortable or, well, a bit silly. Fortunately, as per all things Powrsuit, we have an easy approach to try on for size.

Embracing the retrospective

If you’re familiar with agile methodology, you may have participated in a retrospective. The goal is to foster a blame-free environment to bring frustrations, failures, successes and desires into the open and then use those insights to evolve how you work. 

It can be a straightforward process, one you can repeat on your own for 30 minutes every Friday.

What you’ll need:

  • A piece of paper
  • 30 minutes
  • A timer

Step one: Gather feedback with the 4 Ls 

Weeks are short, but they can also be long! This first step gets everything out of the recesses of your memory and onto paper. It’s a brainstorming exercise, so jot down everything that comes to mind – big or small! 

Get your piece of paper and divide it into four quadrants. Set your timer for 5 minutes and start with quadrant 1 (Loved), then rinse and repeat for quadrant 2 (Loathed), 3 (Longed For) and 4 (Learned). Details below:

1. Loved

List everything you loved about your week: what you want to keep doing. These are the things that brought joy or played to your superpowers. Your list could include things like taking an afternoon off, a great meeting, setting clear expectations for a piece of work, or that slice of cake you treated yourself to.

2. Loathed

List all the things that made your life worse last week. Include bugbears like working late, losing your cool, notification overload, last-minute requests, getting tough feedback, or dealing with other people’s problems. It doesn’t matter if these things feel unavoidable: if you hate ‘em, list ‘em.

3. Longed for

List everything you want more of in the future. What would have made the week better? Include things like longer lunch breaks, more feedback, less micro-management, or faster internet. It’s okay if this list repeats some items; it’ll help you identify your biggest improvement opportunities.

4. Learned

What did you learn? What worked, what didn’t, and what discoveries did you make? Include insights like the impact of your menstrual cycledeep work, meeting-free days or doing less. Reflect on interactions with your manager and colleagues and the results of your work.

Step two: Draw out insights

Set your timer again for 5 minutes and review your page.

What themes came through strongly? Mismatched expectations? An overloaded calendar? Difficult dynamics? Last-minute tasks? Or positive impacts from protecting your time and actually taking a lunch break? 

Identify one area you want to improve – it might be addressing a frustration or doubling down on something that really worked. An easy way to identify it? It’s probably in your longest list.

Note: Don’t worry too much about picking the biggest or most challenging area to work on; leadership is a practice, and any improvement is better than nothing. 

Step three: Commit to action

The real value of this exercise comes from turning reflection into action. The final step of your retrospective is to identify one thing you will do differently next week.

Don’t overcook this. Think small, pragmatic and manageable. Can you turn up early to a meeting once? Can you block out a 30-minute walk during one lunch break? Put in one 2-hour block for deep work? Say ‘no’ to one request? Remove one unnecessary meeting from your calendar. Ask your manager to share one thing you did well.

The powr of reflection

If you repeat this exercise weekly (or monthly!), you may just start to spot some tangible improvements in your stress levels, workload and productivity. As a one-off test, though? It’s still worth it: If this 30-minute exercise frees up an hour of your time next week, you’ve doubled your investment.

That’s the power of reflection.

Take action

Put 30 minutes in your calendar to complete a reflection this Friday (bonus points if you ask your workmates to do the same!).

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