Today. Tomorrow. The day after that.
Each day you hustle to get things done. You plan out what you’re going to do and when. You tackle unexpected and new tasks, never losing focus on where you are going.
And all of this is good because planning helps you achieve your goals, getting you one step closer each day to being a more awesome you.
Planning focuses on the future, with a little time spent on the present moment.
But how often do you let your focus shift to the past? Is any of your time spent reflecting on your day and how it went, or are you always looking ahead to the next step?
We’re not talking about passively thinking about the amazing things you’ve done today or even dwelling on mistakes either. But there is value in reflecting on your day and the things you have done in the recent past that will help you achieve your goals and improve your life.
There’s as much to learn from what you do and do well as in what mistakes you make and the problems you encounter each day. Those moments are learning opportunities if you take the time to notice, reflect, and contemplate.
And if you’re asking yourself why should you reflect on your day and not just once a month when you prepare your monthly goals or at the end of the year, well…here’s why: you’re human. Humans forget. Human minds gloss over details, misremember, and are biased by emotions.
The best way to get value from every day is to make reflection on that day a priority. Otherwise it is too easy to let the big lessons become minor details in your past.
If you’re still skeptical, we hope reading this post convinces you otherwise and you at least give it a try!
The struggle to reflect
Reflecting on your day can be challenging to do, let alone incorporate into your life if you’re not used to it and haven’t made it a habit. It might feel like one more thing you have to do or is too time consuming of a task. But any excuse or barrier you can think of to put in between you and taking the time to reflect can be overcome.
You say, “There’s no time in my day.”
We say, “Ok, some days you really may not have any extra time to spare, but most of the time you probably do, you’re just not budgeting it into your schedule. And by that we mean using 5-15 minutes chunks of time throughout your day as effectively as possible.
Waiting for the bus is no longer wasted time if you use those minutes to reflect on your day. It’s all about being strategic with the time that you have, even when it’s limited. If you feel like you’re stuck in a rut, not making progress on your goals, or if you notice different, unrelated people are reacting to you in the same way, it’s time to figure out why that is. Reflecting on your day may help you see the patterns and issues that are causing stagnation or recurrent problems. You’ll find time if it’s important to you.”
You say, “I don’t know how to do it.”
We say, “It’s ok to admit you don’t know how to reflect or where to start! That’s why we wrote this post to get you started with ideas on the how.
It may seem strange, setting aside time to purposefully think about your day and ask yourself questions; reflection is a fuzzy concept that is fluid depending on you. But there’s not necessarily a wrong way to do it as long as you’re focused. You can write a journal entry or ask yourself a list of questions. Finding what works for you is part of the process; there are a lot of variables at play, so mix and match strategies until you figure out what you like.”
You say, “I don’t need to reflect on my day.”
We say, “It might feel unnecessary, but reflecting on your day is actually a way to learn more about yourself and make adjustments to grow. It’s a practice that can allow you to learn about a bad habit you didn’t realize you had or fix a problem that happens again and again.
Learning shouldn’t just stop when you graduate from school, and it doesn’t for successful people. For example, a study conducted in 2014 by Harvard Business School, HEC Paris, and the University of North Carolina’s business school found that reflecting on tasks at the end of the day is more beneficial than completing additional experiential tasks (e.g. repeating tasks that give you more practice), with the benefits enduring a month later.
So even if you don’t think you need to reflect on your day, you may be missing out on the benefits, including having a better understanding of your actions, better planning, becoming more aware, etc. And it’s essential to do things that are important to you and your development, not just what feels important in the moment. So if you don’t feel like reflecting on your day, but you know it’ll be good for you, give it a try and see what you discover. ”
You say, “I have a great memory.”
We say, “You may have an awesome memory and recall how something went or a thought you had on how you could have done a task better from months ago, but reflecting is a bit more than that. It is about slowing down to reinforce what you’ve learned or recognizing patterns in yourself. A study from the University of Texas found that mental rest and reflection improves learning. You probably learn something new every day at work for example, and the best way to reinforce what you’ve learned is to slow it down and take the time to think about and reflect on the situation/experience/interaction.
Plus, many studies have shown that in general, our memories are far less effective than we think they are. So even if you think you remember a lot, you probably aren’t remembering as much as you could if you reflected in a more timely manner.”
You say, “I’ll do it at the end of the year.”
We say, “Reflecting at the end of the year is great, but that is a time to think more big picture. When you only think about your past year or past month as a whole, the things you did each day are forgotten and overlooked, even if not on purpose.
When you take the time to think about your day every day, though, you notice trends, quirks, and incremental growth that are lost in a yearly reflective process. Also, it makes annual reviews and year-end reflections easier to do (because you’ll have data from every day) and helps puts things in perspective by having examples or experiences at the ready from the recent past. ”
You say, “It’s easier not to reflect.”
We say, “Yes, not reflecting is easier than reflecting; it takes less time, effort, energy, etc. Maybe you feel averse to reflecting on your day because it means you don’t have to face certain aspects of yourself or your work. But the hard stuff is always worth doing if you’re really going to grow, so you have to face the things that are difficult to confront.”
Did we cover all of the excuses that ran through your mind to avoid reflecting each day? There may be other reasons, but we bet those can be overcome too! Now that we’ve convinced you that you should reflect every day, here’s how to actually do it.
Incorporating reflection into your day
It’s a bit obvious, but the best time to reflect on your day is at the end of the day; maybe the last few minutes before you leave work or as you’re on your way home. If you decide to wait until the evening once you’re home and things are quiet, just be careful that you actually do it and don’t let tiredness or other excuses prevail.
Here are some tips to consider when you start on this new endeavor:
- Schedule time in your planner. You’re more likely to stick with the process and be accountable if you write it down and remind yourself to do it until it becomes second nature.
- Establish questions to ask yourself in advance, changing it up as needed and tailoring it based on your day. Keep it simple, choose just 2-3 questions to start and depending on how much time you have. For example, if you were at a conference or had meetings off site, the questions you ask yourself may differ compared to when you work from home.
- Think of your day in chronological order or look at your calendar as you reflect. Maybe your day was so full you forgot about an incident that happened when you first got into work.
- Start with asking yourself how you feel in this moment. This tactic might be ideal if you’re transitioning into reflecting after an emotional or draining day.
- Be objective. If you focus on being objective, neutral, and considering all sides, you’ll avoid blaming yourself or others unfairly. The goal is not to be critical, but rather look for places to grow.
- Ask yourself what, why, then how. For example, focusing on a situation where you were impatient with a colleague is the “what”, then ask yourself “why” you reacted the way you did, followed by questioning “how” you could have handled it differently. Bring it full circle, back to the “what” and question what you will do differently next time.
- Start off small! Try scheduling your reflection for only 5-10 minutes at first and build up to longer amounts of time depending on your day and how much time you need. The idea though is to not overwhelm yourself in the beginning and starting small helps build the habit.
So what kind of questions should you ask yourself?
Consider the following, choosing maybe only 2-3 at a time and digging deep into the why. If this list of sample questions feels overwhelming, the first three are good ones to start with.
- What am I grateful for?
- What could I have done better during _____? For example, maybe you could have explained a tactic more clearly during a training or responded more patiently to someone asking a question.
- What did I learn from _____ situation/interaction/experience?
- How could I have been more effective doing _____?
- What idea(s) did I have today?
- What do I want to remember from today for tomorrow/next week/next time _____ happens?
- Why did I respond ______ towards _____?
- Did you accomplish the goals you set out for yourself today? If not, why?
- Why did ______ bother me so much?
- Am I achieving the goals that I set for myself?
Finally, how should you reflect? One of the options below may be better for you than another and it might be worthwhile to try each depending on how your day goes or where you are when you’re reflecting:
- Write it out: To formalize your reflection, you could write out questions and answers, ideas, things you noticed or want to improve on. A small journal works well for this. The Ink+Volt Daily Task Pad is tailored to helping you not only plan for your day, but also reflect on it at the same time. The Focus section at the top gets your thoughts on track, the Up Next section helps you fly through your day, and the space at the bottom under Notes captures your daily reflection. Everything in one place.
- Think it through: If reflecting on your day is best done while you’re waiting for the bus or working out, writing things down isn’t feasible. Instead, focus your attention towards reflecting during the dedicated time of your day.
- Talk out loud: If a formal reflection process through journaling sounds unappealing, maybe you have a go to person that you talk to and can bounce ideas off of instead. You’d have to be diligent though to keep (part of) the conversation focused on reflection; hopefully it’s a reciprocal process for you and the other person!