I’ve often been accused in life of being one of those do-as-I-say-no- as-I-do people, likely because I am. For the longest time, I preached to others about the importance of introspection, self-evaluation and taking time to think about your own life and the things that have happened to you.
That said, I don’t think I started genuinely and constructively reflecting on my life until around a year ago. While I’m sure you’re greatly enjoying looking down your digital nose right now with a smug sense of satisfaction (wipe that stupid grin off your face :-), can you honestly say that you take scheduled, structured time to reflect on your life and experiences on a regular interval? Sure, we all say that we look back and evaluate the things that happen to us, but there is a HUGE difference between spending 5 minutes on the subway thinking about your shitty day and sitting down with a pen and paper to regularly answer some very important yet simple questions about what you’ve been doing.
I have always led a ridiculously packed life and I would argue that during the fall of 2010, my life was at its craziest. On top of an intense academic schedule while completing a condensed, 1 year MBA, I was an executive member of two different student governments, prepping for multiple case competitions, attending every and any conference or business event I could get my hands on, training for the Toronto marathon, active in a rock band that practiced twice a week a gigged once a month AND I still maintained a healthy beer regimen. I was a complete mess of a human being who became almost entirely task based with next to no critical thinking about how I approached my life. My friends tolerated me for the favours I was able to do for them and my roommates found me unbearable.
However, after attending a fantastic conference with a group of like-minded MBAs, someone put me onto the idea of setting aside a small amount of time each week to reflect. While I was worried about adding the proverbial straw that might break the camel’s back (read: nervous breakdown), I figured that an extra 15 minutes a week wouldn’t kill me. Based on a recommendation, I would answer 3 questions each week:
What did I accomplish this week?
This first question for me became more of a pat on the back than anything. Sometimes, when individuals become so mired in the drudgery of all that they do, they neglect to sit in awe of their own accomplishments for a moment. In addition to making yourself feel better, this question is also useful to identify where you are sinking the bulk of your time.
What did I intend to accomplish but was unable to?
Next, things start to get more critical. Here you have to consider your goals from the week and flat out admit to your shortcomings. The purpose of this question isn’t to beat you down and make you feel like crap, but instead to set you up for the next, and most crucial question in this process.
What prevented me from accomplishing my goals?
This is the most important question you can ask each week. After looking at the good and the bad, you need to step back and look at the root problems. Sometimes the problems are internal – in which case, learn to give yourself a good smack – and sometimes, the issues arise from external sources – so get ready to punish someone in your life. When I first started reflecting, a number of my initial time sinks came from doing menial tasks that I shouldn’t have even been doing in the first place. Identifying this issue over and over forced me to change my ways and learn to become a better delegator and a more hands-off leader.
These 3 simple questions became a routine every Sunday night that helped me identify some of my greatest accomplishments and the hurdles standing in my way. Instead of blinding fighting through a seemingly endless task list, this process transformed me into a more dynamic individual who made adjustments each week in terms of how to approach life. It wasn’t easy getting started – for the first few weeks, you will have to force yourself to sit down – however, the results were undeniable.
So the next time you have a shitty week, don’t simply drown your sorrows on a Friday night, curse about how you hate your job or take the life of a vagrant somewhere in a back alley. Sit down for 15 minutes with a pen and paper and answer 3 simple questions. You’ll be amazed at the things you learn about yourself.