How to Use Focused Reflection in a Productive Work Cycle
The 3 times to pause and look at how you can do it better
In my previous post, I covered how productivity is not a personality trait, but a process anyone can develop the skills to use. True productivity is about creating meaningful change, not about how many hours you’ve spent on something.
Because it’s so easy to get lost in busy-work, I like to go through a structured version of this process when tackling a project. In this article, I take a deeper dive into how reflection most effectively plays into the productivity cycle.
As a newer solopreneur, I’ve missed having the input of colleagues. So much of the fantastic productivity content out there like Agile and Scrum is about effective teams.
You can take advantage of the assets of a team without hiring anyone.
I’ve taken my structured process and opened it to other solopreneurs and freelancers one two-week sprint at a time to solve this issue. Having others along for the ride, even temporarily, will give you access to new perspectives and keep isolation at bay. I call it GoGoSprint.
As people participate in multiple sprints, I can see how they build this skill of productivity into how they work.
This article will take you through the reflective processes built into a sprint. Whether you join us or build a team of your own, the benefit of having others in your sphere is immeasurable.
In our sprints, we have reflection points at the beginning, middle, and end.
How a look inward can lay the groundwork for a better plan
At the beginning of each GoGoSprint, I give each participant a very simple worksheet to guide them through their goal setting for the two weeks. This worksheet overlaps reflection and planning. The reflection exercise I use at this stage is the 5 Whys. Originally used to understand why things go wrong, I like to use the same process but ask myself why something is important to ME.
There are lots of reasons why a project might be important to someone else, but only by understanding my motivations do I end up feeling...well...motivated.
Much of the time, I also find that it lends clarity to the project. My most recent 5 Whys exercise is on the marketing campaign for my virtual productivity community for remote workers called GoGoDone.
Why is the inbound marketing plan important? I need to get the word out.
Why is getting the word out important? I need to build the community.
Why is building the community important? I want more people to feel supported and get more of the hard work done.
Why is feeling supported and getting hard work done important? Because too many people feel like I did - like I was weak. I want them to understand it’s not about willpower but strategy.
Why is understanding it’s about strategy important? Because I want them to feel better about themselves and start doing the work.
By my 5th Why I know that the core of my inbound campaign is helping people feel better about themselves. That needs to be the theme of all of my blog posts, which will then trickle down into the social posts and newsletters. THAT gets me excited to go to work!
If you don’t know what project to do first, just ask yourself, “Why is my job important?” If you have a project in mind or have been assigned one, ask “Why is this project important?”
Then hold on to that answer when you’re doing your planning and time estimations!.
When motivation is low, returning to the deeper meaning behind my work not only is a great tactic to boost willpower, but it’s my guiding light for decision-making and my barometer at future points of reflection.
How a quick pause can keep you on course for success
At the end of the first week of the sprint, we all do a Mid-Sprint Reflection. The core is another simple worksheet, meant to be done in no more than 30 minutes.
Before this happens, Sprinters have a 10-minute discussion break with a group of colleagues who have been following their progress from the beginning. The topic of discussion is about our stuck points. That primes us for the worksheet.
The worksheet starts with a simple task and time review. Often with just a bit of work on a project, I get so much new information that I already need to rearrange my task priority.
Then, it’s a quick overview:
What is working that supports the “why” - keep doing
What is not working or not worth it - stop doing
What to add or start doing - start doing
Is there anything additional that I need to be successful?
After that, I force myself into reviewing where I dragged my feet in the last week or what tasks I really feel a lot of resistance around doing. I note what my resistance looks like. Am I procrastinating? Am I putting others’ tasks before mine? Am I delaying shipping something so that I can do more research?
Once I can shine a light on how I’m dragging my feet, I can pull a super-tool from the habit research. I set an implementation intention for how I will respond when my resistance crops up.
An implementation intention is a simple “if-then.” If I start researching yet again, then I will immediately write 3-5 sentences in my journal about what I’m afraid of.
Or, if someone asks me for help, then I will schedule it for an open time on my calendar rather than saying yes right away.
The last two sections are really quick reflections on 1) What self-care I need to keep myself in top form and how I’ll get it, and 2) What I have accomplished so far that’s worth celebrating.
If you’re a solopreneur or freelancer, I’m willing to bet you don’t celebrate much. As humans, we generally don’t do much “solo” celebrating. We celebrate in groups and teams. We rely on cues from others to determine when to pop the champagne. And celebrations alone are never as fun.
Part of the magic of GoGoSprint is that you get others following your journey and supporting you. When someone succeeds in a sprint, I’m genuinely THRILLED! We all celebrate together. I’ve seen the hard work and struggles you’ve been through and so has everyone else. We care and we want to take the time to celebrate each other and our work.
So, of course, we take the time to share mid-week with each other what we’ve accomplished and we all cheer each other on (there are pom-poms, folks - no joke).
3 things we so often miss in the final reckoning
At the end of our two weeks, I do an even shorter reflection than the one I do midway through the sprint. It covers much of the same content, looking at what’s working, what’s not, and what moving forward looks like.
I also review my time estimations. Without a doubt, we think we can get more done in the time allotted than we can. Reflecting and learning what is realistic has been a big game-changer for many of the people I work with. If you’re always feeling overcommitted and busy, this may be one of your key culprits.
The last 2 pieces in this final reflection are celebration and gratitude
I get so busy that sometimes I forget, not only to celebrate my work but also to appreciate those on the journey with me. Whether that’s a work buddy, a partner, or a kid who has made space for you or given you a boost when you were down, if we forget to pause and look for the million little kindnesses that make up our connections, they can start to weaken.
It also just feels GOOD! The best part of a GoGoSprint is sharing our accomplishments and gratitudes. Succeeding together and swimming in the good feelings that come with finding and naming all there is to be grateful for makes work fun!
If you’d like to go through this process with me and other positive solopreneurs and freelancers, you can sign up for the next GoGoSprint here. Or if it’s already started, you can sign up here at the bottom to be notified about the next sprint.