I help people find more creativity and meaning in their daily work. I host Hurry Slowly , a podcast about how you can be more productive, creative, and resilient through the simple act of slowing down. If you want to stay in touch, the best way to tap into my brainwaves is to sign up for my newsletter. Photos If you require an image of me for press purposes, I have a few different formats and smile levels available. View and download headshots. Photographer credit for all images is: Jonny Marlow.
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Most people equate being busy with being productive. We think that doing something must be more productive than not doing anything.
That action is more powerful than reflection. That being busy is better than being idle. But is it? A recent study out of Harvard Business School concludes that we just might be all wrong when it comes to the importance of being busy. Is experience—or the act of doing—the key to learning? Or is it that we learn through reflecting on that experience? If we want to use our time wisely, should we spend it on doing or should we spend it on thinking? This is how the researchers laid out the dilemma: Consider for instance a cardiac surgeon in training.
She has completed ten operations under the eye of an instructor. Imagine she was given a choice in planning her agenda for the next two weeks. She could spend that time doing ten additional surgeries, or she could take the same amount of time alternating between a few additional surgeries and time spent reflecting on them to better understand what she did right or wrong. Every hour she spends reflecting on how to get better is costly in terms of lost practice time.
Conversely, every hour spent practicing consumes time she could have spent reflecting on how to get better. What would be the optimal use of her time? There are two reasons why this is true: 1. On an emotional level, reflection increases your self-efficacy, which is essentially your belief in your capacity to execute the behaviors necessary to achieve certain goals.
When we reflect on our past performance and identify what is positive and negative about it, we are giving ourselves feedback that makes us feel more confident, capable, and certain of our ability to complete future tasks. And, as a result, we do perform better on future tasks. On a cognitive level, reflection increases your understanding of the task. Whether the task was delivering customer service, trying to detect cancerous cells, or simply solving math problems, the researchers found that taking time to reflect what you had learned boosted performances in all cases.
It also made the learnings stick. Taking time to reflect is not intuitive. Almost everyone prefers doing to thinking. Even so, the researchers found that taking time to reflect is not intuitive.
When they allowed participants to choose whether they would rather spend time reflecting on their efforts or spend time practicing their skills, they found that almost everyone preferred doing to thinking—even though reflection always resulted in a better performance.
For me the primary takeaway here is: In order to stop doing busywork and start doing our best work, we have to make a point of scheduling in regular time for reflection.
A few reflection exercises you might consider: Do a post-mortem on a recent project. Analyze what was successful and what was not successful about the way a recent project played out. Instead focus on extrapolating best practices for future projects and identifying new approaches you could take to avoid repeating the same mistakes.
Conduct a productivity audit. For one week, set aside 15 minutes at the end of each day to jot down a few thoughts about what helped you move the needle on your most important projects as well as what were your biggest distractions and interruptions. Review your notes at the end of the week and see if you can identify some patterns. What were your biggest productivity drags, and what strategies could you use to minimize them in future? Identify your creativity killers.
Try tracking these items every day for a week: Amount of sleep, amount of energy on waking, amount of exercise, amount of negative intakes cigarettes smoked, drinks drank, hamburgers eaten—whatever your vices are , and amount of creative output words written, designs iterated, business ideas generated. Does exercising regularly make you more creative? Is drinking too much or sleeping too little sabotaging your creativity?
I help people find more creativity and meaning in their daily work. Occasionally, I write books and give talks too.
Jocelyn K. Glei
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