It’s that time of year when we’re inundated with holiday plans, year-end tasks, and lists of predictions for the coming year. When we get past all of that, it’s time to take a breather, pause, and allot some time for reflection and anticipation. Yes, I said pause.
Do it now. Take a deep breath in over several seconds and let it out slowly. Didn’t that feel good? Your body and mind need pauses.
The value of the pause is undervalued in today’s fast-paced, always on world, but a pause can produce some great results and set you up for future success.
The Importance of Reflection
I worry about my friend’s sanity and stress levels when I see their frantic Facebook posts and tweets. It’s too much. The longer I have managed projects and teams, the more I have realized the importance of taking time for reflection. In learning and development, research continues to reinforce the idea that pausing for reflection helps the brain to connect the dots and make sense of experiences. Because this continues to be shown to be so effective, it is something I am now including in all of my instructional design and consultation projects. It’s hard to get people to do it, though, but well worth the effort.
After the completion of projects, key insights are gained from the project team or groups sitting down to do after-action reviews (AARs) before racing on to the next project. Originally done in the military, AARs have become tools of used for business performance evaluation and project management. Being able to take that momentary pause when you’re not in the midst of the project and under stress provides an opportunity to look at things through a more objective lens. I now do AARs after all my projects. They may not always be formal, but I at least take the time to pause, reflect, and make some notes. Don’t just look at what happened, but dig a little deeper into why. I can’t tell you how many times those notes have become valuable when similar projects came up in the future. If you don’t take time for an AAR, you lose the value of the hard-fought wisdom gained during that project.
When working on a project, have you ever thought, “Wow. It seems like we have never done this before, but I know we have.” This happens with groups that have immature or no project management, because they lose out on valuable opportunities for learning and improvement. If a pause for reflection and documentation of those lessons learned were more of a focus before racing onto the next project, they would move forward and improve their processes, teamwork, and communication. I guarantee it. I’ve seen it work many times over. Try it and let me know. I’ll be shocked if it doesn’t help.
Fear of Reflection
Like looking closely in a mirror, some may view reflection negatively, because our minds naturally focus on the negative and it can make us feel vulnerable to consider our shortcomings. To combat these natural tendencies, be sure to specifically look for positives and things that were well done. Equal time should be given to what went well and what didn’t go so well. Celebrate those wins! We need them to encourage using the AAR process, because If we don’t consider things from both sides, then it’s hard to improve the next time around.
The Opportunity of Anticipation
The other reason for taking a pause is to anticipate the opportunities in the coming year and use intention to prepare for a successful year ahead. One of my favorite guided meditations lately focuses on attention and intention. You need both to stay productive and focused on the right things. I find this mindset helps combat “busyness syndrome” where we tend to bounce from thing-to-thing without focused intent on which things are important to our well-being and success. Like everyone, I’m prone to the myriad distractions that pop up each day. Anticipating this, focusing on setting daily goals, and having an intention-driven day versus a distraction-driven day has really helped to keep me on the right path.
Anticipation also has the promise of possibilities.
- What possibilities would you like to create for yourself in the next several months?
- What projects are on the calendar that might benefit from some planning?
- Is there a vacation you’d like to plan or a big goal you’d like to get set up to achieve?
The Reality Check
What will it take to make those things a reality?
Small anticipations can help you get tactical – laying out upcoming projects and goals, working backward to set realistic deadlines. Larger anticipations can be helpful for setting bigger strategic goals for the year, either personally or in business. Map out and envision what it will look like to achieve them and be realistic about what that will require. Put those deadlines on your calendar. Don’t get delusional with your anticipation though. Life is never perfect. Be sure to include time for those inevitable last minute bumps in the road and figure out how best to manage and mitigate them.
Do yourself a favor in the midst of the year-end chaos. Calendar some down-time for a pause to reflect and anticipate in the next few weeks. End or begin the year with insights from this past year and the intention and attention required to make 2018 a success.
Also published on Medium.