I continue to enjoy the books I’m receiving from The Next Big Idea Club. I just finished Never Stop Learning by Bradley Staats, and knew I would find it useful as I consider myself a life-long learner. The book is full of what it takes to become a dynamic learner from valuing failure, asking questions vs. rushing to answers, learning from others, and several more. However, the one that resonated the most with me is the practice of reflection and relaxation as a key component in the learning process.

I’m an action-oriented person and realize that my bias for action often flies in the face of reflection. Why? Because reflecting feels like I’m DOING NOTHING. In reality, THINK TIME is when great learning can occur! Who knew?!!

Bradley Staats explains four reasons we resist pausing to reflect:

  1. Regret – Most of us need to be seen DOING something, even if it’s wrong. What does it look like if we are seen thinking? It looks like I’m day-dreaming or zoning out. If I’m seen “doing nothing” and then I make a wrong decision, then it’s attributed to not DOING the proper research or being lazy…or some other non-productive activity.
  2. Confusing action with progress – We feel good when we mark things off our list, even if they are unimportant. Again, the notion of taking action can have us spinning our wheels in terms of making progress on the work that matters.
  3. We underestimate the resulting cost of non-stop action – We choose to work late and over-commit because we think it makes us look dedicated. Sleep deprivation is real and only 1%-3% of people can function effectively with less than six hours of sleep. This often results in single-loop learning. Instead of diving into root cause issues, we develop quick workarounds.
  4. We underestimate the gains in productivity by taking a break – Staat sites multiple studies that prove that a five-minute break could improve productivity by more than 10%.

What to do?

Here’s my plan for getting 2019 started off positively:

  1. Block calendar “think-time”. It’s natural for me to initiate and participate in After-Action Review or post-mortem sessions, but I rarely make time for a premortem session. Instead of taking a historic look back, I’ll spend time projecting what could be by imagining an epic fail and think about the causes of failure. If I can think through why something fails, I can plan and avoid those missteps.
  2. Take more breaks. I will never be able to “reflect” if I’m always fully engaged in the actual work. Brain science proves that the processing of information continues, even when the active work pauses. In Daniel Pink’s book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing he makes a case for taking breaks and getting out in nature or someplace away from the work environment. I’ll use walks or stretching like mini vacations, and come back to work a bit more refreshed and productive.
  3. Put down the technology. These are all closely related. By putting down the technology, I’ll remove the distractions and be able to THINK vs. DO. If I keep the technology handy, I won’t really be taking a break and my devoted think-time will become research time. Taking walks without technology in my pocket is quite liberating! I’ve found a good walk is a great time to reflect. For me, if my body is moving, my brain can slow down.

I love the quote Bradley Staat offers on this topic:

“So fight the urge to act for its own sake and instead recognize that when the going gets tough, the tough are rested, take time to recharge, and stop and think.”

Martha Duesterhoft is a Partner with PeopleResults. Follow her on Twitter @mduesterhoft or connect via email at mduesterhoft@people-results.com.