A productivity hack that actually works

CalendarDoes this sound familiar?

You head to bed reciting a “to do” list of things you didn’t get done today that you somehow need to squeeze into an “already full” day tomorrow.

It used to be a familiar state of affairs for the post-graduate students I teach each semester. These students are from Bahrain, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, and more. As part of their role as Business Analyst interns in Australian businesses, they create and are assessed on a reflective journal. Simple? Apparently not so.

Quality productivity and the habit of self-reflection

The practice of daily pausing and recording enables the interns to connect key intercultural communication learning to their understanding of the Business Analysts role. It also requires stepping beyond just describing the what, when, who, where of an event. Instead, student learners are encouraged to notice their felt response to an event, both during and after that event. They are encouraged to notice, “When was I out of my comfort zone? How did that feel?”

Then the relevant questions to ask become, “Why did I respond that way? How might I respond differently in the future? What might be the impact of that different response?”

Shallow results or valuable reflection?

The first semester with these future Business Analysts I suggested they make a daily entry in their reflective journal. The idea was that when it came to the end of the work week and they made their weekly online submission, they already had a record of what they wanted to include. This meant they could submit a quality reflective journal without scrambling late Friday night to recall the week’s insights and key learning. Too late!

The outcome? 85% of the students left the journaling to late night before the submission was due. The result was clear in the shallow level of their journals.

Making sure you calendar it rather than taking it to bed

So, the next semester I experimented using the large amount of research evidence that when we connect an action to a specific time and place, we do it. I asked each student to commit, out loud, and on paper, to a time of day, and preferably a place when they would take this deliberate practice of reflective journaling. The result? 95% handed in quality reflective journals across the collection points of the semester.

The students also experienced the value of committing to a time and place for that daily action of self-reflection. They saw themselves to be of more value in their internships because of the application of their insights. The feedback they got from colleagues and internal stakeholders confirmed this.

Skip relying on your daily task list

Yes, go ahead and make your daily task list. Then, ask yourself, what do I want to be sure I’ve accomplished by the end of today? The end of this month? Then insert this into your calendar!

Make this a deliberate practice – inserting the task into your calendar.

Image provided  by Roman Bozhko

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