Pause to reflect for better results

Pausing to review during a project may seem to slow down progress, but research shows it pays. Very few companies give their employees time for reflection, especially when competitive pressures are escalating. Usually the imperative is to work harder. The communication/public relations role is a classic example of a role always under time pressure. You will invariably find you are more productive when you pause to reflect for better results.

Harvard Business School research in 2014 demonstrates the value of reflection in helping people do a better job. Reflecting or thinking back/mentally reviewing what you’ve done teaches you to do it better next time. What’s more, the act of documenting the lessons learnt, both during and at the completion of a project, is even more effective.

The research team conducted 3 studies including a field experiment with a business-process outsourcing company. The researchers studied several groups, assigning them one of 3 conditions – control, reflection, and sharing information. During the course of a month, workers in the reflection group spent 15 minutes at the end of their working day writing and reflecting on what they had learned that day. Participants in the sharing group did the same, but spent an extra 5 minutes explaining their notes to a fellow worker.

Result: workers in both the reflection and sharing groups performed significantly better than those in the control group. On average, the reflection group increased its performance on the final test by almost 23% more than the control group. The sharing group performed 25% better on the test than the control group, which was a similar increase to the reflection group.

This was in spite of the fact that the control group had been working 15 minutes longer per day than the other groups, who had spent that time reflecting and sharing instead.

Harvard Business School Professor Francesca Gino said she hoped the research would provide food for thought to overworked managers and other employees.

“I don’t see a lot of organizations that actually encourage employees to reflect – or give them time to do it,” Gino said. “When we fall behind even though we’re working hard, our response is often just to work harder. But in terms of working smarter, this research suggests that we should take time for reflection.” Photo, right: Professor Francesca Gino

Test this in your own work

I find this is a bonus in my work as well. When I pause to do something else for a little while (usually to deal with interruptions!), I return to the task with a renewed perspective which create new thoughts. This works even better overnight. You don’t even need to ruminate on the topic or the details of the work. Next morning you will return with some great new ideas and angles for the project. So, don’t worry about completely finishing everything about what you are working on – pause to reflect for better results.

A thought for more effective planning

When you start planning a project, it is vital to clearly define the problem as the first step in the planning process. Until you clearly identify the problem’s core fundamentals, you are running the risk of not working effectively to reach the best solution. Not as easy as it may sound!

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