Over the past six months I have focused a lot of my energy on learning.
Part of this is motivated by my age. I was born 50 years ago and nowadays quite a few people rely on me for wisdom and guidance. There are many things people smarter than me have already figured out about leadership, philosophy, the way our brains work, etc., that I might not have learned yet. I’m reviewing what I know and linking it to new things I learn.
Part of my motivation to learn is driven by the growing awareness that my effectiveness in my job depends on my ability to learn as efficiently as possible. There is much to keep up with in our field but even more important, it is important that I learn from the experiences in my work so I can find better ways to lead our team members and support our client partners.
How I Think About Learning
I think of learning as two different but connected activities:
- Acquiring knowledge that helps us understand ourselves and the world better. A certain amount of reflection is required to integrate the new information with what we already know.
- Reflecting on and processing the experiences we have so we can evaluate our performance against our goals and make improvements to the way we do things.
To acquire as much knowledge as I can when I am so busy, I have devised all sorts of ways to fit learning into my daily schedule. I listen to books and take voice notes on my early morning walks and on my way to work. I spend my lunch breaks and time on subways or airplanes reading and notating books and articles. I spend part of each weekend taking online courses.
But how do I learn from my experiences as a leader and as a coach and facilitator? That requires a different set of practices.
The Weekly Reflection
Aside from a regular 5-minute journaling habit, one of the best methods I’ve learned for learning from experience is the weekly reflection.
A weekly reflection involves finding a time and a place where you can think about a few important questions:
- What were the most important events of the past week? These might be at work or in your personal life.
- What went well, that I want to continue?
- What could be better? Did something go wrong, or could it have just been better?
- What needs to change? How do I change it so I get better results?
To do this effectively, you’ll need about 20 or 30 minutes. If you have family members who demand a lot of attention, you can do it in just 10-15 minutes.
Optimize Your Weekly Reflection
If you want to make this session even more effective, you might combine it with a quick review of the tasks you completed last week and then take the time to ask an important question:
What is the most important thing I need to accomplish next week?
From there you might plan the coming week. I do, and it makes me far more productive than I would be if I skipped this step. I might stop to make brunch for my girls or to talk to one of my sons on the phone, but I always get back to this planning time because my performance at work and as a husband and father depends on it.
Who has the Time?
I recently suggested this technique to an over busy team leader in a coaching exercise. He paused for a while, then looked at me and said: “I’m already doing the job of 2 people. How would I possibly have time to reflect on my week?”
My question for him: “Given how busy you are right now, isn’t it even more necessary for you to take the time to process what happened last week, decide what adjustments to make, and plan next week?”
He agreed, and I hope he starts a weekly reflection habit because it will accelerate his learning and make him a more effective leader.
P.S. To learn a simple way to optimize your learning, see our latest True Talk video here: True Talk #5 Learning from Experience