Practical Reflection: Review the Past to Be More Productive in the Present

Review the past

The last couple of articles were about the power of reflection, and how to turn it into a simple daily habit. This article will focus on using reflection as a productivity tool that will make our actions more intentional and effective.

The following three methods will put reflection into practice throughout the year. Feel free to adapt them to work for you. The main idea is to look back at a period of time (a week, month, or year) and discern the lessons we need, then use past insights to move forward.

I’m sharing these ideas with you as I attempt to use them myself. I’ve been consistent with daily reflection, but not with longer periods. I hope you’ll join me.

Weekly review and planning

At the end of the week (or the beginning of the upcoming week), look back and consider the following questions.

  • What were the most important achievements, and memorable experiences?
  • What were the biggest challenges, and mistakes?
  • What did you learn from the experiences of the week (both accomplishments and challenges)? Celebrate the past week with gratitude by writing down all the things you’re thankful for (big and small).
  • What do you want to accomplish in the next 7 days? Make a list of your desired outcomes (no more than 7).
  • How can you incorporate the lessons learned into next week’s plan?

Review your records (detailed below) to answer the questions, and add any other thoughts you have about the week.

Sit with your week for some time. It will take about an hour to review the previous week, and set your intentions for the upcoming week.

The weekly review is incredibly powerful in getting you to stay focused and motivated. Here is how:

  • Insights and closure: You will wrap up the previous week, let go of what was done, carry forward what needs to be done, and drop the negativity after extracting the lessons.
  • Clarity: By processing the past, and determining the steps we want to take in the near future, we’ll reduce mental noise and indecision, and we’ll have a road map to guide our actions.
  • Motivation and focus: Clarity will give us the much needed motivation to stay focused and get the main work done.

Monthly review

We make progress by taking small action steps on a daily (or consistent) basis. In order to assess how far we’ve come, we need to look at our journey from a distance. This is where a monthly review comes in handy. We get to see patterns, and evaluate the aggregate effect of our daily actions and habits.

The process is quite simple. You’ll need to look at the same records and answer similar questions about the month.

If you work with a weekly review process, you’ll just need to examine the weekly records to highlight the main points.

  • What were the most memorable experiences?
  • What were the most important lessons and insights?
  • What are my intentions and targets for the next month?

In the monthly review you’ll summarize the month in a page or two. Then you’ll determine what you want to accomplish—your targets for the upcoming month.

Would a monthly review clash with a weekly review and planning process? No. The two processes can complement each other—the weeks will guide the month. The more you spend on weekly reviews, the less time you’ll need at the end of the month.

This brings me to the third level of review and reflection.

Annual review

At the end of the year we need to look back at the entire year and recall the most memorable events, insights and lessons. Going through 365 days can be daunting, if you don’t give yourself enough time. So make sure you set aside a couple of weeks for this task.

You’ll need to look at all the records mentioned below to refresh your memory and answer a few questions. This allows you to put the entire year in perspective, and have an idea of where you’d like to go next.

The questions you’ll answer are similar to the ones mentioned above—most memorable experiences, major accomplishments, major setbacks, lessons learned, and what you’d like to focus on in the upcoming year.

If you’ve been doing weekly, or monthly reviews, you can simply sum up the year.

An annual review will give you a succinct account of your year. You can read it in a few minutes for an overall impression of the year and the major experiences and lessons.

How to refresh your memory?

Our memories are selective and can be deceptive. So we need to look at external sources to determine what we experienced in a week, month, or year. The external documents will trigger inner thoughts and feelings that can be reflected upon and learned from. Consider the following:

  • Journal/diary
  • Calendar
  • Work log/time sheets/project (lecture) notes
  • Email
  • Social media posts
  • Photos
  • Financial records: receipts, bank & credit card statements, Mint/or other financial software (the way you spend your money shows what’s important to you)

Where to start?

If you haven’t done a review process before, I recommend starting with establishing a daily reflection habit. It won’t take long and it will motivate you to integrate reflection into your weeks and years. If stopping each day doesn’t work for you, then start with a weekly review.

Over time, you’ll feel motivated to go through a monthly review and eventually an annual review.

The main point is to start, and keep going.

What to expect?

Reflection is a quiet practice that may not feel like it’s doing much for you. But over time, you’ll gain insights, and more importantly you’ll feel lighter and more present—you don’t have to continue carrying the past in your mind.

Expect subtle lightness and calmness. Your mind is quite powerful, and when you least expect it, an insight may appear to come out of nowhere, but it actually was part of the processes you’ve been going through.

Reflection will also improve our productivity. We guide and empower our present actions with lessons from the past, without allowing the negativity of the past to distract, or immobilize us.

What about interruptions?

Interruptions and setbacks are unavoidable. What makes a difference is how we pick ourselves up and get back to what’s important.

When we’re not bound by the past, and have a clear idea of where we want to go, we deal with the interruption, and then get back to work. We won’t need to reconsider our choices, wallow in excuses, or continue to be distracted for no helpful reason.

We may not get to do everything. That’s okay. The lessons from the setbacks will be reviewed and used in the future—and that’s reassuring and sets the mind at ease.

To sum up, we can use reflection to examine our experiences, and move forward with purpose.

By turning reflection into a habit, you’ll feel lighter, and you’ll become more productive and efficient.

I hope this article can provide some guidance and motivation to get you started. The best way to learn anything is by doing. Here is to quiet and purposeful action!