Reflecting on your work helps you make sense of what you’ve done and what you’ve learned, and helps you connect that learning to your future work.1 Considering your goals and accomplishments for each day is easier than you think and all it takes is the very device you’re looking at and a Post-It note.

Daily

  • Give yourself time for reflection by ending your work day 10 minutes early
  • Make a list of what you will do tomorrow
  • Look at that list and make sure you have a good reason for each thing on it. What is the ideal outcome for each of those items? 2
  • Stick that note on the first place you work. For me this is inside my laptop. For you it might be the face of your phone, your desk, or on your monitor at the office.
  • Making this list at the end of the work day will help you let go of work when you get home. If you can, get to it before you leave the office so that you can spend your commute time transitioning away from work. Don’t worry, that Post-It note will be there in the morning.
“Of all the events that have the power to excite people and engage them in their work, the single most important is making progress — even if that progress is a small win.”
— Teresa Amabile 3

Weekly

  • On Monday morning, look back over your last week and write down what you worked on, what you accomplished, and what you learned. Good starting points include your calendar entries, sent email, and your recent files.
  • Make a pointer to your most recent work — this will help you find it later
  • Once you finish the list of what you worked on last week, write up a quick draft of the items you’d like to work on this week. This is your starting template for next week’s reflection.

Example Weekly Reflection

Jan 06, 2014 – Jan 12, 2014
  • Lunar Rover: Went to design review, got feedback to try new data report design for increased visibility of predicted responses (soil composition, combined image and maps, impact tracking)
  • Rocket boots: Added three how-to videos to the help section, instrumented videos for analytics
  • Started planning Robocop offsite, movie comes out Wednesday Feb 12, need to confirm final count for passes
  • Went to see Temple Grandin speaking on different types of brains. It made me think about how much my work is influenced by the way I see the world, literally. Temple Grandin on YouTube

If you struggle to write down what you worked on, you may be spending too much time on email, or in meetings, or you’re working on something that isn’t important to you. This is a good time to consider your priorities and think about how you can change them.

If you have a tough time writing down what you accomplished, try to think incrementally about your work. Did you fix a bug? Choose a color palette? Resolve a nagging motion design issue? Those all count as progress.

If you didn’t learn anything, think about subscribing to a paper magazine outside of your field (consider Scientific American, National Geographic, or even Sports Illustrated), joining a book club, or attending talks in your area. The physicality of a magazine will help you remember what you read 4 and it will give you ideas outside of your usual thinking space, a book club will give you the opportunity to bounce ideas off of other people, and attending talks in person will invest you more in the experience than watching a video.

Reflection is an act that will take less time than the average person spends on Facebook each day (that’s 17 minutes, if you’re wondering 5 ) and will give you more time for what is important, give you a sense of accomplishment, and ultimately help you feel happier about your work.

Tools:

  • Daily: A couple of Post-It notes per day should be all you need to make your next day’s to-do list. I recommend getting the name brand ones — they have better sticking power.
  • Weekly: Internally at Google we use a tool called Snippets, you can make a personal set of Weekly reflections by using a cloud-based tool like Google Docs or by using a service like IDoneThis, which closely mimics the functionality of Snippets.6

Footnotes:

  1. Power of Self-Reflection through Epistemic Writing, William S. Brown, College Teaching , Vol. 46, No. 4 (Fall, 1998) , pp. 135–138 [source]
  2. Will it be Cheerios or Life Today, Robert C. Pozen and Justin Fox, September 27, 2010 [source]
  3. Why progress matters: 6 questions for Harvard’s Teresa Amabile, Daniel Pink and Teresa Amabile (August 9, 2011) [source]
  4. Effects of VDT and paper presentation on consumption and production of information: Psychological and physiological factors, Erik Wästlund, Henrik Reinikka, Torsten Norlander, Trevor Archer, Computers in Human Behavior Volume 21, Issue 2, March 2005, Pages 377–394 [source]
  5. Facebook Statistics, Statistic Brain [source]
  6. iDoneThis : Productivity Startup [source]