It’s back-to-school this month for many. Instinctively you may be itching to take a new course or add a designation to your resume. You are already enrolled in school – the proverbial “school of hard knocks”. Why not consider taking a more active approach to learning from your daily work experience? Our workplaces are so busy – our lives are so busy – that the years can pass without any conscious attention to what we are learning. The ability to pause and reflect is a sign of mature and wise leaders. I love all forms of education, and have found there is much to be gained by unpacking each day’s successes and foibles.
- Make it habit to reflect on your day. Commuting time is great for this, as is your regular evening walk, run or bath. Some people take the last 15 minutes of their day as reflection time, or later in the evening (which can give even more perspective).
- Recall what happened from the stance of a witness. This is not the same as reviewing the day to prepare for tomorrow, or to tie up loose ends. Instead, replay important parts of the day the way a football player replays their recorded games – to see and learn from what happened before, during and after they took the ball.
- Ask yourself a few challenging questions.
- What did I learn to do today? Or what did I learn I cannot yet do?
- What new awareness do I have about my surrounding environment (the client, the industry, the culture, the community, the world) today? Am I more aware of how this all impacts me?
- What did I learn about my own values, beliefs, attitudes, feelings and opinions at work today?
- What did I learn about other people and me in relationships today?
- Write down all or some of your learning. You may be tempted to type or talk what you discover into your closest device. Consider instead using an old-school notebook or an inspiring journal to hold your notes and musings. There is evidence that handwriting helps with retention and creativity. A shift to pen and paper may also help you make a shift from your regular problem-solving workplace mode to a deeper, more reflective mode.
- Having considered what your experience has given to you, take a moment to receive the gifts of the day – including the hard, less-than-ideal moments. Give yourself a moment to accept, sort and file today’s lessons.
- While you are in a learners’ stance, check if there was something started for you today that will change who you are tomorrow. What do you wish to extend or carry-forward in a conscious way? Is there a way to continue to learn and grow in a particular arena? Who can you ask for support and encouragement? Is there a mentor whose wisdom you could use right now?
This reflective learning practice will contribute to a feeling of progress and achievement, regardless of how the day’s events unfolded. As an added bonus, it will give you the words to express what you have learned from your experience – whether to impress a recruiter or to mentor your team.