Reflecting is stopping what you’re doing and taking time to think and maybe write about how it could be done differently or better.
According to three research studies performed by the Harvard Business School, people who reflect and think about their tasks perform better, and feel “more capable, competent and able to make good judgements, and are able to solve difficult problems” more effectively, than those who do not. The sense of one’s competence and good judgment are foundational for innovative thinking.
In one of the studies, the researchers studied several groups of employees in their initial weeks of training for a particular customer account. As with previous experiments, each group was assigned to one of three conditions: control, reflection, and sharing.
In the reflection group, on the sixth through the 16th days of training, workers spent the last 15 minutes of each day writing and reflecting on the lessons they had learned that day. Participants in the sharing group did the same but spent an additional five minutes explaining their notes to a fellow trainee. Those in the control condition just kept working at the end of the day.
Over the course of one month, 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 training test by 22.8 percent over the control group. The sharing group performed 25 percent better on the test than the control group.
This was in spite of the fact that the control group had been working 15 minutes longer per day than the other groups, which had spent that time reflecting and sharing.
“Now more than ever we seem to be living lives where we’re busy and overworked, and our research shows that if we’d take some time out for reflection, we might be better off,” says Harvard Business School Professor Francesca Gino, who wrote about how mental reflection, aka pondering, increases productivity and creativity and decreases stress and anxiety.
As the American educator John Dewey said, “We don’t learn from experience. We learn by reflecting on experience.” When you take time to think, new connections are made.