Time for reflection

One of the best things about my work is that I often get to spend time meeting, thinking and working with amazing people. This week I took part in a workshop which was full of incredibly warm, friendly, open and supportive people. The focus of the session was around developing Practical Strategies for Learning from Failure.

One of the barriers to learning from failure which was identified by a number of participants, and was constantly bought up throughout the day was people not having time to reflect.

I can’t help feeling the issue isn’t simply a lack of time for reflection, I think it’s more that we often don’t intentionally build reflection in to time that we do have. And many people aren’t supported or encouraged to do that. I thought I’d share a few tactics and tools I use to build reflection in to my work and life, as I am often inspired to try things by reading about what other people do.


Personal reflection

I’ve recently started using an iPhone project planning app called Get it Done Wizard and something I love about it is that it prompts daily routines which include End-of-Day Reflections. The reflection questions in the app are:

  • What were my ‘high’ and ‘low’ points today?
  • What made me feel happy and energised today?
  • What made me angry, worried or frustrated?
  • What did I learn today?
  • How can I benefit from it?

Those last two questions feel really useful for people involved in trying and testing new things, who may be experiencing challenges, ‘failure’ and so on. And it only takes a matter of minutes in the evening to do this reflection.

I often find myself reflecting on things while I exercise, and more often than not if I’m struggling to think of a way forward on something going out for a 5 mile run will get all sorts of ideas bubbling in my brain. I therefore sometimes intentionally set out to reflect on particular areas of my work when I exercise.

I have learned that my reflection is much deeper and more useful when I actually get words down on a page, or in a blog post. So I often jot things down in Evernote on my phone, and I am currently on a mission to blog more in order to facilitate more reflection. I dip in and out of Headspace, a mindfulness App, which has helped me to appreciate the value of just stopping for a few minutes after a meeting or conversation to reflect on feelings and thoughts. An advantage of travelling by bus a lot is that I use time at bus stops and on the bus to do this thinking and get it written down if I feel I want to really work through what’s going on.

An activity I have found really useful in the past for my own reflection is reading and responding to other people’s blogs. I’ve built up a lovely reading list in Feedly of thoughtful people who blog. I’ll admit that this activity does require making space for, and it can get crowded out by things which feel more urgent. But every time I do make time to do this I find it so useful, and though I am responding to someone else’s thoughts and reflections I am thinking about my own experiences and ideas, which helps with creativity and reflection.


Reflection with colleagues

I build all sorts of reflection questions in to one-to-one support sessions I have with colleagues I line manage, and I have been known to give my line manager reflection questions to ask me in supervision sessions! Here are some questions I’ve used a fair bit, some of which have a community development flavour, as that is an approach I bring to my work.

  • Reflecting on your work in the last period, what are you proud of?
  • What tricky situations have you dealt with and how do you feel about them and how you dealt with them now?
  • What have you learned about yourself?
  • What have you learned about groups and people you support?
  • What have you learned about our organisation?
  • What have you learned about the wider context of your work?
  • What have you done which has led to increasing peoples skills, knowledge and confidence?
  • What have you done to challenge inequality and exclusion?
  • What have you done which has helped to build open ways of working and positive relationships across groups/organisations?

I try to build reflection questions in to meeting plans, as well as workshop plans. I find a really useful tool for generating questions is Edward de Bono’s 6 Thinking Hats.

I have a great book called Making Questions Work which I dip in to. I’ve also recently bought a book called People and Permaculture and there are some great ideas in it for supporting groups to reflect. Simple things like a check-in at the beginning of a meeting can be really helpful and promote collaboration and peer support and understanding. Questions such as:

  • How are you feeling (right now)?
  • What is something significant you have done or learned since the last meeting?
  • What do you hope to get out of this meeting?

In previous roles as chair of trustees of a national charity and chair of governors in a primary school I have built in reflection and learning time to business meetings. A simple thing I like to do is give people 5 or 10 minutes to talk in pairs about an agenda item, in response to a considered question.

In the last month or so I have been part of sessions in which facilitators have created 5 minutes or more for silent personal reflection. One time it was so that we could think about and prepare contributions. The second was during the Practical Strategies for Learning from Failure workshop during which we had 15 minutes in the afternoon for quiet reflection on our own.

I’m fortunate to have been part of a number of Action Learning Sets over the years. While these require a significant time commitment, the process of using questions as supporter can be integrated in to other sorts of groups, as can collective reflection. My favourite reflection questions at the end of an Action Learning Set have always been:

  • What have I learned about myself?
  • What have I learned about the set (this group of people and the way we work together)?
  • What have I learned about the world?

I appreciate that we don’t always have control over meeting plans or agendas, and that it can take guts to start to change the culture of groups who haven’t experienced reflective time in meetings. If you’re ready to have a go, I think it’s well worth building reflection time in to activities - as we all find it so difficult to carve out that time later.


I’d love to hear about your stratgies for creating time for reflection, and any of your favourite reflection tools, questions or activities.

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