We all make mistakes.
We’re human. It’s unavoidable that we will mess up. But the good news is that we can use gaffs to our advantage. Rather than being embarrassed by our mistakes, we can view them as learning lessons that will increase our productivity in the future.
Sometimes we know it right away when we’ve fucked up.
For example, when I was a kid, I stole a pack of gum from a gas station while my mom was paying for something. I did it because I wasn’t supposed to, but I almost immediately fessed up to my mom who promptly turned the car around and made me give the gum back.
It was a mistake to take the gum and I knew it almost instantly.
Our mistakes turn into learning lessons. As we stumble through life and gain experience, we use these mistakes to understand the world around us and inform our decisions about the future. To this day, I can’t look at the gum next to a checkout counter without thinking of that incident with my mother.
However, sometimes we don’t even realize we are making mistakes.
Growing up, my family would never get together at over dinner and talk about the highs and lows of our days. We were simply too busy to do that.
What I’ve realized over the years though is that this is actually a really important practice because it teaches the concept of daily reflection to children at a young age.
This time of reflection is when we realize we might be making mistakes that can hinder our growth.
Fast forward to today, and now I try to spend 10 minutes at the end of every day reflecting about what went well and what could have improved.
I’ll tell you, this practice has supercharged my productivity.
By sitting down at the end of the day and thinking about how my work went, I’m able to find the mistakes I’ve been making without even realizing it. This allows me to learn from those mistakes and advance on faster.
I’ve been able to become more focused, increase my output, and develop myself more since I’ve started doing this.
They say that we should learn from the mistakes of others. I think we should also learn from our own.
So let’s talk about how to use this strategy to your advantage and start crushing your work productivity!
1. Write that shit down.
I mean this. Get a notebook. Make it fancy if you want. I use my trusty Leuchtturm1917, but you could use a composition notebook if you want. But whatever you do physically write down your reflection.
Why? Because it helps the lessons sink in more and also gets your mind ready to sleep.
By this point, we’ve all had it hammered into our heads that we should avoid technology before going to bed. I’m not going to beat this horse anymore because it’s already dead, but I will say that it has made a difference in my life to avoid screens before sleeping.
This is why I suggest a journal.
The journal also makes it feel more “real” to me.
I spend my entire day writing on a computer. It’s likely that you also spend a significant portion of your day in front of a screen. That’s just how the modern world works. Because of this, when I’m on my computer my brain is in “work” mode and I subconsciously feel like I need to crank out whatever I’m doing as quickly as I can and move onto the next task.
Using a computer would make my daily reflection feel like work. Using a journal slows me down and gives me permission to think critically about what I have done.
So get out a pen and a piece of paper and utilize that resource.
2. Start with what went well.
I struggle to feel proud of my accomplishments, so I always start out writing three things I am proud of doing that day.
It can be as simple as “I cleaned my room!” to as complex as “I finished and edited this ebook!”.
Whatever it is, give yourself some acknowledgment. You worked hard at something and you deserve some fucking credit for it!
Here are the things I was proud of yesterday:
- I did Day 2 of my weightlifting program.
- I applied to several gigs.
- I learned how to clean up my computer so it moves 10x faster now.
They were smaller things, but I’m proud that I did them. Writing them down helps maintain my morale and reminds me that yes, I actually am kind of awesome.
3. What didn’t go well and why?
Now’s the time for the real reflecting.
Think about your day. What could have been better?
A recent example involved my computer. I have been recording a video series on transitioning from academic writing to writing for the real world, and my computer kept crashing and freezing and was just generally an asshole.
I realized that having a cluttered computer was causing me problems not only in this project, but in all of my work in general. It was slowing me down, and the wait time between loading tabs and frozen screens was both infuriating and mind-numbingly painful.
So on Thursday night I wrote down “My computer keeps getting fucked up when I try to record something and it is moving more slowly in general. I probably need to clean this shit up at some point.”
On Friday morning I told my boss about it, and he gave me the tools to do it quickly and effectively. My computer is literally moving at the speed of light compared to Thursday.
In short, my reflection helped me increase my productivity tenfold.
If I hadn’t stopped to think about why my computer might be moving slowly and what I could do about it, I would have continued being frustrated with the machine.
Another, less obvious example includes how I plan my day.
While I was doing my reflection, I was also busy texting my friends and checking Instagram and Snapchat
Before I knew it, an hour slipped by and I’d gotten effectively nothing done.
This problem carried over into my work. I was getting shit done, but it was taking me forever because I was talking to my boyfriend or wandering to the pantry in search of
Trader Joe’s peanut butter cups healthy food. My job also communicates primarily through a desktop app connected to Whatsapp and the message is almost constantly active.
Realizing that I was overstimulated was enough to help me change my settings to turn off the sound notifications for Whatsapp, put my phone in another room, and enforce the Pomodoro method of working.
Not every day will be as profound as these two examples.
Sometimes it’s as small as “My smoothie this morning didn’t taste THAT great. I guess I should put another banana in to sweeten it it up a bit.”
Regardless, that’s a great lesson to learn. The next morning I added a whole banana instead of half of one, and didn’t feel like I was drinking grass anymore. I didn’t have to make the same mistake again because I figured out the problem, and the solution, the night before.
I’m not going to lie, sometimes this is an emotional experience. It will dig into your soul, play with your feelings of inadequacy, and make you feel like shit. But ultimately, it’s good to write these things down anyway, regardless of your headspace.
I found that my language gets violent when I’m feeling depressive or extremely anxious.
I tend to blame my inherent capacity as a person as the reason things don’t go well instead of analyzing the situation or my general knowledge of the subject. On really bad days my notes sound like “I’m just so stupid I can’t do anything right”.
For me at least, it’s good to get these emotions out. I can look at them the next day and remind myself that they’re really lies my brain tells me. Those emotions are temporary, but they’re still constructive.
4. Finish with gratitude.
While learning from your own mistakes can help increase your productivity, so can being thankful for your life. Studies have shown that gratitude can improve your sleep, increase your resilience, and improve your relationships, to name a few things.
It is also nice to end your reflection period on the upside, especially if you’ve had a really emotional experience.
So write down three things that happened to you that day that you’re thankful for.
If I was writing mine right now about my day so far (even though it’s only noon), it would include:
- The extra banana I put in my smoothie this morning (it really made the smoothie so much better).
- Sleeping in this morning.
- My new nose ring that I bought yesterday.
I’m learning that life is all about finding the simple, everyday pleasures and being thankful for them. If we aren’t appreciative of what we have currently, we’ll never be appreciative of what we earn.
Using this method consistently will increase your productivity.
It’s a little hard to get started and stick with, but it will help you with success.
It’s not just about learning from our mistakes, either. In time, this practice will help you in a multitude of other ways, including sparking inventive ideas, building relationships with others, and becoming a better person in general.
So here is my challenge for you: try this every day for a week and let me know how it works for you.
Do you have other great ideas or tips for increasing productivity? Leave a comment below to let me know what you think!