The clock is ticking on 2016. December can be an intense month with 2017 beginning to peek over the horizon. As a leader the best gift you can give yourself, your work, and your staff is time to think and reflect. This is not an optional luxury for the rare few. It’s a ninja move that gives you a strategic advantage.

Inc. Magazine advocates 5 hours a week for reflection, reading, and experimentation, as modeled by incredibly successful leaders. If you can pull that off, great. I’d suggest starting with an hour a week as well as a half-day each month to reflect and plan. If you need it, give yourself a meeting agenda; consider reporting out to your team for accountability.

I had a coaching client take this seriously. He booked a small conference room with natural light and a white board on a repeating schedule. He gave himself time to think about the work he and his team were doing. It took discipline, but it helped him lead and execute even better.

This is one of the most helpful practices I use during the year. I confess I’ve been a bit haphazard with scheduling reflection times this year. I try to convince myself that I can do this in the car or in the shower or between meetings. Trust me, it’s not the same. I finally scheduled a solitude day this fall. I find half-day or full day reflections are most helpful and bring up the most resistance in me. All hell typically breaks loose about 24-48 hours before I’m scheduled to take a day away. I usually think seriously about rescheduling. Someone calmer– usually my husband – reminds me that this is the pattern every time, and that they will be fine without me for a while. I find that when I start my reflection time, I’m either restless and edgy or ridiculously over-ambitious about what I’ll accomplish in the time I’ve carved out. When I calm down and get oriented some of my most insightful and life-giving work shows up. I return to my work (and family) centered, clear, and energized. I have time to process what’s working and not working and why. I find my priorities become clearer. My creativity increases and I’m ready to be with people again. In spite of the sacrifice, it is certainly time well spent.

This approach to work takes courage and discipline. The choice to quiet the noise and demands in and around you long enough to answer the strategic questions may reveal uncomfortable issues or new questions. This approach could also be the incubator for creativity and innovation where new ideas and possibilities emerge.

Breakthroughs – large and small — happen when we’re asking the right questions of ourselves as leaders, of our approach to our work, of our impact on our customers, and how we are showing up each day.

Here’s to finishing strong in 2016 and to engaging the potential that is 2017. Happy Holidays, friends.

11 Comments

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  1. Agree, agree, agree! Thanks for writing this, Christin!

  2. Lovely post. Here’s to finishing the year with a ninja move!

  3. Christin,
    You articulate the need for what I like to call “pockets of retreat” where even though we do not go far away to a retreat center in rural Indiana, we are opening ourselves up to reflection and contemplation at regular times.

    It is true that we return from these times having refilled our creativity tanks that may be emptied by constant work, appointments, and life itself. What do you think about the Jewish concept of Sabbath as a source for this truth? After 6 days of creating, we need to rest for one day to refresh our creativity to do it again for another 6 – repeat.

    Thank you for this reminder, especially during the holiday season where we need frequent nudges in the chaos to live reflectively.

    • Christin (Author)

      Daniel,
      I like your phrase “pockets of retreat.” I resonate with the Jewish notion of Sabbath. However, I’d contrast Sabbath – ceasing of work to rest – with the concept I’m suggesting, which is thinking about work as an essential part of our work. Both are needed and both counterintuitively contribute to sustainable productivity with excellence.
      I appreciate how you model of reflective, intentional leadership.

      • That is a helpful clarification – creating pockets of time to step away from the normal aspects of one’s work to intentionally reflect on work matters. I do think the ceasing from work through intentional rest, like Sabbath, can inform and empower these times of reflection on our work and leadership. Fodder for a future conversation over coffee – thanks for the insights!

  4. I don’t do this enough, I don’t know why I don’t do it enough, and I always am glad when I actually take the time to do it.

    Last 36-hour retreat I took, I ended up walking a “prayer labyrinth” someone created in a field. One of the key insights from that (only) 30 minute walk was that I needed to be more open-handed and trusting in my approach to our work. That alone was worth the price of admission.