That was the question I was asked recently by a colleague who had been on a working tour of the Far East. He had asked a significant number of first and middle managers to estimate how long they could take in any week to focus on their personal and professional development, and 30 minutes seemed to be the majority answer. Hence his question to me, how should he advise these busy professionals about the best use of that time?

I think that my colleague expected me to promote some of the RSVP Design tools that could easily fit in this kind of time slot, and which would provoke development-related discussion, both internal and external. He was, therefore, surprised at my answer:

“Do nothing but think about what it is you’re doing, and how effectively you’re doing it”

In short, use the time for reflection and don’t feel guilty about doing this as it could be the most important 30 minutes in your week.

As human beings we’re highly competent and attuned to spotting the patterns in our own behaviour, but modern society means that most of us rarely take the time to allow this wonderful facility to be used. Taking the time to reflect on the patterns in our lives can be extremely rewarding both personally and professionally, provided we don’t get drawn into an ever-present temptation – moving too quickly from reflection to responsive planning. This means that as soon as we recognise that something isn’t working, we immediately begin to think about how we change it. True reflection means that we resist this transition and hold ourselves in the reflective state long enough for the more significant patterns to reveal themselves.

Here’s an example:

Having taken time to reflect on what’s been happening for me lately I recognise that I’m unhappy about the poor relationship I have with a colleague, and the fact that I’m going to be working more closely with them on an important project in the coming weeks. I immediately begin to think about what I can do to positively influence the way that this relationship is going.

However if I stay longer in that reflective state I begin to discern that it’s not just this particular relationship that’s going South, there are a number of other colleagues with whom my relationship is discernibly less amicable than it was a couple of months ago. So I may reflect on what’s changed for me in that time-frame, what’s different in my circumstances that might have affected my own behaviour and approach? Staying in that reflective state could well provide me with a whole lot more insight upon which to base any changes I want to make in how I relate to my colleagues.

As I said earlier, we’re much less adept at this kind of self-reflection that we once were: and this is where using some kind of learning tool might be valuable. At RSVP Design we’ve significantly expanded the range of tools, and in particular card-packs, that we offer to help people to engage in productive reflection.

Building Personal Resilience Coaching cards and CCL’s Experience Explorer cards will both offer support for reflection on important dimensions of our professional lives.

At My Best Strengths and the Values Game (cards) are more versatile and will respond to reflection across all dimensions of our lives.

The advantages of using a tool like the cards I’ve suggested here relate to both the effectiveness of our limited reflection time – they should allow for far greater self-interrogation and progressive thinking, but they also tell others that we’re involved in some serious and work-related activity. It’s an unfortunate development in modern life that if somebody appears to be doing nothing, we assume that, in fact, they are doing nothing, even if they are thinking deeply about important issues. Having a specialist card deck or other tool in front of you tells people “this is important and well worth time taken in my busy schedule”.

Dr. Geoff Cox

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