A common challenge for the ministry leaders and business executives I coach is to have an intentional pattern to assist them in learning from their daily encounters and experiences. The art of reflection is often neglected in the push to add another meeting or another appointment to the day.
I am often reminded of the words of my mentor Dr. Bobbie Clinton:
“The number one reason leaders fail to finish well is they plateau. They stop growing.”
Staying in a learning mode will allow you to make better decisions and relate to the challenges and relationships in your life with wisdom and discernment. Creating space in your regular rhythms to reflect by hitting the pause button is essential. Once a week will not work; too much is forgotten and goes stale before you can gain from it.
Instead, I’ve found scheduling a “Start Up” and “Shut Down” ritual to my day to be incredibly beneficial. I’ve borrowed ideas from several sources over the years and put together this simple pattern that I suggest you try.
A Practical Tool to Help
First of all, you should begin with the end. Start by adding a Shut Down ritual in your day to refine, stretch and correct your perspective.
Shut Down: The details
The Shut Down ritual should be the last commitment in your workday. Set the appointment with yourself in a quiet area away from distractions and interruptions. Plan on 10-30 minutes where you reflect and capture insights.
Use a consistent tool to capture your thoughts as you examine your day. A consistent capture tool may be 3×5 cards, a written journal or private document online.
This same technique is very helpful after a messy or challenging encounter as a recovery tool and buffer to help you pause and capture key learnings. It is also very valuable to use right after any strategic meetings.
Questions to assist you in reflection
- What did I see today in individuals with whom I had interaction? What were the positives and negatives?
- What did I see today about our culture?
- What did I see in myself today?
- How do we want people to work differently together?
- What could I offer up in thanks to God?
- What could I lay before God in confident faith he will provide the way forward?
- Based on what happened today, what three things do I need to do tomorrow and do I change in my daily plan to create space for these actions?
Releasing the day
The final part of the Shut Down ritual is to return the gift of the day back to the One who gave it to you.
Begin by laying your hands palms down your desk. Thank God for letting you steward the day. Ask for the help to trust him for grace and strength. Ask that he would bring fruit and growth from today’s work for his glory. Then release the day back to him.
Once you have the Shut Down ritual in your regular rhythm then you can add a Start Up ritual to your routine. This is a time to center yourself, set intentions and make a general plan for the day.
Start Up: The details
The Start Up ritual should be the very first thing you do in your day. Set the appointment with yourself again in a quiet area away from distractions and interruptions. Plan on 10-30 minutes.
As soon as you first wake up in the morning, turn onto your back and look up. Raise both arms with hands palms up to God.
A simple prayer could be: “Father thank you for the rest during the night and for the new day you are offering to me. Today is a (work day, play day, rest day, family day, etc., define the major purpose for this day). You have gifted me with this day. Help me to be a good steward and invest it for eternal reward.”
Caution yourself to not pollute the day. If it is a work day don’t lose focus and waste time tracking your teams online. If it is a rest day do not pollute it with work. You get the idea.
Add a weekly check-in
Once per week, add a “perspective” or “getting current” appointment with yourself.
David Allen’s book Getting Things Done, or GTD is an excellent resource for how to do a weekly check-in. To his suggestions, I would add these ideas.
In a stormy time of major change, you need a mini-retreat once a week. Let me suggest you set aside half of a day to fast, pray, rest, and look back over the recent days. You can do this by reviewing your daily Shut Down notes and examining your commitments to see if you have drifted off course.
If you are not in a storm of change you may be able to do the mini-retreat every four to six weeks.
A Reflective Leader is a Growing Leader
The most important person you lead is yourself. Poor decisions often are made in a reactive mode rather than reflective mode. Adding in these two simple rituals to your routine ensures that your decisions are being made from a place of wisdom.
It requires discipline to engage in this time of pausing and reflecting. However, this rewarding time creates space for you to hear and learn from God as your mind and emotions get to a place of inner quiet and peace. Those who seek him and his wisdom do grow and develop confidence and contentment in their leadership.
Give the Shut Down and Start Up ritual a try for the next 30 days and see what happens! I’m confident that adding it to your routine will cause growth and life to flourish as you become a more productive and successful leader.