Want to Choose Again? Reflect to Create New Options

I often find I want to create more choices in my life. I want to avoid just a binary choice: “this” or “that.” I use personal reflections, a personal retrospective, to create new options. I often use a form called “What, So what, Now what?”

Here’s what that looks like:

  1. What: Gather relevant data. My personal reflection differs from a project retrospective where we might not know what’s relevant right away.
  2. So what? Look for patterns and meaning.
  3. Now what? What options do I want to create so I can experiment. Especially notice what I want to subtract.

Let’s take the problem of “not enough time in the day to do everything I want to do.” You might suffer from that problem, too.

What: Gather Data

The first piece of data is to learn where I spend my time. I take a legal pad, and start at the top with the time I first sit down at my desk. Every time I start a new task, I mark down the start time and what the task is.

When I gathered this data, I realized:

  • I interrupted myself with too much checking of email and Twitter.
  • I checked Facebook a lot during the day.
  • I spent more time than I expected writing some fiction. (And, not finishing it!)
  • I spent less time writing my other blog.

I have data now. Time to see the patterns.

So What: Look for Patterns and Meaning

I have learned that I interrupt myself when I’m unsure of myself. That particular fiction story (and the one I worked on today) keep boring me. (Some of my writer friends say, “If the fiction is boring, kill someone.” I did, and now I’m making progress on that story. Funny, how fiction writers think, isn’t it?)

I started checking Facebook more often during the day because I’m in some writing groups and I wanted to keep up with them. Until I wrote down how much time I spent on Facebook, I had no idea how much time I wasted that way. (Way too much!)

I wasn’t finishing work the way I normally finish.

I drew two conclusions: when I spend more time without finished outcomes, I don’t feel good about myself. And, I’m pretty sure my process isn’t helping me finish almost anything. I interrupted myself too often.

I need more options to finish and stop interrupting myself.

Now What: Create Options for Experimentation

I’ve talked about how I like to work in timeboxes before. I decided that I would try working in timeboxes for everything.

  • I tried working in timeboxes for checking email and Twitter. I quickly learned I needed to separate those timeboxes into a timebox for email and a separate timebox for Twitter.
  • I chose a longer timebox for nonfiction (25 minutes) than for fiction (7 minutes).
  • I alternated my writing timeboxes. I did give myself permission to extend the fiction timebox if I was on a roll.

In addition to timeboxes, I decided to subtract checking Facebook during the day. I only gave myself permission to check the various groups after dinner.

I also rearranged windows on my various monitors. I wanted to hide certain tabs in the browsers. That’s sort-of a “subtraction” because while I know the browser tab is there, I don’t see it all the time.

I didn’t add anything to my processes this time. However, I’m back to finishing most of my work the way and when I want to. I still put too much on my list of things to do. However, I’m making progress and I’m happy about that.

Ask What Questions, Not Why

Notice I didn’t ask any “why” questions. When I ask why questions, I judge myself harshly. I blame myself for being all-too-human. I don’t recommend why questions for personal reflections.

Instead, use What questions. If you need more data, you might ask When or How questions. Avoid Why unless you think you can’t get to the root cause without them. I often discover I can get to the root cause with mostly What questions.

I took my data (What), learned my patterns and meaning (So What), and created options (Now What). My reflection specifically creates more options in the Now What part. That’s because I focus on more options, not fewer options. You might want to restrict your options, depending on your question for your reflection.

That’s how I use reflection to create more options. How about you?

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