My Two Best Tools for Reflection

I’ve been doing New Year planning for well over a decade now, but it was only at the end of 2018 that I had the tools to do a thorough review of the year that had just passed.

What was the magic tool in 2018 that made a deep retrospective possible? My Passion Planner!

Its features offset its somewhat goofy name, specifically that it shows one whole week from 6am to 10pm in every two-page spread. I switched back from digital to paper because I wanted that very holistic perspective of my time to combat my tendency to over-schedule. This ambivert needs a whole lot of time at home to stay energized for my people-rich work, and with all the scrolling required to see my days and weeks on a digital calendar, I was too frequently losing track and not getting appropriate recharge time.

The bonus is that each of those half-hour segments of time have been like little invitations to do what I invite my clients to do periodically: Track their time meticulously. While one long-ago client named that the Terrible Horrible Thing because of how painful it is at first, I’ve found that making a daily habit of it somehow sucks the pain right out of it, like baking soda on a bug bite.

Between my meetings are little general notes about how I spent that time – a block for email, a break for a walk, some reading at lunch, a weekend afternoon of cooking, a morning of writing. I also color code with highlighter as I go: Green, blue and orange for different types of work, yellow for volunteer hours, and pink for all the personal stuff. Sometimes, I use stickers for things that I want to remember in particular; there’s a rainbow waterfall of hearts on the date that I proposed to Theresa back in September.

There’s another tool, too: My 5-Year Journal

A friend gave this to me back in September of 2016 and while I’ve occasionally added a note or three retrospectively, I’ve only completely missed one day in these three+ years. There’s room for only a sentence or two and I tend toward entries that answer the question: What do I most want to remember about today?

Sometimes, that leads to specific events, sometimes particular feelings, and sometimes a primary question that I’ve been pondering about life or myself. I keep it by my bed and often use the few minutes it takes Theresa to brush her teeth to add my entry; it’s that fast and therefore a lot easier to pull off than the stream-of-consciousness confessionals that have confounded so many of us would-be journalers.

Between the two – one that I fill in as I go through the day and the other that takes less than five minutes each evening – I have a very clear picture of how I spent my year. And that means I get to do things like:

  • See my own growth curve more clearly.
  • Evaluate how I spent my time and what were the more productive efforts.
  • Be reminded that things that felt all sorts of consequential at the time most often fade into vague memories, sometimes even with vaguely-remembered actors.

How about you? What helps you be more fully with yourself in this never-ceasing flow of time?