Samantha Boardman M.D.

Positive Prescription

How Pressing Pause Improves Performance

What is the best strategy to increase productivity?

Posted Jan 21, 2016

What is the best strategy to increase productivity? It is a question on everyone’s minds these days. Most people assume that we improve performance by doing more and working harder. Research shows that the opposite is true. Rather than cramming more work into a given day, it is better to take some time to reflect on the lessons of the day.

As Phil Race, psychologist, professor and learning specialist said:

The act of reflecting is one that causes us to make sense of what we’ve learned, why we learned it, and how that particular increment of learning took place. Moreover, reflection is about linking one increment of learning to the wider perspective of learning – heading towards seeing the bigger picture.

In a recent study, Learning by Thinking: How Reflection Aids Performance, the authors demonstrate how taking time to reflect on work improves job performance. In the first part of the experiment, 202 participants were asked to solve a number of brainteasers and then were divided randomly into one of three groups: a control group, a reflection group and a sharing group. The control group went on to take another set of brainteasers. The reflection group was instructed to take a few minutes to reflect on the first round of brainteasers and to write notes about the strategies they used, what they would have done differently and what they did well. Then they were given a second round of brainteasers to complete. The third group—the sharing group—received the same instructions as the reflection group but they were told that their notes would be shared with future participants.

What were the results? The reflection and sharing group performed 18 percent better on the second round of brainteasers than the control group. Interestingly, there was no significant difference between the reflection and sharing group, suggesting that sharing on top of reflection doesn’t seem to have additional benefits.

The researchers performed a similar study in a real world setting in a business-process outsourcing company and found similar results.

As one of the co-writers, Harvard Business School Professor Francesca Gino, states:

Now more than ever we seem to be living lives where we’re busy and overworked, and our research shows that if we’d take some time out for reflection, we might be better off.

Bottom line: press pause. Even grownups need a time out.

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