How to be more productive by doing less

design mindfulness Jan 18, 2019

Productivity. It’s everywhere. Just ask someone how they are. “Busy” is usually the first word to leave their lips. 

Or check your favourite App store. Thousands and thousands of productivity tools and systems and re-skinned spreadsheets. All designed to push us into getting more done in less time so you can get even more done with all that extra time you now have, right? Hmmm.

Your KPIs are a measure of your productivity. Writing, presenting, selling, shipping, calling, meeting, emailing. A constant stream of action tells the people around us that we’re getting it done. This is modern life. It’s how we work. But…

Whatever happened to reflection? Taking the time to ponder, look inward, let the dust settle so you can actually think deeper and gain some real insight. And perhaps uncover a better way. 

That’s for unemployed hippies, right? Or zen monks in mountain caves. Or holidays. Or when something major happens in our lives, like losing someone close to us. Funerals tend to be one of the most reflective events in people’s lives. That’s when we’re allowed to reflect. When we’re not on the clock, earning our right to be doing what we’re doing. Yet…

Reflection is natural. Pauses are built into life. 

Tides ebb and flow.

Winter comes.

Night falls.

And humans drift off to sleep. Unless they’re still working. ;-)

Even music has rests and silences to make the notes more poignant. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t be music, it would be torture. So…

Reflection is a necessity. For all of us. And the more we can make space for it in our work, the better and more effective we can be at being productive. How do I know this? 

Because I work in human-centred design. Reflection is hard-baked into the process. If it weren’t, this work would be excruciating. Numbing. Completely overwhelming. 

A human-centred design project amasses so much data: AKA a cabillion sticky notes arranged and re-arranged on a wall, looking for patterns and insights that will turn into design principles that will lead to the creation of products and services that will help the people we serve be better off. 

It’s serious stuff. If we don’t reflect, we risk repeating the same mistakes, amplifying the current problem, pushing out an uncooked solution that will have the opposite effect of what we intend. We’re not prepared to do that. So we reflect. 

And we use a structured approach. A simple template that quickly and naturally drops us into that space. We call it mindful reflection. And we’d like to share it with you.


Mindful reflection allows for continuous learning and improvement of our decisions, actions and practices, often before it’s too late to make important changes. We catch problems early and adjust accordingly. Similar to the agile method of working. Small changes, done regularly, lead to better results. 


It can be used at any time to look back on a situation, decision, project, conversation, or practice. Often, it’s just after one of these has happened. It can be done individually or in a team. 


Mindful reflection can be done in a workshop, a meeting, a one-on-one. In a workshop, for example, ask customers to capture each of their thoughts on separate sticky notes. Then ask them to share their thoughts while you cluster similar themes. It very quickly paints a picture of where they’re at and keeps you aligned with the people in the room. It’s such a valuable tool when designing.

The Steps

1. Capture and define the situation you are reflecting on. It’s important to be specific and clear as this provides the focal point for learning. 

2. Use the template and reflect on each quadrant. Don’t only think about the factual aspects of the situation, but also the emotions, actions and outcomes. 

We’ve included a link to the Mindful Reflection template here. You can download it and start reflecting right away. And the rich data you pull from it can be immediately applied to the task at hand. How productive!

Mindful reflection is just one of many tools and templates we offer at Huddle Academy’s Designing for People program. It’s a three-day deep dive into Human-centred design, where you will learn how to lead meaningful change for the people you serve. Learn more here

Now back to work…


 written by Ben McEwing


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