A. Immediately turning your attention to other pressing items on your to-do list
B. Thinking about some lessons it would be great to file away for next time, but just storing those impressions in the back of your mind rather than doing anything more formal with them
C. Scheduling a meeting to debrief with others who were involved with the work
If you’re like most people, your answer was A or B. But you’d be far better served to do C, to take the time to reflect on what you learned and can use in the future.
In reality, most people don’t debrief nearly enough after a project is over, particularly when a high workload makes you harried. But there’s enormous value in making the time for it, because research shows that simply talking through what went well, what could have gone better, and lessons for next time can dramatically increase the quality of your work in the future.
After all, even when things have gone well on a project, you’ve likely learned from the experience and picked out things that could be done differently next time to get even better results. Writing those up, even as just a quick bulleted list, can be an invaluable resource to have on hand the next time you conduct a similar project.
One compelling example: Harvard Business School researchers studied a group of surgeons learning a new operating technique and found that those who discussed each case in detail and debriefed with team members after procedures managed to cut their operating time in half. Those who didn’t discuss and debrief hardly improved their time at all.
Of course, in practice, it can be tempting to skip a formal debriefing when new projects loom. One way to make debriefs more likely to happen is to build them into your project plan from the start: When you’re scheduling out a project, include a 20-minute reflection meeting on your calendar at the end of it – either with the project team if it’s a multi-person project, or even just with your own manager if you’ll be working on it relatively independently. If you have it on your calendar as part of overall project schedule, you’re more likely to do it when the time comes, rather than racing on to the next thing.